Designing for Retirement: Creating Comfortable, Sustainable And Accessible Homes for Your Golden Years

Accessible Homes

As retirement approaches, many people start considering their living arrangements. For some, it’s about downsizing to a more manageable space; for others, it’s about making their current home more suitable for their evolving needs. Whatever the case, thoughtful planning and design can ensure that your welcoming home remains a haven of comfort, safety and sustainability as you enter this new phase of life.

Whether you’re thinking about building a granny flat or modifying your existing home, there are plenty of questions to ask. If you’re ready to make a change, read through this article to learn more about designing a comfortable home for your retirement. 

Why Making A Change In Your Housing Arrangements Is Important As You Age

Changing your living arrangements is very important as you grow older for several reasons:

  • Costs. Changing your living space now can help you avoid ongoing costs in the future, as smaller homes are undoubtedly cheaper to maintain than larger homes. When you retire, keeping an eye on your funds is more important than ever. 
  • Safety. Safety should always be a concern of yours, but it’s especially crucial when you age. Consider making your home safer with features such as grab bars and non-slip surfaces to ensure you can live happily and safely, even at an older age. 
  • Sustainability. You can lead by example by having a sustainable home designed to last, and you can leave a legacy to be proud of. This can encourage your friends and loved ones to choose better options for their own lives.

What Steps Can You Take To Create A Good Home For Your Retirement?

Now, let’s delve into the specific details you should consider to create a lovely, welcoming and safe space for your golden years:

House Layout And Design For Accessibility. Just because you’re building a home for retirement doesn’t mean it needs to feel like a retirement home. Here are just a handful of ideas for good design solutions that would fit in any home, but you’ll appreciate their importance even more as you grow older:

  • Aim for a design that allows you to live the way you want to today while being able to accommodate future changes in different circumstances.
  • An ideal layout will allow you to live and sleep all on one level to avoid using stairs. This will let you completely avoid stair-related injuries, such as trips and falls, which can be especially devastating at older ages.
  • If you still prefer to have your master bedroom on a second level, you can consider having a self-contained bedroom at the main level. This will allow you to shift to that room if mobility ever becomes an issue.
  • Always allow ample space for circulation and movement. Wide passageways are a practical choice, but they’re also a fantastic opportunity to create a lovely gallery space for your favourite pieces of art or photos of your loved ones. 
  • Wide doorways and spacious kitchens are all hallmarks of a quality home, and generous bathrooms with level entry showers are as luxurious as they are practical. Keep an eye out for design elements like these thatlook smart, but are also safe and practical choices for older individuals. 
  • Consider easy access to outdoor living and your garden. Level access to terraces or decks will make them much more useful and accessible. Green spaces make for wonderful relaxation areas, and can help you destress and stay at peace. 
  • Window seats are a great way to provide a connection to the outdoors during colder months. 
  • Consider designing for others as well, such as carers and grandchildren. This will let you stay connected with others more easily and get the help you might need down the track.
  • Live where you want to – consider moving close to family or moving into an established neighbourhood to make use of your existing support networks. 

Construction And Maintenance. Maintenance is always an important part of having your own dwelling, but you may not want to spend so much time caring for your home when you’re retired. Consider construction options that’ll make your home easier to care for:

  • Choose materials that won’t require much ongoing maintenance. For example, when it comes to wall cladding, you can find options that save money in the long run due to much lower maintenance costs.
  • You can still use materials that require some upkeep, but think about how your home can be designed to make maintenance easier. It’s relatively simple to recoat timber weatherboards if they’re at ground level or can be accessed from decks. However, it will get more expensive if you regularly need to bring scaffolding in to access areas out of reach. 
  • Don’t just think about the main components of the house, either. Even selections such as decking can commit you to an ongoing maintenance regime to keep the timber looking its best and protect it from deterioration. If you know this isn’t for you, consider options such as tiles, paving or even composite decking products that won’t require recoating. 

Comfort And Performance. When building a house for retirement, it makes sense to spend a bit more now on features that will enhance your comfort levels. And, it’s even better if such features can reduce the costs of running the house so you can still afford to live comfortably when you are on a reduced income:

  • In-slab heating is one of the most comfortable ways to heat a home. Using a system that is powered by an air-to-water or groundwater heat pump can make in-slab heating very cost-effective to run. 
  • Insulation is very cheap, so it goes without saying that you should ensure walls, roof and floor are insulated to very high levels. Floor edge insulation is particularly important to stop heat from leaking out through the perimeter of heated slabs.
  • Choose high-performance windows utilising low-e double glazing and thermally broken aluminium, uPVC or timber frames to minimise heat loss and eliminate condensation. 
  • Careful solar design is important so you can use the sun to create warm, sunny spaces in colder months while providing shade to prevent overheating in summer. 
  • It can be worth investigating how you can incorporate solar hot water heating and PV panels into your design. Spending a bit upfront on features like these could lead to significant reductions in your energy bills, which you will appreciate even more when you are living off a reduced income.
  • Use controlled ventilation to remove excess moisture from your home while minimising heat loss.

