S1, E10: Accessible Home Design & Aging in Place

Building a home for every member of the family and one that will serve you regardless of your season of life is important to many of our custom home clients. Learn about Universal Design principles that you can use to guide your home's design to make a home that is safe and comfortable for everyone.

This week's guests are architect Jim Buljeski, Cindy Roeser of Roeser Home Remodeling (a Certified Aging in Place Expert), and Tiffany Dill, a Certified Occupational Therapist who specializes in home modifications and new construction.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode:

AARP provides a simple list of things to do and not to do to when designing your new home - including their Home Fit Guide.

University of Buffalo Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center), a national resource center for universal design (they took over the NC State resources since 1999, where universal design principles were established).

Easy Living: Key Features for Low Maintenance Living
This article highlights design elements to consider when designing a home for aging in place.

Newest Developments in Aging in Place Design
This article lists many of the features discussed in our episode. Many of these Universal Design adaptations are simply good design, no matter the age of the homeowner.

Tiffany Dill, Blue Day 2 Designs
Connect with our guest, Tiffany Dill, for assistance with adaptive home design.

Jim Buljeski, Architect
Connect with our guest, Jim Buljeski, a gifted architect and design expert.

Cindy Roeser, Roeser Remodeling
Considering a home remodel in the St. Louis area? Learn more about our guest Cindy Roeser and her company Roeser Remodeling.


Season 1, Episode 10: Accessible Design & Aging in Place Transcript

If we just put it in the design and show them the ease of living in that space or that kitchen or that bathroom, they don't even think about it as getting older. 

I think it's really about the experience. I've had a couple of clients, I won them over with, you know, this just makes it easier for you.

Voiceover: Welcome to The Art of Custom from Hibbs Homes. In this week's episode, Kim and Danni are talking about designing for different seasons of life. Whether you're starting a family, empty nesting, or welcoming parents or kids back into your home, you'll see that there are lots of easy ways to design and build a home that works for your life.

Danni: At Hibbs Homes, we build homes for every stage of life, and every type of family. Our families and our homes are all unique, and we try to make sure that every home that we build is really designed to fit people's lifestyles.

The three seasons of life that we're seeing most frequently are people that are active families - they have kids in the home or they're planning to have kids in the home. Multi-generational, that's another sort of phase in life where either your kids are coming home or your parents are coming to live with you. And forever home, people that are looking to stay in their home for the long-term. Today, we've invited three experts in design and construction to join us and talk about how to build a better home for the season of life that you're in. 

Kim: Yeah, we really look forward to having this panel with us today, very knowledgeable, good friends of ours, and we think this episode is going to be a lot of fun.

Cindy Roeser is with Roeser Home Remodeling here in the St. Louis area. Cindy, a very good friend, runs an excellent remodeling company and has earned the designation as a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, we look forward to having Cindy join us. Jim Bujleski is one of our go-to Architects here in the St. Louis area, well-versed in design trends, specifically designing for the three seasons of life that Danni referred to. And Tiffany Dill is a certified occupational therapist who specializes in home modifications and new construction. She's also a pro when it comes to custom home building because she had a home built recently and she also has a podcast. So this is quite the group we've got going on.

Cindy, let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about your business. I know you guys do just a tremendous  job here in the St. Louis area. 

Cindy: Thanks. Well, my husband and I have been in business for 34 years, were a full-service design/build residential remodeling company. We don't do any commercial work, we don't build new homes, we strictly do remodeling. 

Kim: And how did you get into the business and specifically talk about why you decided to go after the designation for Certified Aging in Place Specialist.

Cindy: My husband was a journeyman carpenter for a cabinet company. He also had a background in prefabricated homes, and when his boss was beginning to retire, he he was ready to start his own company. And so we just kind of jumped in and flew by the seat of our pants for a while. And as for Certified Aging in Place, our Home Builders Association started a 50-plus housing counsel and I was really interested in it because I saw that as the future. I was in my early 40s but I knew that the Baby Boomers were growing older so it was a good place to do a lot of study. 

