Turning a Barn Into a Cottage for Elderly Parents
Designing for older occupants means considering how they will live in it now and what they'll need if mobility becomes an issue
Homeowner Jacqueline Buckley (center) enjoys her spacious kitchen banquette with Jeff and Janet Bernard.
If form indeed follows function, one might be forgiven for joking that Janet Bernard is putting her mother out to pasture. After all, the exterior of the Concord cottage still looks like the backyard barn it once was. But one look inside this completed TV project house and it's clear that Janet and her husband, Jeff, have created a divinely comfortable and efficient home where Jacqueline Buckley can live in warmth, luxury, and close proximity to her family.
This discrepancy between exterior and interior is intentional. The 1894 building was once a functioning barn, complete with a horse stall and a hayloft, and the town of Concord, Massachusetts, would not allow drastic changes to the shell of the historic structure. So architect Holly Cratsley designed a house that essentially keeps the form while switching functions, from livestock storage to a design for life.
That required some gross adjustments: bringing utilities in from the street, lowering the second floor to enlarge the loft space for a bedroom, bolstering the building's light frame with engineered lumber to support a fully equipped home, providing light and air via new windows and doors, and installing a heating and cooling system for year-round comfort.
High ceilings allow for a dramatic staircase.
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."
The finished cottage, photographed in January.
Where to Find It
Nashawtuc Architects, Inc.
Charles Spada Interiors
Stephanie Hubbard, RLA
Halverson Design Partnership
Kristen Greene, Kurt Benedict
K.J. Greene Consultants
East Taunton, MA
Leonard J. Baum
Custom entry door:
Mahogany Craftsman three-panel rail and stile door with glass upper
Select Interior Door Ltd
North Java, NY
Custom entry door arbor, fences, gates, trellis:
English latice with custom trellis, stained Verde Green
Stained glass and patterned glass:
Jim Anderson Stained Glass
Custom cushions, pillows, fabric:
Covington stripes and florals
Copley Square #248-75 fabric
Cannes velvet 4-345103
Norwalk Furniture Corporation
Barrymore Chair and Ottoman #2002-20/2002-10
fabric: Corragio paisley #5-384111
Charlevoix armchair #428-20
fabric: Sorrel leather J-995419
back in Notre Dame plaid #4-309442
Radiant gas fireplace:
President Zero Clearance
Angiques on 5
Cameo side chairs fabric: Sorrel leather J-995419
back in Notre Dame plaid #4-309442
Reclaimed antique pine custom farm table
Staples Cabinet Makers, Inc.
Cassandra #571-13 Fabric: Beauvais #4-618311
Alcott (K657340) white
5-hole Wellspring Beverage Faucet #K6666
#K16109, polished chrome
Wolf Dual Fuel 30-in. Range, #DF304
Wolf Appliance Company LLC
Wolf Pro Hood #W302418 and Wolf Internal Blower Unit #WBLOWER-90INT
Fisher & Paykel Appliances
Black Zimbabwe Honed Granite
Russell Queen Bed #4038-82 fabric: Mythology toile #5-214032
Custom cushions, pilllows bedskirt:
Covington stripes and florals
Essex, fabric: D'oro suede #5-26021
Dupont Stainmaster "Endless Beauty" No. 5861
Color: String of Pearls
Plumbing and heating:
Trethewey Bros. Plumbing and Heating
Allen B. Gallant
Gallant Electric Inc.
Custom carpentry and framing:
J. Wood Builders
Ferrante Tile Company
Clark Painting Corporation
Gilbert & Becker Roofing and Sheetmetal
Glavin Construction Co. Inc.
James M. McLaughlin Inc.
Mark Schaub Chimney Savers
Split-type air conditioners:
Mitsubishi Electric HVAC Advanced Products Division
Energy recovery ventilation system:
E-Z-Vent II Energy Recovery Ventilation System
Natural Bridge Station, VA
Radiant heat wall system:
Radiant Engineering Inc.
Radiant heat floor system:
Wall-hung condensing boiler:
All sinks, toilets, and fixtures by Kohler
Andersen Windows, Inc.
Engineered lumber and plywood:
Cedar sidewall shingles:
Teal Cedar products
Surrey, BC, Canada
Southern yellow pine roof shingles:
Standing seam copper roof and copper gutters supplier:
Copper Development Association
New York, NY
Dales Longstrip Collection
Carlisle, Hard Maple Natural
Cobblestone and select bluestone:
Swenson Granite Works
Plant material supplier:
Weston Nurseries & Garden Center
Interior and exterior paint: