“Thinking Outside The Box For Creative Aging-In-Place Solutions”

We’ve all heard the expression “thinking outside-the-box.” In fact, we’ve probably used it a time or two when making a presentation or brainstorming ideas. It is used quite often in planning sessions – some would argue that it’s used too often without a lot of meaning behind it.

All that said, there is a real place for outside-the-box thinking when it comes to designing effective aging in place solutions. It comes from really looking at and studying a situation to determine what’s going on and how it might be addressed. Likely, there are more ways than just one or two to approach a challenge.

The idea of out-of-the-box thinking – whoever originated the phrase – is that we should not be constrained by conventional wisdom, the easiest or most apparent solution, budgetary parameters, or “the way things have always been done” in similar circumstances. In other words, we should not be limited to what fits neatly inside the box or within the lines.

This doesn’t mean that we will decide on an approach that cannot be funded by our clients or one that isn’t desired by them, but it does mean that we owe it them and our other team members to at least consider and suggest other possibilities.

Let’s look at a classic example that many of us have faced.

In the middle part of the 1900s, it was quite common for homes to be built with a central hall bathroom – serving the entire home as the only bathroom or as a secondary bath for the non-master bedrooms. This bathroom typically had a tub or tub/shower combination along the outside wall running the five-foot width of the room. Between the doorway (entrance to the room) and the tub, the sink and toilet were configured – often in a straight line fashion along one of the interior walls. The length of the room usually ranged from seven to ten feet. Occasionally, the tub might be located along the interior wall with the toilet and sink opposite it.

Here’s the point. Looking at that room – and not moving or relocating any walls – the simplest approach to a remodel would be to use the existing plumbing lines and locations and to replace the flooring, fixtures, and wall surfaces. That approach doesn’t necessarily solve the issues of the client, however.

When there is a basement or crawl space, plumbing and drain lines can be accessed and moved or replaced as necessary. Therefore, the existing location of the fixtures in the room no longer has to be a “given” that defines the new design. But what about concrete slab construction? So what if the concrete has to cut or broken up to allow repositioning of the lines? Is this an impossibility? No.

It certainly adds to the cost, but it is quite doable. That’s the point with out-of-the-box thinking. Look for what you’d like to create as if anything is possible. Don’t settle for what looks like will work but actually determine what the ideal is for that situation. Then figure out a way to make it happen in the most economical way possible for your client.

There are several ways of approaching a remodel or renovation of a space such as this bathroom. We have seen many new bath fixtures, faucets, folding shower seats, assist bars (integrated without devices or by themselves), flooring, and wall surfaces introduced in recent years. The linear floor drain (also called a trench drain) gives us a tremendous amount of latitude in a redesign of a small room. it could be that a wet room is the answer – where the entire room including the walls and surfaces can get wet by design.

There are other examples that we’ll save for another time, but out-of-the-box thinking definitely can help create effective aging-in-place solutions.

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