This is What the Ultimate Aging in Place Home Looks Like, According to a Senior Living Designer
By 2030, all U.S. baby boomers will be aged 65 or older, and this massive shift is changing the way people design, build, and renovate homes. In an innovative project in the Midwest, new technologies, well-designed products, and senior-sensitive renovations are helping to facilitate aging in place.
Baby boomers, that massive segment of the U.S. population born between 1946 and 1964, have consistently changed the face of American society in sometimes unexpected ways. Now, as they age, boomers are radically altering the way designers and builders are constructing and renovating homes. In 2018, there were 52 million people aged 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau’s population estimates. This figure represents 16 percent of the overall population, up from 12.4 percent in 2000. “As boomers age through their 60s, 70s, 80s, and increasingly beyond, the ‘big bulge’ of the boomer generation will contribute to the overall aging of the U.S. population in coming decades,” states Stella Ogunwole, a demographic statistician with the Census Bureau.
This population shift has significant consequences for the home industry, as designers, builders, and manufacturers turn their attentions to products and innovative features that can help people stay in their own homes longer, an option known as “aging in place.” These new products promote safety, security, and mobility, and contribute to independent living and better quality of life for an aging population.
Reimagining a Historic Home
Well aware of the impending age shift, some of the nation’s top senior living experts are collaborating to convert the historic Henry C. Werner House in Columbus, Ohio, into a showplace for aging in place and multigenerational living. Led by noted author and award-winning senior living designer Lisa Cini, prominent senior living architects and designers including Jane Rohde, Dale Miller, David Ashen, Brian Kent Jones, Chris Sommers, and Jaclyn Moser are transforming the Werner House using the latest aging in place technologies created by some 45 home products manufacturers.
“Throughout the decades of designing senior living residences and communities, I’ve long imagined what it would be like to merge the very best design with the most innovative technology for aging in place and senior living all in one elegant residence,” says Cini, who purchased the Werner House with that goal in mind. “I envisioned merging the mansion’s traditional beauty and grandeur with the most up-to-date technology in a home that would be a functioning inspiration for all ages.”
Rohde, founder of senior living design firm JSR Associates, points out that the Werner House “gives the public an opportunity to better understand the components of health and wellness that are related to the built environment, regardless of age. It is a ‘sneak attack’ way of passing on understanding about preparation for growing older without any stigma, and supporting creative, measurable outcomes for continuous quality of life.”
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‘Labor of Love’
Cini says the project was inspired by her personal experiences and family situation. “The project is a labor of love,” she relates. “Prior to this project, I lived with my parents in their late 70s, my grandmother who had dementia in her 90s, my teenagers, and my husband under one roof. As a senior living designer and president/CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, I was able to employ all my design and technology tricks to create a functional yet stylish multigenerational home.
“What I didn’t know at the time is how many people would come out of the woodwork with a similar situation,” she continues. “I was asked to share my insights and did numerous tours of my household. Upon my grandmother’s passing—she was with us for 4.5 years—the kids were off to college and my husband was working on his first memory care facility. My mother, who was the primary caregiver, was tired, and we ultimately decided to sell the house. In doing so, the Werner House came up for sale, and while I knew it was too big for all of us, I wanted to create an ‘open’ home where I could educate all folks to try out the latest tech and design features that can help them age in place.”
Cini points out that interest is surging in products designed to enable seniors to remain in their own homes, and the stay-at-home mandates of the global pandemic have caused many of us to take a fresh look at our surroundings. “As the economy plummeted, we saw many people move back into their family homes and get thrifty, much like the way the world was in the past,” she explains. “It’s great from an economic standpoint, but it also opened up people’s minds to being a part of a supportive social system.”
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Maintaining Independence Equals Freedom
Sales of aging in place products are growing, Cini notes, as more and more companies develop senior-friendly fixtures and furnishings. “Everyone is getting into the game. Samsung released their in-home care services and help robots at Consumer Technology Association,” she comments, adding, “Ikea purchased TaskRabbit, as so many boomers were buying Ikea products but did not want to put anything together. You also see Best Buy getting into the game. Amazon’s Alexa now has a care hub dedicated to senior living, not to mention that bidet sales have gone through the roof!
“The products featured in the Werner House move folks from fear to freedom!” Cini declares. “Whether it’s proper lighting, no transitions in flooring, or height-adjustable sinks, countertops, toilets, and upper cabinets, a personalized space gives people more effortless confidence, thus leading to more independence and dignity.”
Cini and her team chose more than 40 vendor partners to contribute to the unique design and cutting-edge products showcased in the Werner Home. Here is just a sampling of the collaborative project’s innovations:
- Shaw’s Sole with Sensfloor Technology, which incorporates discreet and unobtrusive sensors into the flooring to alert caregivers if someone moves around or falls. This integrated safety tool can also work with lighting controls to illuminate a space when movement is detected.
- Comfortable and mindful seating by Samuelson Furniture is structured to fit the body perfectly and includes the Sound by Samuelson built-in Bluetooth system, which allows users to be immersed in the comforts of sound with a touch of their hands.
- The Werner renovations include a premium self-service spa and wellness center equipped with a steam shower, sauna, hot and cold plunge pools, and massage room. SMARTfit adds cutting-edge fitness technology that trains the brain and body simultaneously to improve physical, cognitive, and “dual-task” performance. Design By Intent provides stylish yet functional disability-friendly shower seating and bathroom accents, while Ecore flooring reduces the risk of injury and falls while delivering sound control and comfort.
- The latest aging in place bathroom technology includes products from Toto; touchless faucets and fixtures from Delta and Jaclo; the Swash 1400 Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat by Brondell, which allows guests with limited mobility to maintain good hygiene with its self-sterilizing, stainless steel nozzles and safety seat sensor; Grabcessories by LiveWell, stylish 2-in-1 grab bars combined with bathroom accessories that look anything but institutional; and Pressalit sinks and toilets that can be moved up and down according to the user’s height and mobility requirements.
- Other shared spaces throughout the Werner Home feature the latest in Bose audio technology, interactive mural art, lighting, and more. Furniture by H Contract and Hekman Contract is designed specifically for senior living applications. Though styles are typical of those found in the home furnishings market, the pieces incorporate additional functionality ideal for senior living, such as senior-friendly dimensions, supportive seat cushions, and upholstery with a moisture barrier. Tailored kitchen cabinets and countertops by Pressalit move up and down to make the kitchen accessible for those in a wheelchair. The Brondell Pro Sanitizing Air Purifier, FDA-registered as a Class II medical device, self-sanitizes as well as captures and eliminates 99.9 percent of the Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) airborne virus. Brondell also provides air sanitizers throughout the common rooms for maximum cleanliness. Beautiful furniture by Oxford Garden enhances the lush outdoor space.
“The mansion will prove to everyone that it’s possible to live on your own terms as you age, with a little tech help,” Cini remarks. “I believe this project will be a beacon of hope showing how anyone can successfully age. The goal is to put these in every major market to help shine a light on what’s possible for aging in place.”