Kim: Excellent. Well it's nice to have you here. Thank you. Jim, I mentioned you're one of our go-to architects. We've worked with you on many, many projects over the past few years. We welcome you into the studio as well and tell us about your Architecture Firm .

Jim: Well thank you, Kim. Jim Bujleski Architects has been in business for 15 years now. And we design new homes. We do additions remodels and we do have the whole gamut of clients that will come in, both young and empty-nesters, families, coming in that have specific needs and we have to address those needs. 

Kim: Excellent. Tiffany, you and I had a chance to meet a few weeks ago, very impressed. You and I were having a conversation, you recently built a custom home. And so, you've been through the process. As I mentioned also, you specialize in home modifications and new construction, and you're a certified occupational therapist. So I think it's going to be nice to have you on the panel as well, because you deal with some of these issues on a daily basis, don't you? 

Tiffany: Yes. Correct. As a clinician, I work with a lot of kids that have disabilities, from physical impairments to cognitive to neurological disorders. Just being an occupational therapist, I saw a need to build our forever home and we also have family members that have disabilities. I also have aging grandparents and we really wanted to invite everybody in our home knowing that we had friends in wheelchairs or that may use a cane. So we have a ramp in the back of the home.

So we planned ahead during the process of working with the architect. We incorporated a lot of Universal Design principles, as well, which is very similar to aging in place. 

Danni: Awesome. So, I want to start with one of the groups that that we work with a lot, which is families with kids. When you guys are approaching the design of a home for a family that has kids, or they're going to have kids, what are some of the things that you're considering in the design that maybe somebody who's looking to build a house should be thinking about?

Cindy: Recently, we just had a family that has three young boys with allergies. They all have life-threatening food allergies, so their kitchen was super important to them. So we built different levels because everybody cooks in their house so that the kids could actually participate in the cooking. Another thing is strollers, strollers are a biggie. If you have steps to a front entry or steps to your back entry, 

Jim: We have a recent client, where they've got five kids and going to have another one and the primary thing they're looking for is making sure each of them have a bedroom, and then you get into the whole proximity thing - how far away is the little one going to be from the master bedroom and how can we make this work? It often becomes very challenging, especially in a remodel situation. 

Cindy: Right? And that is challenging because you're dealing with a house that's already been built, someone else's work. We're also noticing laundry rooms on the second floor with families too because it's easier to be closer to the bedrooms. You know they're not putting them in mud rooms as often anymore.

Jim: That's right. With this particular family where we're considering not going over the top with the master suite on the second floor but rather just setting it up so that Mom and Dad are accommodated well, and perhaps down the road, they can add a master suite to the first floor, which will be more beneficial later in life.

Tiffany: Sometimes, they'll put an office off to the side of the kitchen so that they can still keep an eye on the kids. And the other thing I think about too is when you have families, and they may not be parents yet, but if they are planning new construction, I usually like to encourage having at least the bedroom on the main floor or maybe a second bedroom on the main floor. Just because you just never know, the unexpected could happen or a mother may have to have a cesarean and they aren't able to take the steps right after surgery. Or if you have an ankle sprain or if you ever have hip surgery or knee surgery and that kind of thing. Thinking about taking the steps and how to get up to the second floor is another thing that I think about and having a bathroom on the main floor for families and parents.

Kim: What are some of the things to consider for kids or younger children who might have special needs? 

Tiffany: I think for kids that have special needs, I would make their bedroom on the first floor. If it's a home modification, you can always add some equipment like a stair lift. if there's space for that, or planning for an elevator, as well, especially if they're using equipment. Also, wider hallways are really important if they do have equipment. It's easier to haul the equipment in and out, and they can roll around into the home as well, if they are in a wheelchair.

Danni: Tiffany, one thing I have a kiddo that's on the autism spectrum. And we've made a lot of changes to our home to accommodate him if you're early in design and considering a home that would be accommodating on a sensory level. What are some things you might consider?

