Retirement Planning: Design With an Eye to the Future

Myers Constructs Inc. can help you with your retirement renovation planning

Here in our office, we are seeing an uptick in calls from prospective clients who are preparing for retirement. Some are planning ahead for “aging in place,” if they plan to live in their homes long term, while others are making modifications for their aging parents or special-needs children who live with them. Our challenge in these projects is determining how to successfully update these older homes to make them more accessible and accommodating while factoring in the changing needs of the families who live there. Here’s a look at our process.

The first step is conducting a survey of the house to learn how it currently works. We then interview the homeowners and any in-home care providers about the pros and cons of the existing space. This allows us to learn how the house fits the needs of the people living in it and what changes need to be made. These problems find solutions in the planning phase, where the renovations are “built” on paper first. Those solutions often include the following:

Additions — A multi-story home might require a first-floor addition to accommodate the needs of someone in a wheelchair or who is no longer comfortable with stairs. We can even incorporate an elevator into a long-term plan, and the designated space can be used for closet storage until the elevator is needed.

Doorways and Hallways — These elements can be widened or removed altogether.

Accessible Bathrooms — They are fairly simple to design, and can be very stylish, as well. They don’t need to look like hospital bathrooms.

Accessible Kitchens — These can be very chic spaces everyone enjoys using together. Anyone should be able to operate a great kitchen, even if they are in a chair or scooter, have arthritis, or are simply aging. There are many great products we can specify to help with accessing cabinets, doors, appliances, faucets, and the like.

Lighting — This is a feature we notice more as we age and our eyes become weaker. Where a few high hats in the kitchen would have been fine for someone in their 30s, a middle-aged or older person will need much more light. Sight-impaired individuals obviously have other special lighting needs. Knowing what a person needs now and in the future helps us to design needed features into a project.

The key to accessible homes is making them logical, attractive, and easy to use for everyone, no matter their abilities. They are not hard to do well, but they do require some thoughtfulness and good planning.


Image: garryknight

Part I In a Series: When Vintage Decor Meets Modern Renovation – and a Giveaway!

If you follow our blog regularly, you may already know that we’re doing a long-awaited renovation of the master bedroom suite at our 1950s Sputnik-era split-level rancher in Flourtown. Happily, the construction phase is over, and we’re now on to the finishing touches and decorating stage. This is when we get to install all of the shiny and pretty bits. Shopping for just the right decor is, for me, one of the most fun parts of the project. Because I love old, quality crafted furniture, I really enjoy the process of combing the local antique and high-end consignment shops to find pieces that will not only fit the space properly, but also tell the right story about our home.

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Irene’s Local Effects

By all accounts most of us in and around Philadelphia dodged the very serious potential effects of Irene. Our hearts go out to those who were not as lucky as we were.

Here are some snaps of what I saw the day after in my own neighborhood;

  • Local streams and rivers were 5-10 feet above normal causing low lying areas to flood. Some people even had to be evacuated by boat.
  • Because the storm threw weather at us from unusual directions, new leaks were discovered;
  • At our house some water came behind the brick screen wall and into the house via the window below.
  • Crawl spaces got wet because the ground outside was so saturated.
  • Tenants at our rental house let us know the old chimney let some moisture in and it stained the plaster ceiling.
  • A customer called to let us know she too got some rain in through her very old worn brick wall, a place that doesn’t normally leak.
  • Tamara reported that a light fixture in her house was dripping too, again with the rain coming in from a new previously unknown leak source.

We were well prepared for much worse. You can see in the photo one neighbor boarded up his large living room window to protect himself. Like many in my neighborhood, I was on my roof the day before the storm clearing gutters and checking caulking.

If you have experienced storm damage we are here to help.

Finding the Magic in Your Home

We often talk to new clients who come to the table with ideas about all kinds of “stuff” they want to buy and install in their homes. While this is a perfectly natural place for most people to start their renovation process, our job is to get them to back up a little and talk to us about their lives. What we really want to know is how they want to live, and how their home fits into that picture. Many times, we have to ask them to stretch a little, imagine a little magic in their everyday lives … and explain what that magic would be.

Typical questions we ask in the initial consultation include:

What works and doesn’t work in your home?

What do you love and what do you hate in your home?

When you travel or visit the homes of friends and family, what do you enjoy about those places?

What kind of experience do you want to have when you come home? What does it feel like?

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

How long has the issue you called us about been a problem for you?

If you closed your eyes and imagined your perfect home, what would that look and feel like?

How do you want your rooms to function? For example, in your kitchen, you cook, eat and store goods … but what kind of cooking do you do? What kind of foods and goods do you store, and in what quantity? Do you have religious or cultural guidelines you must follow in your kitchen? Is wine or beer a feature of your enjoyment of food?

