Now and Later

BY Karen Fuller

The choice to custom build a new home reccitates many decisions about ceiling height room location kitchen footprint light fixtures and wall color. Its a huge investment so why not use the opportunity to consider some design choices that will enable you to live in your new house through the rest of your life?

The practice is called Aging in Place and it means living in a home designed to function for you as you face the common challenges of aging arthritis compromised balance limited mobility with the possibility of needing a walker or a wheelchair down the road. Another way to describe Aging in Place is through the term Universal Design which basically implies design that is accessible to all regardless of physical limitations.

Laurie Goldwasser knows a lot about it. A transplant from Illinois with a background in geriatric care management she often consulted clients about how to prepare an older adults home to enhance the living environment. She packed all of her knowledge into the design and construction of her own home located in Parkside at Mayfaire.

“When we came down here to build our home we knew we wanted to incorporate some of those features ” she says. “It was tons of fun to design this place with all the Universal Design technology. But it requires a great deal of planning. Thats the operative word.”

Planning and lots of money? Well not always. Much of the Universal Design technology is about making choices what height to place the kitchen and bathroom counters what about cabinet styles? (Suggestion: go for drawers instead of cupboards). Of course some features can cost more but the Goldwassers weighed the costs of features like elevators and accessible landscape design against the costs of assisted living.

“Its a smart thing to think about when youre an older adult having a house built. Why not plan ahead and build a place that can function for you no matter what happens to you physically?” Goldwasser says. “Or what if youre an active adult who plays tennis four days a week. What if you need a knee replacement? Wouldnt it be cool to rehab at home and be able to get in and out of your shower?”

The kitchen and the bathroom are two obvious places where aging mechanisms can be elegantly designed into the structure of your home.


Lets face it being able to function efficiently in the kitchen can make or break your ability to age well at home. As you get older youll need things to be within easy reach from firm footing no more climbing onto stools and stepladders to access your wares. With that in mind Goldwasser designed the kitchen with accessible counters cabinets and appliances.

For example the Goldwassers dishwasher was strategically placed opposite a dish storage drawer for convenient unloading. Heavy items can be moved into cabinet drawers without reaching and risking a dangerous drop. Most of the cabinetry is housed underneath the counters in drawers instead of cupboards. Storing dishes glasses and cooking utensils this way makes them readily available without stooping; items can be stored at lower levels for easy pull-out access.


Goldwasser says the bathroom can be one of the most dangerous places in the house for a geriatric resident considering the combination of water slippery tile and hard surfaces. That said to ensure safety this room need not look like a hospital ward either. Goldwasser installed age-friendly toilets and showers and convenient features to make the bathroom a risk-free place of luxury.

First the room is spacious with an extra-wide doorway for easy access even with a wheelchair or walker. The vanity counter has enough space beneath it to accommodate a wheelchair too and at 19 inches the toilets sit above the standard height.

“Its the ADA recommended height ” Goldwasser says “And it makes a huge difference in getting up and down without compromising the look of the bathroom or costing a fortune.”

Goldwassers favorite feature is the roll-in shower with enough room to turn a wheelchair. Faucet handles located just inside the shower allow the user to operate them and establish a suitable water temperature before stepping or rolling beneath the showerhead. A glass wall maximizes available daylight making it easier to maintain bearings. She says she got the idea for the shower design from the AARP website.

“There is a lot of information there on planning your home for aging ” she adds. “Thats also where I got the information about including lots of light.” As you age your eyes dont refract light as quickly so bright spaces are very helpful. “That is why everything in here is light.”

Also Goldwasser added special touches like grab-bars designed as towel racks. The bathroom tissue hardware operates by lifting a lever instead of squeezing a spring form batten.

“I wanted safety and convenience elements but hid them with smart simplified design.”

The combined results incorporate handicap equipment while creating the illusion of a beautiful modern design.

