The phrase “thinking outside the box” is likely something we have heard – possibly even used it a time or two. There may be a difference of opinion on what it means, but it focuses on creativity and not being tied down to conventional approaches for a given issue. Generally, it is used in conjunction with brainstorming or strategy sessions to come up with approaches that are good but unconventional.
Actually, outside the box, or out of the box thinking is a preferred approach 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. Definitely, there are no “pat” answers or solutions to an aging in place scenario because no two situations are going to be the same physically, and no two needs (in terms of desired outcomes) are going to be identical.
The idea of being outside the box is looking at solutions and not being constrained by conventional wisdom, the easiest or most apparent solution, or “the way things have always been done” in similar circumstances. Even budgetary constraints often hamper our creativity. We should not be limited to what fits neatly inside the box or within the lines even though we are designing for what goes inside a space. This is using outside the box thinking for what goes inside the box – within the walls of the home.
This doesn’t mean that we will suggest 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.
Consider a classic example that many of us have faced involving mid-century homes – primarily those built from the 1940s through the 1960s. It was quite common for homes to be built with a central hall bathroom – serving the entire home as the only bathroom. 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.
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 as they are and to replace the fixtures with new ones. 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 an unconventional, out of the box thinking. It lets us look for what we’d like to create as if anything is possible. Instead of settling for an easy fix or what would look the closest to what already exists, we can actually determine what the ideal is for that situation. Then, we can figure out a way to make it happen in the most economical way for our clients.
Just because we are working inside a box – the four walls of a room or those of the structure – we aren’t limited in approaching a solution in a typical way or of just doing a simple fix to what already exists. That approach may fit the needs of our client, but we should at least be open to the possibilities of an expanded vision and scope for the space to give our clients more options on layout, appearance, and budget.