Ah, Wednesday. You caught me unaware, with so much to do and with so many thoughts and so little to say.
I’ve been thinking about a different kind of post all week, changing up the approach and rewriting the story over and over in my head. Now that the day is here, those versions lay in an invisible heap on the floor, next to my chair.
Hearing the news of yet another violent incident in a movie theater–this time in my city–the direction the post was heading is best left for another day. It happened midday, a time when many parents escape the boredom and heat of August by taking their kids to the movies. Thankfully, the perpetrator chose to enter a movie unsuitable for children and, luckily, no one besides the gun and hatchet wielding young man was seriously injured.
Aren’t we all so weary of this kind of darkness?
As for me and my house, well, we are both in need of some light and there’s no easy way to segue from serious and horrible topics to design.
But I’m serious about good design, so let’s do this.
Built as a “Starter House” in 1940, our new house is a small Cape Cod, with a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms on the first floor. The style of building suited the way families lived at the time, because in a starter house, the attic stayed closed off until the second or third child came along, then it was usually finished out as sleeping space.
At some point, the previous owner did just that, constructing two bedrooms and a…bathroom?…in either the 60s or 70s. It’s hard to pin down the date, because there is no record of a permit for this particular expansion.
In renovations of this type of house today, many homeowners are making the choice to put the master bedroom upstairs, but our children are grown and the plan is to put in as many design elements as we can to make aging in place as easy as possible.
In a recent interview with Oprah, 93 year-old actress Betty White was asked how she stayed in good shape. Her answer: “I have a two-story house and a very bad memory.”
Seems you’ll still be hearing from me at 93, because this is my current stair situation:
A tad steep, they’ll be opened up and rebuilt to code.
To get technical for a moment, there are a lot of things that are very important to consider when planning or remodeling a home for your third act and these are but a few of them:
- Blocking for ADA compliant handrails for bathrooms and staircases
- Smooth transitions between flooring surfaces
- Extension of “reach” in cabinetry and closets
- Adequate lighting for aging eyes
It pains me a little to say these are all topics on the table for consideration in this remodel. Maintaining independence is one of the biggest factors in the happiness quotient for seniors. We’ve got a decade or so before we start getting discounts at diners, but if this is our last house, we need to do it right. I want to be a happy, healthy senior citizen someday.
Getting the floor plan worked out so our bedroom is on the first floor is job one (it will require building an addition now that will pay off in spades later), but the most important thing right now is figuring out how to make the best use of natural light in every room.
Our last house has an East/West orientation, with only three of its 31 windows and just one of its 6 sets of French doors facing North or South. It had a lot of light twice a day.
What can I say? I didn’t build it, I bought it when it was 15 years old. It sat on the market for a year, empty and unloved. When I found it, it was calling out for sunshine. None of the rooms in the house were open to each other, so I blew out walls and opened up spaces as much as possible, adding in some of the French doors and placing steel beams where necessary.
Years later in design school, I asked one of my professors, an architect, what I could do to get even more light into the house and she answered with one word, “Move.” More than 10 years later, I took her advice.
The new house has a better orientation, sitting at a near direct North/South front to back, with more light coming from fewer windows, but, as with the old house, almost all blocked by walls and doors. This is the part where I get excited.
Busting out walls and opening up rooms is my crack. Well, not my crack and not crack crack, but it’s the part of designing a floor plan I am always most excited about so it’s like a drug. You know what I mean.
Rooms were typically closed off for heating and cooling purposes, but central heat and air makes open floor plans economically feasible. In the photo below, the door to the stairs is on the left and to the right you’ll see three of the other four doors in this 30+ square foot space:
It’s a circulation traffic jam.
This area also prevents the flood of light created by the house’s great location from flowing from room to room.
That is one of the two first floor bedrooms from the original 1940 plan. It has great hardwoods, a beautiful view, and terrible light flow. Why should all this daylight be specific to one room, when it could help provide tons of ample light essential to aging eyes?
I couldn’t think of one good reason, so I did what comes naturally:
Oops, I did it again.
That’s called Commitment, my
friends friend. The walls are ½” plaster on ½” gypsum, so there’s no turning back now and I wouldn’t if I could, to be honest. You’ll see why next week.
Are you planning to age in place? If so, you need to start planning now, because I’ve aged three hours since I started typing. The hard truth is we are all born dying and it helps to take control of your aging process before someone else has to make decisions for you.
Be sure to leave any questions or tell me about your plans in the comments. They say people with good friendships live a longer, happier life. I plan to grow very old so I need as many friends as I can get!
Hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight,