beyond grab bars and roll-in showers

W8 UPDATE / 28 December 2012

take aways from the 2012 Leading Age annual meeting & exposition

In October, Leading Age—an association for not-for-profit and consumer organizations, research partners and foundations—held their annual meeting in Denver. I attended many interesting seminars that offered insight to the ever more expanding market of senior housing and care services. In an effort to provide expanded and more comprehensive services to WORKSHOP8 clients, I was interested in learning about the emerging trends and new design and product solutions for the senior market. Here is a snippet of what I learned:

seniors are computer savvy

It is important to take that into account when designing housing and care facilities for the elderly. Having adequate systems and designated areas for computer activities are a crucial component in a successful design.

from scrapbooking to pumping iron

Another emerging focus is to provide sophisticated and beautiful wellness centers with appropriate equipment. Strength training builds up bone and muscle, and counteracts frailty that usually comes with age. It is great to see new stylish, highly customizable equipment options in the marketplace.

daylight is key

The importance of natural light cannot be overemphasized in anyone’s life, and seniors are no exception. Providing daylighting into living spaces in a controlled and well designed manner contributes not only considerable energy savings, but also to the general wellbeing of the occupants. There are areas, however, where daylighting must be carefully evaluated, such as at ends of long corridors (mainly in care facilities), where it can cause glare conditions—even with a good amount of artificial lighting—and especially with highly reflective floors.

say no to glossy floors

As beautiful as they may be, glossy floors pose serious hazards for seniors.

self-cleaning tiles (who doesn’t want that?)

The exposition hall included hundreds of booths featuring a large range of products and services as well as a 4-bedroom, 3-bathroom “Idea House” (by THW Design) that showcased some of the latest material trends in senior living design, with an emphasis on sustainability.

One of the more interesting materials I learned about at the show was Toto’s self- cleaning tiles. In a similar fashion as photosynthesis in nature, titanium oxide in the glaze acts as a photocatalyst and with the help of UV light actually minimizes bacteria on the surface of the tiles. It sounds quite fantastical, but it actually works, both in interior and exterior applications.

connection to the outdoors

Studies estimate an average American spends 90% of his/her life indoors and another 5% in a covered vehicle of some sort. So, as commonplace as it may sound, connection to the outdoors was brought up in many presentations. It is a crucial component when designing spaces for the elderly—easy access to exterior living spaces, both for social interaction, as well as for health benefits. Connection to the outdoors was an important component in our design of the Paisano Green Community in El Paso TX. W8 paid a great deal of attention in creating comfortable, beautiful outdoor space for the senior residents there.

provide space for seated or standing gardening

Many seniors enjoy gardening, but often give it up, due to stiff knees and backs that don’t bend quite the way they used to. A simple solution is a raised planter box, which allows the elderly to enjoy that activity without compromising their comfort. Planters made from recycled plastics are the best choices from the point of view of durability and the environment and there are some nice looking options in those. Wood is another popular option. You can see more images on Brandy’s Pinterest Board of raised planing beds.

smaller kitchen appliance

As we design smaller—but smarter—and fewer—but more efficient—square feet, new kitchen appliances offer some tools to achieve that. European ranges have been for decades 24” wide, a size which American manufactures did not offer till recently. Similarly, dishwashers do not necessarily have to be 24”, and for a single person an 18” wide unit actually makes much more sense. There are also 24″ refrigerators available in both upright and drawer styles.

pocket doors

Incorporating pocket doors (builders, don’t cringe) is another space saving measure in today’s smaller living quarters. The best way to design an easily operated pocket door is to stop the door from fully recessing and provide a user friendly handle that is much more convenient to grab than conventional hardware options on the side of the door leaf. Obviously, careful attention to clearances required in doorways is key in such an installation.

grab bar pizzaz

Although I promised to go beyond grab bars, I have to include this image for those who are looking for some extra pizzaz in this realm. Nothing dowdy about these!

aging in style

According to one presenter, the term “aging in place” really should be replaced with “aging in style”, and it is hard to argue with that. Aesthetics of our living spaces are important to us all and senior living should be no exception. Console vanities, undermount sinks, glass fronted kitchen cabinets and accent tiles are just a few simple ways to give the spaces we design for the elderly some well deserved style. Here is a link to another good blog post called “Brining Sexy Back to Accessibility” by

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss aging in style.

Ulla Lange, LEED AP, Assoc. AIA
interior designer / founding partner


in honor of Juhana and Virginia

Honoring the memory of two great seniors—my dad, Juhana and Brandy’s grandmother, Virginia (GG) who both would have celebrated their birthdays today, December 18th. You are both missed.