Tiffany: I would definitely think about supports if you want to put in a swing or a sensory area, a lot of people like to do that in the basement. And think about the support systems that are needed if you want to put in a swing or any larger equipment. I also like to think about having a safe room if it's needed - a little quiet room or safe room or calming room, that would be good for kids with autism, as well. 

Kim: Cindy how difficult is it to work around an existing home, and what are some of the tips you have for those considering? 

Cindy: It is really difficult. It is it a lot easier to do it from the beginning when you're building the house. When you get into these older homes, well, even some of the newer homes, they're just not built for Aging in Place at all. We have to worry about the structure of the existing house and what it can support, and there's only so much room. Not to mention that it gets really expensive for these families, the cost is sometimes prohibitive.

We've worked with people before that love their neighborhood. They love where they live. They were able to carry their child up and down the steps, but now she's a little bigger. She's a teenager or a middle schooler and can't get up and down, and they don't have the money that it'll take to put in an elevator or, you know, and maybe their stairway isn't wide enough for a lift. And it is a huge challenge. 

Kim: You know, it's interesting because we're talking about a variety of subjects here from when you have kids and moving on but really it all falls under the one umbrella of Universal Design. So a lot of what we're talking about even for younger kids is applicable to Aging-in-Place, right Cindy?

Cindy: Absolutely, and when she was talking about that, that's another standard practice we do. We brace the walls and the shower because it also helps with towel bars. People don't usually know where they want to put a towel. It's just easier to have it already there and it's not really expensive. One thing we forget about is comfort height toilets. They used to be an oddity and now they're the standard. You probably use that in home building. They're a little harder for smaller kids, but from the age of probably six and up, they're perfect, they really are. So that's just a standard thing that the industry has taken over, which is really Universal Design or Aging in Place 

Kim: And the good part about that is pricing. Where those toilets used to be a lot more expensive, now they're very reasonable. There's not a big price difference between the standard height in the comfort height. So, even from the standpoint of budgets, as we've talked about, a lot of products are becoming much more budget-friendly, which allows them to be added into a remodel or a new construction situation.

Tiffany: And I like to add to the toilet, button and the outlets behind the toilet which is great so you don't have to buy like a full bidet. If you're going to put in a bidet, you can find them very inexpensive. Bayou Boutte has them. Koehler has them where you can find the attachments just to put on there and it's easy to install. So if they decide to do a bidet later, they can always add that but they seat to the toilet and it useful for kids as well.

Danni: So once you've got your kids, they're good, they're getting older and they're leaving the house. We're seeing the sort of middle stage in life that we're designing for quite a bit. This multi-generational where either the kids are coming back or the in-laws are moving in. It's being recommended that we design a lot more with maybe two kitchens and different private spaces. How are you guys approaching multi-generational need and homes?

Tiffany: A lot of people are thinking more about the Mother-in-law suite. And if they are doing an addition, they can think about having the Mother-in-law suite on the first level so that they don't have to take the stairs. Often, if there is space for that. I know in Georgia and North Carolina, they're talking about accessory dwelling units and that's kind of the thing now. And they're starting to incorporate Universal Designs in those accessory dwelling units, which may not be applicable for St. Louis yet, just because they don't want people to rent them out. 

Kim: You bring up a very interesting point because as a new construction, contractor, one of the issues we run into with some of the municipalities is just that. If, for example, if you want to do an apartment over a garage, or if you want to have a separate out building, they will not allow that because they don't want you to have the ability to rent that out. So that's something that they're going to have to wrestle with here in the St. Louis area. Because, Jim, I can tell you more and more of our clients are coming to us and specifically saying we want to design our house so our parents can come back and live with us or our kids might come back with their families at some point. But multi-generational design is something that I think all municipalities have to take a look at because it's very popular right now. Do you have a lot of clients asking you for that design? 

Jim: You know, actually we do and a lot of people misunderstand what you can and can't do. In Webster Groves, we can actually put an apartment type unit above a garage, it's allowed. You're allowed to have a kitchen and a bathroom up there, and I think that's the case in a number of municipalities it's just the utilities have to come from the house. 

