There are many design, renovation, and makeover shows on television that people enjoy watching. Some involve modernizing a property, some are directed at keeping people in their home, and some look at moving on to a new property. While aging in place considerations should factor into the discussions, they typically do not. This definitely is a missed opportunity. In addition to delivering a product that would meet the needs of their clients rather than just being something interesting to watch, it would educate their viewers about the range of possibilities that are available for them to consider doing for their own homes.
It would seem to be such a good fit for these shows to incorporate universal design as a way of meeting the aging in place needs of their clients- especially since many of the design outcomes are stated to create someone’s “forever home.” We know that this means aging in place. But the audience is never brought into the discussion. Rather than appealing to what the client’s personal needs are in terms of what they need to improve their access or mobility within their living space, the scripts focus on making some attractive improvements that look good and only address the space needs of the client instead of their personal and individual ones.
Remember that aging in place is not defined by a certain age but just by the act of living. Therefore, it is not something that is directed just at seniors, just at pre-retirees, just at empty nesters, or just at or for anyone else. It applies to everyone, and this is why an aging in place approach – especially through universal design – would be such a great storyline for at least one of these series.
Whether the design emphasis was directed toward enhancing a new home before its initial occupancy or in updating or renovating an existing one, and regardless of the number, age or characteristics of the intended occupants, the interior design needs to be functional. It should not be created to make a statement for the audience, to showcase the talent of the stars on the show, or to win an award – although all of these could be possible as a result. It primarily needs to be functional for the clients and educational for the audience as to how and why certain design elements were included. It is not being created for entertainment purposes but for showing what can be done to help people create more effective living environments – on their own through do-it-yourself projects or through a remodeling team approach such as we offer age aging in place professionals.
By using universal design as the primary design strategy to help people stay comfortably and successfully in their homes or to transition into a different home rather than creating more specific individual treatments will still illustrate how universal design provides for safe and successful aging in a home, regardless of someone’s current age or ability.
Safety needs to be huge emphasis, and the designs need to reflect this. Easy-to-use hardware and appliance, accessible entry systems and doors, windows that open without a lot of effort, enough contrast to distinguish shapes and keep the design interesting but not so strong or harsh to create conflicts or visual confusion, and controls, switches, faucets, appliances, and other operational features in the home that are convenient to access and use. Effective lighting in terms of location, strength, variation, and type will enhance the overall design and enjoyment of the living space as well.
Achieving a design that appears to be done more for its sake and what it can showcase rather than how well the clients (and others coming into their home to visit or interact with them) can use it takes away from its overall functional appeal and value. Design can be beautiful, functional, and effective. That’s the balance we are striving to achieve as aging in place professionals and what we want the world to know. The more attuned people are to this message, the safer we can create living environments and the longer people will want to remain in their homes.
Universal design is the tool we can use – in the absence of the television producers incorporating into their programming – to show people how an existing design can be successful without any of those features calling attention to the specific design elements which have been included except as they might be new to the space and therefore attractive additions. As such, universal design does not suggest or imply who might use the particular features or why they have been included because literally anyone could use them well.