Getting around the house

Its a major concern moving from room to room is a must but it can be difficult if corridors and doorways are too narrow. And certainly stairs can pose an issue even without considering the limitations of walkers and wheelchairs. Wide hallways and entryways can solve the problem even offering enough room for seniors to walk next to a caregiver. Carpet-less floors also go a long way toward easy trip-free travel. For getting up the stairs Goldwasser incorporated an elevator.


The single most important thing we did was to install the elevator ” Goldwasser says. “And it was the only thing that actually added significant expense to the house.” (The rest of the design was about making common sense choices to plan for Aging in Place.) If an elevator costs $15 000 which may seem significant think about it like this: thats about what youd pay for three months in an assisted living facility.

The elevator situated in the garage accesses the home on all levels and includes a built-in telephone per building code. “We knew we would always enter the house from the garage ” she adds “So this was the most logical location.”

Another safety feature in the garage is a painted strip indicating a step down. “Its a visual cue thats handy for everyone not just the elderly ” Goldwasser says. “We realized how difficult it can be to distinguish where there is a variance in height especially when carrying in groceries and other packages.” She adds that these simple details can prevent debilitating mishaps that could result in a broken hip.

Guest Room

The Parkside at Mayfaire neighborhood is one designed with visitors in mind and many of the homesites include crofters or have space above the garage to accommodate them. Why not think about that as a caregiver space? Thinking ahead to aging family members or aroundthe-clock caregivers who may appreciate having some rooms of their own Goldwasser outfitted the space above her garage as an efficiency apartment. It includes a guest room kitchenette bathroom and closet. It has its own controls and heating/AC unit so that residents can make themselves comfortable.

“Its a nice treat for guests to have their own space and these details are so simple to put into action when youre building your own home ” she says.

Outdoor patio/fireplace and planters

The key to an aging-friendly outdoor space is low/no-maintenance. That means specifying composite material for the doors decking and patio. By elevating the hearth surrounding the outdoor fireplace the Goldwassers have planned for the day when they will be able to sit beside the fire and toast marshmallows with grandchildren.

Already Laurie Goldwasser is using a custom-designed gardening space that doesnt require bending and stooping. She installed a raised bed with a wide comfortable ledge where she sits and tends her herbs and flowers.

She says of her favorite pastime. “I have so much fun doing this. Theres just enough space to give an older person a way to have fun in dirt.”

The elevated garden is also irrigated so watering is not an issue. And the location adjacent to the decks main entertainment space provides an aging relative a high comfy spot to perch while the family gathers round for outdoor socializing.

Added Touches

Lever handles
Lever style handles on doors and faucets make for an easy grip for aging hands. Remember people with arthritis have difficulty gripping objects and rounded doorknobs can be very challenging.

Outlets placed higher on the wall can be helpful if youre struggling with balance. If you have a central vacuum make sure the access to that is high on the wall also.

Rocker switches
Locating a nice wide surface is easy for elderly eyes and fingers and having the dimmer accessible with just a quick touch also helps.


Michael & Laurie Goldwasser

Architectural Designer
Scott Lechtrecker Ocean 3 Design Studio Inc.

CoastLine Construction (no longer in business)

Island Appliance

Sound/Low Voltage
Satellite Army Inc.

Lighting/Plumbing Fixtures
Ferguson Enterprises Inc.

RJP Plumbing Co.

Sample Electric

Creative Flooring Concepts Inc.

Markraft Cabinets Inc.

American Granite & Stone

Ceramic Tile
Southeastern Tile Connection Inc.

Door & Bath Hardware
Coastal Glass & Hardware Inc.

Dennison Painting

Airmax Heating & Cooling

Creation Landscapes LLC

Potted plants
The Transplanted Garden

Windows & Doors
Stock Building Supply Home Design Center

Garage Door
Overhead Door Company

Carolina Fireplace Distributors

Shutter Worx Inc.

Coastal Roofing Company Inc.

Atlantic Elevators Southeast