Kim: Here in St, Louis area, it's a little bit unique because we've got about 90 different municipalities that we have to deal with. So I think that's part of the problem, whereas most of the municipalities across the country, you're dealing with just one maybe two. So I think that, you know, your experience might be a little bit different than my experience. 

Tiffany: Some of them do have limits on or codes on how big it can be. So it has to be under a certain square footage. 

Cindy: It's a little easier when it's attached to the house. If we do an addition and it's going to be an in-law suite as opposed to detached in a pool area or attached to the garage or something like that. 

Danni: If you're trying to design for your family, to reside with you but also trying to allow for some privacy, you got to think about what that day-to-day is, like, how do you handle that? If you're at the early stages of design and you're trying to lay out a space where somebody can have privacy but not have to deal with stairs and all of that. Have you addressed that before in your designs. Jim?

Kim: We see a lot of homes being expanded. We recently, did an addition to a ranch out there where family had in-laws coming in. We added a new garage and repurposed the garage to add a fairly compact in-law suite - bedroom, kitchen, and a little family area. It was quite separate and they were private. 

Cindy: One of the problems that we are running into is that when we go before ARB, or we go before Planning and Zoning. 

Kim: ARB, real quick, is architecture review boards.

Cindy: Or the planning and zoning boards you have to go through if you're changing anything in the house. Now a days, those people that sit on those boards are volunteers and they don't always understand the building. And a lot of times they don't know what zero entry is. They want you to have a little step to walk into your house. We're like, they're older, they want a zero entry in there. So it's educating our volunteers our governments as well. 

Tiffany: And I agree. Actually, we started a Coalition in St Louis County and it's called the Universal or the Inclusive Design Alliance, we talked about that and try to educate the public, the professionals, and the community members and city officials on what Universal Design is so that we can start thinking about coding changes, if we need to think about those kinds of things. So they would know about those things when they sit on the board.

Danni: Really sounds like a lot of the design recommendations you guys are giving would really help make sure that this house is livable for the long-term. I think when somebody's really trying to go through this process and design a custom home from scratch, it's one of the biggest investments they're going to make. Considering things like these wide hallways and doorways is really going to make a difference where they can stay in their home for the long term. Is there anything functionally that they should consider in the design? I mean like laundry rooms or things like that. Anything about the day-to-day function that we should consider for those different stages in life. 

Cindy: With the kitchen area, I planned the microwave drawers that pull out. in the 70s and 80s, we used to put them above the ovens and now they don't want you lifting above your head to get food. It's much easier if it's a drawer unit that comes out. That's great for kids and it's great for aging because it's much easier to lift than to pull out over your head and bring down. 

Jim: Cindy the other one, we see there is the raised dishwasher making it easier to access or even in the kitchen, there might be pull out counters. We're seeing more of that on the islands. 

Kim: So as we turn to a conversation about Aging in Place, does the dialogue change much from what we've talked about earlier?

Cindy: We don't label it Aging in Place. We just put it in our design and just tell them how convenient this is and how easy it is. Because if you put Aging in Place, then that puts them in a different place mentally. So if you just say, if we raise this a little bit, see how much easier it is to pull it out and lift it up. As opposed to pulling it over your head, something hot that's over your head. So if we just put it in the design and show them the ease of living and that space, or that kitchen or that bathroom, they don't even think about it as you know, getting older. 

Tiffany: Yeah, I agree. I think it's really about the experience. Once they experience it and see it and see photos of it. I've had a couple of clients that are very hard to work with, and they're family members, so they're very difficult and challenging. I won them over with pictures and not terming it Aging in Place or not even Universal Design, really, but just saying that this just makes it easier for you. It's safer, too.

If they want to live in their forever home and they want to design like they're going to live in it forever, some things that I like are the induction stovetop just because it's safer for kids and safer for adults who don't have temperature or have sensory loss. It also cools really fast so you don't burn your hands on it. The controls are also in the front. For someone that has vision impairment or vision difficulties, they can see the controls in the front as well. Having controls in the front of the appliances is a lot easier to use.

