We are living and designing in a world where many of our clients are moving up in the aging process. And many of us are already embracing Universal Design concepts to respond to the variety of ages, sizes, abilities and interests of our clients.
As Universal Design becomes more mainstream, a fresh perspective is emerging and it has a focus on the proactive approach, well represented by the Living in Place Institute and the Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) certification program. Recently, I participated in this training program, and it left me with much to add to my toolbox regarding how we approach and design our spaces with respect for the differences in our clients. Following are some thoughts on this innovative approach and on some of those tools.
We have been bombarded by the statistics relating to aging, that our age boom now includes 10,000 people turning 65 daily in the U.S., and that most of us want to continue living in our existing homes and communities as we grow older. We know that the design of these homes may not have considered the changes that occur in the life of a home or the people who live in it.
These issues are certainly drivers behind the push toward improved access and safety in home design. Given that the kitchen and the bath are the two most highly used and active spaces in the home, this is therefore critical for those of us focusing on these spaces.
What is unique to the CLIPP program is that, while aging is a driver, the focus is on design for everyone, a proactive or positive approach that examines what it takes to support each person in the household and to encourage good health and safety. This is not just a solution to a problem, but beautiful and lasting design. Given that this has always been my perspective on Universal Design, it’s music to my ears!
MORE ABOUT CLIPP
The CLIPP program is two very full days. The creators and instructors include two remodelers with a wealth of experience and particular expertise in safety and aging, or, as they have decided, living-in-place, as well as an occupational therapist (OT) with amazing experience and a comprehensive background. There is a considerable amount of information and active participation in the class, some of which I’ll highlight for its value to the designer.
A good amount of class time is dedicated to the medical, pharmaceutical and cognitive issues related to aging. This focus is of great value to designers as it gives us the understanding, not to assume medical expertise, but to speak with an OT or physical therapist (PT), and to appreciate their issues when designing.
Another critical segment of the class focuses on Living in Place designs, products and installations. Of particular value, this product showcase is unique in that products are introduced by name and with costs, some in discussion and some actually available for hands-on trial and understanding.
A third segment is devoted to the use of the Living in Place assessment tool, and this is truly a game-changer. CMKBD Barbara Barton, one of my classmates at the CLIPP program, is reorganizing her approach to clients to incorporate the assessment into her second home consultation with every client, and teaming with the appropriate medical and contracting professionals to get the job done right.
There were many concepts and ideas introduced and discussed in the course, and there is always something new, something to be added to your toolbox. CID and fellow CLIPP Mary Fisher Knott commented that, although she has worked in design and ergonomics for some time, she did have things she would now do differently, including adding a grounded outlet in the toileting area on every job to make the addition of a washlet an easy one.
One of the major take-aways is something that is familiar to many designers familiar with the precepts of Universal Design, but perhaps not to all, and that is that this effort must include a team. Accepting that no one is expert at all things, the combination of a designer, an OT and a builder or remodeler makes up the best team if and when the client has issues to be considered in planning a project. Not just for networking opportunities, but for improved outcomes and reduced risk (liability), this approach can increase and improve business. In class, techniques for developing your own team were generated and discussed. Dialogue like this is invaluable in a class that includes professionals from product supply, design, building, medical and, in our class, home inspection and social services, and it facilitates laying the groundwork for creating a successful team approach.
Probably the most significant tool introduced in this class was an electronic comprehensive home assessment, developed by just such a team. While most designers use a survey to collect information and engage the client in the design process, this assessment covers safety and usability throughout the home and it is also digital, with opportunities to be tailored to a client’s needs and desires. There are also procedures for adding notes and embedding images when desired. It’s set up to allow the results to be organized into those actions that need to be addressed now, those that should be addressed soon, others for the future and those that do not apply. Simply put, it allows a systematic approach to considering every question, minimizing the risk of not addressing issues in the home. For a kitchen and bath designer, this certainly is a more expansive approach and opportunity.
As designers, we have an opportunity through this program to partner with professionals in other fields to create environments that are not just beautiful, but also accessible and safe for every member or guest of the household. Whether an entirely new direction for business or a chance to expand our existing work, it deserves a look.
Mary Jo Peterson is an award-winning designer whose work has earned her national recognition including induction into the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Hall of Fame. She is certified in kitchen, bath, aging-in-place, and active adult housing design. President of her Connecticut-based design firm, Peterson has authored three books on Universal Design and is a frequent national speaker and educator.