Baby Boomers Are Impacting the Building Industry

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There are currently 78 million baby boomers in the U.S., making up 25% of the population and controlling 67% ($28 trillion) of the country’s wealth, according to the Living In Place Institute. AARP says 90% of people surveyed want to remain as long as possible in their homes. The majority of those 65 and older remodel their home to make it safer and accessible. In fact, 45% of all remodeling work is being done for people over the age of 65. With this amount of data supporting boomers, it’s not a surprise this population is driving a great deal of the housing industry.

At this year’s Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS), lighting took center stage. Things that we never thought could be lighted, now can be. This includes the interiors of cabinets and drawers, integrated mirror lighting to light one’s face, inside medicine cabinets, everywhere around stairs, backlit countertops and backsplashes, glass countertops and shelves, cabinet toe kicks, undersides of countertops, and flexible lighting to wrap around curves.

Each of the above examples can be lighted in any color temperature (think warm amber to cold, blue-white and everything in between). It’s possible to have lighting that changes color as the day progresses so evening lights imitate the setting sun to trigger melatonin, a catalyst for sleep.

Adequate lighting is a critical component due to the increased need for brighter surroundings for aging eyes. Those over 55 need three times the light of someone aged 20. One in five individuals have a physical or cognitive challenge, and one of the easiest aids is thoughtful lighting.

As a recovering general contractor (I’m squarely in architectural design these days), I keep the real-world in mind. Although many projects may be uniquely cutting edge, I design for the practical. For example, if more than one story, we may stack closets for a future elevator. Employing a bit of foresight during remodeling, it’s simple to frame for wider doorways and infill them to the currently desired width, so should the need arise, a wider, wheelchair-sized door can be installed in a matter of hours.

A “beach entry” into a shower with a door wide enough for a wheelchair is a no brainer. In fact, the last shower curb I drew — the thing we’ve stepped over our entire lives — is a distant memory.

Let’s make sure all towel rods are actually grab bars to help prevent falls. Nowadays, there are thousands of beautifully decorative grab bars on the market. And it’s not just adults who may slip and fall. How many have had a child accidentally rip a rod from the wall? The key is to assure that it is installed correctly, and it’s often not what most people think (hint: don’t fasten to the studs).

Did you know that having a horizontal section of contrasting tile positioned about 5 feet from the floor creates a horizon line for those with a tendency towards vertigo? My girlfriend’s mom needs this in her home.

As a Living in Place Professional, I occasionally design spaces for families with special needs children or adults. There are a host of design elements for each family to meet their immediate needs that could be readily adapted if the occupants move, prepped for any buyer.

Designing for all is important. This means creating thoughtful spaces equally usable by everyone, not isolating or stigmatizing any group. Great design doesn’t have to compromise style, regardless of what the client’s needs may be.

Adam Gibson is an architectural designer specializing in luxury additions, homes, kitchens and bathrooms, entertainment spaces, and commercial suites. Adam is a Certified Master Kitchen & Bath Designer, Certified Aging In Place Specialist, and a Certified Living in Place Professional.

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