Jim: And then are a common one that we will see and it's really a no-brainer. But so many of these elderly or folks that are aging in their house, have had the laundry in their basement all their lives and so we're frequently simply pulling that up from out of the basement.

Often there might be an extra bathroom or something in the hallway where we can eliminate the tub because they don't need it there, perhaps, because they've got other tubs and places to shower and bathe. But sometimes we can pull out a tub and put in a washer/dryer behind a cabinet or do that in a mud room. We're seeing a lot of washer and dryers go behind cabinets these days because they're in places where we don't want to see those machines all the time. And these are some of the things we're having to do to bring them up to the first floor, into multi-purpose type spaces.

Kim: Elevators have been mentioned a couple of times during our conversation. And I know that from my experience as a new construction builder, we actually have people who are requesting elevators they may not be able to afford it right now, but they're actually incorporating that into the design and then they have a space for it should an elevator need to be added later. 

Jim: I've had families that have been in their homes for 20-30 years and they like to stay there, but they are multi-level homes and frequently, they'll come to me and and want to know what it's going to take to put an elevator in. Having having looked into this, I can tell you the three level elevator is a very expensive thing and almost cost prohibitive. But two levels can be had for a lot less There are elevators out there that are shaft-less and often we can find a place for these things. But you can quickly get upwards of $40,000 on something like that. Versus the shaft-less elevators you might be able to get say in the 25 to 30 range, making it more applicable to your situation 

Kim: Cindy, you would also mentioned earlier lifts, but you're saying that there, there may be some issues with with lifts, just with acceptance by some municipalities right? Not the regular, stair lifts that you'd see on TV, but the ones that'll fit in a closet and they're almost like a hydraulic lift that you can just walk in and it goes. up. Around the nation they're using them a lot, and they're really much more cost friendly. But a lot of municipalities won't allow them. And I'm not exactly sure why I'm not versed on why they don't allow?

Cindy: So that's something that obviously, if you're thinking about a project, whether it's new or remodeling, make sure you check with your local municipality to see what's allowed.

Danni: So I imagine that a lot of the issues that were designing to overcome or accommodate in these homes can be assisted by technology. Am I right? 

Tiffany: So assistive technology is another thing, otherwise known as Smart Homes, and there's different devices that you can put into your home. We recently had a tour with the ReSound group in St. Louis, and they are a company that provides a lot of assistive technology. And actually I have a hearing impairment and I use some of the assistive technology in our home. 

Cindy: We are running into that a lot too. We've put in similar things for Aging in Place and there are things that will blink your lights s you know somebody's at your door, or they'll be louder so people can hear 

Kim: As we age in place, sometimes we have a hard time sleeping and they have lighting now that'll start to turn itself down in the evening gradually. And then in the morning, a real pleasant way to wake up is to have those lights just gradually get brighter. Or when you're jumping up in the middle of the night, looking for that toilet you can have a path lit up to the toilet. Or the toilet can be lit itself nowadays. Jim do you have to plan much in advance for that or is that something that you work with kind of a lighting specialist or a smart home specialist and have them help you after the design is done. 

Jim: It's a lighting spec that can come later. If you should choose 

Kim: Cindy, since you do a lot of remodeling work, our is a lot of this equipment. Can you retrofit into an existing home? 

Cindy: It's pretty easy to retrofit.

Kim: Okay, and I know that's a big change in our industry. Where as years ago anything had to be hardwired but now a lot of it can be retrofit which is much better.

Danni: I know the Oasis Institute is a great organization Nationwide and so when you think about aging in place and that population and Technology, it might be a little overwhelming but they do great in-home [00:24:24] training and in community trainings to kind of make technology a lot simpler for that demographic as well. So if you've got a parent that or even if you're struggling with any of this, look up The Oasis Institute. They've got a lot of great programs. What about the exterior? We, I mean [00:24:39] as we're talking about maybe young kids and safety and then long-term accessibility. What are some things that we might want to consider in the exterior elements of the home? 


