Planning for the Future

But these days, designing a house for older — or even middle-aged — clients means considering not just how they will live in it now but what they'll need for the future, when mobility might be an issue. Cratsley asked Jacqueline, who is 72, about stair-climbing, about cooking and bathing, about aesthetic preferences, and more. From those answers she designed a home with a bedroom suite on the second floor but all the pieces in place to convert to first-floor living. "Living on the ground floor was an eventuality everyone wanted to plan for, and wisely so," says Cratsley. A powder room downstairs is rough-plumbed for a shower, its floor canted toward an accessible drain currently hidden by tile, and the living room has pocket doors to close it off as a bedroom.

The construction crew did a few other things to ensure that the house could become more accommodating over time. Jacqueline loves to take baths, so to make sure she will always be able to do that with ease, TOH general contractor Tom Silva put 2x10 blocking behind the walls all around the bathroom's perimeter, ready to anchor additional grab bars in the future. Electrical outlets sit about 12 inches off the floor — higher than normal — for less stooping. And the front entry was designed so that a gently sloping ramp could easily bridge from the walkway to its threshold. As for thresholds elsewhere in the house, there are none.

Lighting designer Susan Arnold worked hard to balance an older person's need for more light against the risk of overlighting and glare. For example, instead of an excess of downlights, the kitchen is lighted primarily with fluorescent strips mounted beneath the cabinets and large milk-glass pendant globes hanging from the ceiling. The black granite kitchen countertop is honed rather than polished, further reducing glare.

Throughout the house, the little things add up. Instead of hard-to-grasp knobs, all the doors are easily opened with levers — in this case, beautiful ones handmade in Santa Fe. The same company makes the towel bars that Cratsley chose to use as easy-to-pull handles on the refrigerator and dishwasher. The dishwasher itself is a drawer, which means no deep bends for loading and unloading. The kitchen sink has a lever for one-handed, nonscalding adjustment, along with an integrated sprayer hose that eliminates the big reach side-mounted ones require. The range top's continuous grill means Jacqueline will be able to move her pots and pans around without having to lift them. The microwave is down on the counter (hidden by a door) so there will be no high reaching for hot foods. And a central vacuum system with filter keeps the dust down and the liftable parts limited to a lightweight hose. Though all these touches seem like luxuries, multiply the reduced efforts they represent and Jacqueline will be saving a lot of wear and tear on herself over the years.

Like many older people, Jacqueline is downsizing from her previous house to make this move. (Sadly, her husband, Len, passed away in November.) To allow her to keep as many of her cherished items as possible, and to keep the house neater day to day, there's an abundance of storage space everywhere, from the spacious upstairs closets to underneath each of three benches — in the entry hall, on the stair landing, and in the kitchen. And speaking of the kitchen, it was here that Cratsley and interior designer Tricia McDonagh made sure that Jacqueline, a self-confessed news junkie, could indulge herself with minimal stress and eyestrain. The large round table with banquette is perfect for laying out the newspaper and sits in a corner illuminated by three windows and a globe light with a strong, 200-watt bulb.

And then there's the biggest and best design element of all: Jacqueline's new house is but a few steps away from her daughter's. No more over the river and through the woods for this extended family, and certainly no accusations that Janet has put her mother out in a barn. As Jacqueline says, "I love the Concord cottage. I call it home."

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