Crossover Home Design Ideas For Young and Old

By Katherine Salant

This ramp is so deftly incorporated into the design, a casual observer sees only a walkway. Leon Harper photo

In the music business you have crossover hits that appeal to music lovers of every stripe. In home building you have “crossover features” designed to appeal to one group of buyers that resonate with others. For example, builders are finding that details intended to help older buyers stay in their houses as they age also appeal to much younger buyers because these details can make a house feel bigger, add storage and help parents with the care of very small children. 
 
A great crossover feature that benefits every family member from the oldest to the youngest is a “curbless” or “zero step” entry at the front or back door or in the garage, said Bill Owens, a Columbus, Ohio, home builder. (See photo above.) When there are no steps to be negotiated, a person using a wheelchair, walker or crutches has no difficulty getting in and out. This also helps the parent of a small child who simply wants to take him out for a walk. Instead of struggling to get the stroller down the front steps and onto the sidewalk, zipping back in to scoop up the baby and bring him outside, and then after he’s firmly strapped in place setting off on a walk, you can ready him inside, open the door and roll right out.

An absence of steps is not the only crucial detail of the curbless entry, Owens said. The opening itself should be three feet wide, so that a person with a large stroller, walker or a wheelchair can effortlessly pass through. Even the crew bringing in your furniture on move-in day will appreciate the wider doorway because it will make their job easier and reduce the possibility of damaging your belongings.

Once you’re inside the house, wider doorways throughout will make every room accessible and ensure that the furniture is put in place without incident. How much wider? Six inches more than the standard 30 is optimal, said Clifton, Virginia, builder and remodeler Vince Butler. How much does this add to the cost? About $2 to $3 for each door, he said.

Halls and Stairs
Wider hallways will also make a difference to someone using a wheelchair or a scooter. A standard 36-inch hall width requires that person to do a lot of maneuvering to get into a room, but when the hallway is six inches wider, the turn is a “cinch,” Owens said. A wider hallway will not affect overall house size because removing a miniscule amount of floor area from the rooms to either side of it is inconsequential to the function of those rooms. In fact, the wider hallway and doorway will make the room being entered seem bigger, he said.

A wider stair, which adds about $200, can also make things easier for the household. Add six inches to the standard 36-inch width and two people can use it at the same time. With the extra width you can also move around a chair lift with greater ease, said Butler, who speaks from experience. He installed one for his mother’s use on his own 36-inch wide stair and “it’s always in the way,” he said.

A chair lift has other negatives, Butler added. If the person is not ambulatory, you need a wheelchair at each stair landing and a space to park it. Though an elevator is more costly, ($15,000 to $20,000 versus $6,000 to $8,000), you avoid a chairlift’s shortcomings, and when you stack five-by-five-foot closets that could be converted into an elevator shaft you get immediate benefit — a walk-in pantry on your first floor and an extra walk-in closet upstairs.

In the Bathroom
Zeroing in on specific rooms, a bigger and more spacious master bathroom is a luxury now that can become a necessity in the future, but where you add the extra space is critical, Owens said. Because you might someday need a five-foot turning radius for a wheelchair next to the toilet, you should add the square footage there. He would omit a separate toilet compartment and, instead, screen the toilet area with a knee wall that is installed over the floor tile so that it can easily be removed, should the need arise.

If there is a vanity next to a toilet Owens would also install it over the floor tile so that it, too, could be easily removed. During construction, wood blocking for grab bars should be placed behind the walls in the shower and toilet area, but nothing more is needed until a household member has mobility issues. At that time, Owens said, you should bring in an occupational therapist to help you determine where the grab bars should go.

Dan Bawden, a builder in Bellaire, Texas, said his No. 1 age-in-place feature is a curbless shower that gently slopes towards a floor drain so that a person in a wheelchair can roll right in. In the Houston area where he works, this is not a hard sell because taste mavens there consider the curbless shower “chichi and good design for upscale houses,” he said. If the bathroom is big enough, Bawden likes to add a touch of luxury by partially enclosing the shower with a curved, glass block wall instead fully enclosing it with more conventional clear glass walls.

In the Kitchen
For kitchens, Bawden favors variable height counters, with work areas both higher and lower than standard 36-inch kitchen counter height. When possible, he raises a dishwasher by 10 to 12 inches to make loading and unloading easier for a tall person and anyone who has trouble bending over.

One of Bawden’s more unusual suggestions is a moveable island counter on casters that fits under a standard counter. When the 30-inch island is pulled out, it can be used by an adult who wants to sit while preparing food, a kibitzing guest, or a person in a wheelchair. Children and grandchildren can use the lowered island to help cook, and if you knead bread or roll out pastry dough, a lowered counter makes this task easier. With custom cabinetry, Bawden said the rolling island adds about $150; with stock cabinets it adds about $300.Some aging in place features have become standard because public tastes have changed. Owens pointed out that the lever door handle, which is easier for a person with arthritis to use, is now standard because buyers think they look better. As more and more people discover that wider doorways and hallways make rooms feel bigger, these may become standard, too, he said.

Originally Published in Katherinesalant.com

02/16/2014