Bathrooms, too, leave a lot of room for magic, if you open up your imagination. A bathroom can be a bare-bones space for performing necessary functions like cleaning your body … or it can be a pleasurable oasis consisting of luxurious materials and textures.

So we infuse some of this type of magic into all of our clients’ projects. And this is so much more important than merely selling them “stuff.”

A Visual Breakdown of Kitchen Renovation Costs

I asked Dana, who is very good with the computers, to give us a simple pie chart of one of our recent kitchen projects. Here you go:

I wanted this tool because many homeowners think the most expensive stuff in their kitchen is the cabinetry and counter tops. You can see from the graph that this is not the case at all. In this case its less than 18% of our typical kitchen project.

“How come?” you ask. Let me explain;

The only way your biggest cost would be in cabinets and counters would be if you were swapping out the exact kitchen you have now; same layout, with new cabinets and a new counter top, or re-facing the kitchen you have and adding a new counter top.

Most of the people who call us want a completely new kitchen space with the room stripped to the subfloors and studs. So all the stuff that is in the walls; your pipes, wires, insulation, and often even the structural elements, doors and windows, gets moved or changed or replaced. And then we have to put in all the new stuff you do see like drywall, stone, tile, paint, cabinets floors, lights and outlets, heating and cooling and ventilation and lots of other stuff.

That’s a lot of stuff! Some of it isn’t very sexy the way cabinets and counter tops can be. But it all needs to be done if your kitchen is going to work well.

Time for a Home Checkup!

Just like you need to go to the dentist for regular routine maintenance, your home needs ongoing T.L.C. to keep it looking and feeling well. And just like delaying medical checkups, if you put it off these maintenance checks, your house will surely suffer for it in the long run.

We have been in business a long time, and we find that some folks simply don’t know where to get started with their routine maintenance plan. Luckily, we do! We offer the following programs to keep your home healthy, energy-efficient and in good order between larger projects. And we work with you to establish a schedule for prioritizing these tasks.

Base-Line Maintenance

Every home requires annual base-line maintenance. This includes everything from cleaning gutters and touching up varnish, paint and caulking, to power cleaning and oiling decks. We can also fix minor items like sticky door locks and broken screens. We can also identify and repair compromises in your home’s exterior to keep it in good order and prevent water from sneaking in. Keep in mind that these mini projects will have your home’s parts working better and looking cleaner, making them ready for full enjoyment all year round.

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Fit and Finish

Being in the design to build business, I have a keen eye for when construction or design is not done “right.” This means that I catch a lot of details that most homeowners don’t. For example, I can see when a run of cabinets is out of level or square by even a small fraction of an inch. It’s also very clear to me when sections of wall are not square.

To illustrate, I’ll share an example here of what I call “Fit and Finish.”

Today, I visited a home that is less than 10 years old and located in a fairly pricey neighborhood. The people who live in this home have great style and taste, and they keep their home spotlessly clean. I love that. But I get so mad when I see how this newer home, like many others in its age range, are detailed. Disclaimer: I have every sympathy with an older home that shows bumps and rolls because of its age, but I have none for a new home that shows poor workmanship. There’s just no excuse for it. And if the walls aren’t square or the cabinets not straight, what about the other non-glamorous stuff in the building, like the roof or insulation? How good will they be? How long will this home and its components last? How will they perform?

If stock kitchen cabinets will be used in a newer home like this, the walls that contain these cabinet runs must be built plumb, level and square. The cabinet runs and rough ins must also be centered and allow for use of spacers at each end so the result will be “fitted.” In the case of this house, not enough room was provided for the cabinet run during the framing layout and plumbing and electrical rough ins. The result was that cabinet spacers were not used properly, so cabinet doors and drawers were not given adequate space to function properly.

In this kitchen, the very top of the line fridge was also supposed to be “fitted” into a small enclosure. But because the framing here was not properly done, the fridge and complementary cabinetry did not fit properly and were not symetrical when they should have been. So this very expensive fridge was not level and stood out to my eye.

Most people know that when you buy an article of clothing off the rack, you will probably have to take it to the tailor to have it fitted to your shape. A great tailor can make even an inexpensive article of clothing look great.

It’s the same with housing components like cabinets and appliances. It’s the job of the designer and carpenters to make sure these stock items fit a home properly. If they don’t, it’s a lot like bad tailoring.

Trust: The Cornerstone of the Contractor-Homeowner Relationship

A female homeowner recently confided in me that she is uncomfortable with allowing male contractors she doesn’t know into her house when she’s home alone or with her young children. “I personally get creeped out by it,” she explained. “Trust is everything, in that respect.”

I don’t think this is an uncommon sentiment because it is one we’ve heard many times before. After all, these contractors interact with homeowners’ families, children, pets, and personal spaces and items during a home-renovation project. People want to know that the companies they hire will treat them and their belongings with respect.

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