Made to Fit for Aging in Place

(This is an updated and expanded version of an article that appeared in the San Diego-Union-Tribune in December 2011.)

A Rancho Bernardo family will be enjoying their prize-winning kitchen makeover just in time for Thanksgiving. Diane Petrini, 59, and her husband Joe, 62, share a house in Gatewood with their youngest daughter, Laura, 35, and 15-year-old grandson, Torrin, along with the family dog Cashew.

The Petrinis were one of seven San Diego households who wrote winning essays in the “Designed for Life-Kitchen and Bathroom Contest.” County residents over 45 were invited to submit essays on why they needed a remodel. The grand prize winner received a custom designed remodel worth more than $50,000.

Increasing Awareness of Aging in Place Choices

The contest was sponsored by ReVisions Resources in collaboration with the San Diego chapters of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Falls in kitchens and bathrooms are the number one reason older Americans are forced to leave their homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. ReVisions Resources Executive Director Liliane Choney said her group “works to connect people with products and services to help them ‘age in place,’ to stay in their homes.”

The grand prize contest winner was announced in December, 2010. Diane Petrini won for her kitchen essay. The Petrinis have lived in their home since 1986. Joe Petrini, a Purple Heart Vietnam War veteran, suffers from arthritis and other health issues. Diane has vision problems, as does grandson Torrin, who has mild cerebral palsy. The family enjoys preparing meals together, but they found themselves struggling to work in their 1979-era kitchen.

Kitchen Challenges

The cabinets were difficult to access for Joe with his arthritis and Diane with her impaired vision. Insufficient cabinet space and inadequate lighting were also problems.

Universal Design Approach

Interior Designer Lindsay Hester planned the new kitchen utilizing the principles of Universal Design, a concept pioneered by the late Ron Mace, a wheelchair-bound architect.“The essence of universal design is that a home should serve the greatest number of people regardless of age, mobility or physical stature,” said Hester.

A number of corporate sponsors provided labor and materials, including Wardell Builders, Arizona Tile, Bill Howe Plumbing and Dixieline Lumber.


Two little-used sliding glass doors were replaced by a solid wall which now supports a single, L-shaped counter. “We’ve really doubled our counterspace,” said Diane. The previous island cooktop has been replaced by one built into the counter. A raised breakfast bar provides family gathering space while isolating stray hands away from the adjacent cooktop.

Two waist-level dishwasher drawers, one on each side of the kitchen sink, insure adequate dishwasher capacity while minimizing bending and stretching.

New cabinets right above the dishwasher drawers have clear glass doors and lighted interiors “so items are easy to identify and locate,” said Hester.

Other examples of universal design include: improved color contrast to aid those with impaired vision; corner closets containing lazy susans and drawers that can be pulled out fully for easier access; a pull-out “appliance garage” that keeps small appliances accessible without having them clutter up the counter.

“She’s really taken into account all of our needs,” said Diane Petrini of Hester’s design. The kitchen remodel will be part of the ASID’s annual showcase home tour scheduled for May 2012. Adding the Designed for Life sites to the tours will show people “that these changes are now part of the mainstream,” said Choney. “We are truly blessed to have such a wonderful thing happen to us,” said Diane Petrini. “We appreciate all of the people who have worked so hard to make this kitchen a reality.”


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