Transforming a Beloved Home for Aging in Place

aging in place home makeover
E llen Bevier was but five years old when the house she lives in was built in 1954. Now, at 65, Bevier is retired from a time-consuming career as a newspaper editor. With long workdays no longer an issue, Bevier turned her attention to the home she’s lived in for 35 years.

Bevier is pragmatic. She had no intention of moving from a city as wonderful as San Diego. She likes her urban/suburban College Area neighborhood near San Diego State University. It is centrally located within the county for her interests and has ready access to both trolley and bus lines. She decided her goal would be to make her 60-year-old house safe and comfortable for her old age. That meant renovating the 3-bedroom house to improve its insulation, roof, skylights, windows, the plumbing and electrical systems and how space was arranged.

Packing Up and Moving Out

Talk about a major project. With plans in hands and a general contractor hired, she packed up her furniture and belongings and put them into storage. She picked up her three cats and her dog and moved into a rental nearby for the five months it took for the transformation. Together, she and her contractor and the designers they consulted found elegant solutions for a small, simple one-story house with good bones.

The result is an up-to-date, appealing home, with each detail carefully thought out to be functional as well as attractive to anyone, regardless of age.

Adding Space

So what did she do? A major change is that she made the 1,100-square-food house a bit larger. She had the back of the house bumped out by four feet to add about 90 square feet of interior space and two covered exterior porches–one off the dining room and the other off the master bedroom.

The bump-out allowed her to have the kitchen gutted and reorganized to make it easier to move around and work in the space. It is the envy of anyone who likes to cook and who craves elbow-room. Upper cabinetry was designed with glass fronts to display infrequently used serving pieces and minimize the need for reaching upward day to day. Lower cabinetry was replaced with easy-to-access drawers and pull-out corner unit. A pantry in the kitchen includes a section for her pets’ food and supplies. The remodel of the kitchen also greatly improved its lighting and work surfaces and gave her a 3-foot by 6-foot window overlooking her back yard.

The house with built with 1 1/2 bathrooms. She had both remodeled and enlarged. The home’s original main bathroom has been turned into a guest bath with a laundry space at one end that can be concealed behind bi-fold doors. She got rid of the bathtub and replaced it with a no-lip shower stall. To gain space for the laundry area, the project removed the home’s water heater and replaced it with a tankless model on an exterior wall and moved the furnace to another part of the house.

For the master bedroom, as part of the bump-out she enlarged the original 1/2 bath. In the new master bathroom she added a large no-lip shower stall, separate toilet area and spacious vanity/sink area.

An Eye to Safety

Grab bars were installed in the showers and elsewhere in the bathrooms. Even so, there is nothing about the house that looks institutional.

The 1954 house had high, shallow “ranch” windows in all the bedrooms. There were replaced with deeper windows that should make it easier to escape in a fire and that let in more light. A French door also was added to the master bedroom to give access to one of the new porches.

A sliding glass door in the dining room and an exterior kitchen door were replaced with a picture window and a French door leading to the other porch.

Improving Energy Efficiency

The tankless hot-water heater and new furnace, double-pane replacement windows, Energy Star appliances and more wall and ceiling insulation improved the home’s energy efficiency. Most permanent lights in the house are LED or fluorescent.

Bevier chose fixtures carefully with an eye to future needs. Door handles and cabinet pulls, light switches and faucets were selected based on how easily they could be manipulated by hands affected by arthritis. Nothing needs to be gripped. There are no sharp angles.

Also, several doorways were widened so that in the future, a person using a walker would have easier access through them.

Improvements extended to the exterior to prevent possible falls. The concrete walkways and a replacement patio were designed to provide even, firm footing.

A Little Help from Friends and Experts

Bevier said that beyond her own ideas for improving the house, she got inspiration from visiting the homes of friends who had remodeled or had new homes; from talking with Liliane Choney of ReVisions Resources and attending some ReVisions events about how to age in place; from her sister Gail Boettcher, an interior designer and construction project manager; from looking at thousands of pictures on the remodeling website; from Robert Jertberg of VanBerg Construction, her general contractor; and from interior designer Nancy Suda who guided her with space planning and choosing flooring, tiles, countertops, cabinetry and paint colors.

Before embarking on the project, Bevier also hired a house inspector to go over her home and give her a clear picture of what it needed in terms of basic infrastructure improvements.

All of that pre-construction planning and preparation took almost a year, but was very worthwhile, she said. Now that the renovation is complete, Bevier is working on re-landscaping her garden and front yard.


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