Jim: just having the steps lit up. Can make a huge difference for all of us and having proper hand rails, to help [00:24:54] us get out to our cars safely. These are some real simple things that we all could enjoy.


Cindy: waterfall, stepping up to your house. You know, you have a long step? You would take a little step up and maybe take two more, [00:25:09] three more steps before you have another step and then we do that a lot in the front, so that you have a slow entrance. Somebody with a walker, would be able to put their walk around and take a few steps before. They had to take another step. Ramps, if you can make them look pretty in that look like Rams, you know, [00:25:24] with landscaping and stuff. They're always great for strollers, bicycles. Everything. Also the entry into a garage from the house. If the, if it could be one floor or a kind of waterfall stepping or something because that's huge. [00:25:39] 


Kim: So this whole conversation has been really eye-opening because I have learned a lot as a new construction builder. I mean, I've taken away several items that you all have mentioned that we need to make sure that that we seriously take a look at when incorporating these [00:25:54] ideas into projects. So it leads me to believe that quite frankly, you need to make sure that when you put your team together, whether it's remodeling or new construction that that your team totally understands the importance of Universal Design and also understands [00:26:09] how to incorporate some of these important ideas into that design, 


Cindy: And we've only touched upon the surface. 


Tiffany: Yes, I was just kind of say we haven't really dive deep in. 


Kim: So if someone's listening and they want to learn more or if they're working with an architect or a builder on a [00:26:24] remodel or a new construction project, who do you recommend? They seek help from. I mean, where do you do you Google somebody? What do you do? 


Tiffany: There are several resources. I would actually recommend one is the AARP. They have great [00:26:39] tips on how to make your home safer. Even less expensive. So, like, just something simple as removing your rugs or if you have to have rugs in the bathroom, just putting like rugs that are attached to the floor, you know, suctioned to the floor so that they don't trip over the rugs or the rugs slip out from under them. [00:26:54] And even having lever door handle is just simple changes. The other place that I get, a lot of information and resources, from is the idea center from the University of Buffalo and they actually list the Universal Design principles, they talk about the goals. [00:27:10] There are a lot of resources on their website, if you wanted to dive more into the Universal Design 


Kim: then also look for a contractor, like you Cindy, who took the time to get the designation of a certified Aging in place specialist. Because that, that took you time and effort and [00:27:25] energy to really learn and understand what goes into the process, 


Cindy: right? So the National Association of home builders has a listing nationwide of people that are cap certified certified Aging in place specialist. So they're a good resource [00:27:40] as well. They have a lot of information on Aging in place or Universal Design. 


Kim: Excellent. Well I can tell you what if you're in the St. Louis area, obviously Tiffany Tiffany Dill you can help Roser home remodeling would be a great stop for a contractor and Jim Bujelski Architects [00:27:55] would be another really good stop. If you're looking for an architect, we can't. Thank you guys enough for joining us today. The conversation has been extremely enlightening and informative and we just appreciate you taking your time to join us today


Danni: and we'll have all [00:28:10] of the contact information for our guests along with some links to resources including that home fit guide at www.haddadhyundai.com episode 10. That's just the number 10. And if you have any questions or comments, [00:28:25] something you want featured on an upcoming episode, we do have a voicemail line at 3142669709, give us a call. Give us your thoughts and we'll be happy to include you in an upcoming episode. 


Kim: You know, we mentioned the b word earlier today. You know what the b word is [00:28:40] 


Danni: budget 


Kim: budget. There you go. Ding. Ding. Ding coming up on our next episode. I think it's one of the most important aspects of any construction or remodeling project that is the budget and we'll be talking about it on our next episode and we certainly hope you'll join us. Then


Voiceover: [00:28:56] For more information, visit www.archives.gov system podcast.com or find us on Facebook as the art of custom and on Twitter at Art of custom pod be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher or [00:29:11] wherever you get your podcast to get the latest episodes and please rate and review to help us grow. The art of custom is produced by hug monster sound with original music by Adam brekford. I mean, thanks for listening.