Lifts. It may be unavoidable to build across several levels on hill sites or when upgrading existing homes. In this situation, domestic passenger lifts can be a great solution:

  • At Chaplin Crooks Architects we have designed several new houses and renovations on Christchurch’s Port Hills that incorporate passenger lifts, and they can be a surprisingly affordable addition to a home.
  • They can provide easy access for family members or guests who simply can’t use the stairs.
  • Even clients who are still mobile enjoy the convenience of using a lift to carry groceries up one or two storeys, so a lift can be a great addition for everyone. 
  • It is often possible to fit a lift into an existing home if you love your existing hill home but are getting tired of all the stairs. 
  • You can also set aside space in your new build for a future lift installation in case you ever require one. In the meantime, the space can be used for additional storage at each level. 

Interior Design. Consider how colours can be used to create spaces that are pleasant, safe and practical to use:

  • Lighter wall colours are usually best, as they will reflect more light around the room. If using darker wall colours, then make sure to allow for additional background and task lighting. We all know how hard it can be to read in a dimly lit room!
  • Don’t be afraid to use bold colours, particularly warmer tones, to add vibrancy to spaces. This can be through wall colours or furnishings.
  • Use lighter-coloured plain surfaces to create higher contrast in task areas such as benchtops and bathrooms.
  • Your home doesn’t need to look too commercial or institutional, but simple things like using contrasting stair nosings and ensuring circulation areas are well illuminated can make it much easier and safer to navigate your home.
  • Consider the best decorating colours for older individuals when designing a colour scheme for your home.
  • Don’t forget to think about any special pieces of furniture you may want to bring with you. It is important to plan your space to suit these items, particularly if you are downsizing.

Flooring. Selection of flooring is another important area that can have aesthetic as well as safety considerations:

  • If you think you may need to provide for restricted mobility then smooth hard surfaces are best. Timber, tiles or vinyl will work well with wheelchairs or walking frames. If carpeting, avoid longer pile thicknesses and use a dense underlay.
  • Cork flooring can be a good in-between option – it is still hard enough for good accessibility, but it has some softness that offers some protection if you fall.
  • Ensure any changes in level are made clearly visible by changing material or colour or using contrasting stair nosings. Avoid busy patterns that can interfere with depth perception, as these can lead to trips and falls.
  • Take care when selecting floor coverings in wet areas. Polished tiles can be very slippery when wet, but tiles with a slight texture are a safer option. Also, consider using vinyl flooring for a full wet area shower.

Automation. Home automation sounds complicated, but with new tablet and smartphone-based apps, it can be surprisingly easy to use and customise. Here are some examples of relatively simple tasks that could be controlled by your device to make repetitive tasks easier:

  • Control Of Roller Blinds: This could be linked to temperature, time of day or even just controlled by remote control. Automated blinds can help prevent overheating due to the late afternoon sun from the west, so the house isn’t overheated when you return home late in the day. It can also significantly reduce the fading of carpet and furnishings by offering protection at those times of day when light levels are highest.
  • Opening Out-Of-Reach Windows: When full-height windows are used there is often a preference to position opening windows at a high level so they don’t interrupt the view. This, of course, can make it difficult to reach these windows safely. As such, they often end up unused or forgotten about. By installing electronic openers to high-level windows, you can make much better use of the opening windows. High-level windows are very effective at ventilating warm air. Even just one or two small opening windows can make a noticeable difference in the comfort levels of a room that may otherwise be closed up. These can be linked to an automation system or simply controlled by a switch.
  • Roof Windows And Skylights. Many new skylights are now wireless and solar-powered, operated by a remote control. They can also be linked to many home automation systems to be opened and closed at certain times or temperatures. Rain sensors mean you don’t need to worry about forgetting to shut them!
  • Automated Lighting Programmes: These can be customised to turn on lights when you arrive home or to turn everything off in the evening. 
  • Automated Heating Systems: Heating and cooling systems can be automated to turn on or off at specific times or otherwise be controlled remotely.
  • AV And Home Theatre Systems: Remote-controlled or app-controlled devices can make enjoying your home theatre as easy as clicking a button.
  • Sun Shade Devices: Exterior sun shade devices such as louvres and retractable awnings are becoming increasingly popular. They can help create sheltered outdoor spaces that are useful when it might otherwise be too sunny, cold or wet to be outside. Linking these to automatic controls means you will be able to open and close them at the flick of a switch. This saves the hassle of having to open and close them with manual cranks and winders that can be hard to reach or operate.

Safety. Safety is essential when you’re designing a home to live in when you’re older. Consider key safety elements such as:

  • Ensure that surfaces in areas that are prone to becoming wet, such as your shower, bathroom and kitchen, are non-slip to prevent falls.
  • Make sure there are enough places to hold onto around your house, such as a grab bar in the shower and handrails along the stairs. 
  • All of your storage spaces, appliances and other necessary features should be easy to access. Nothing should be too high or out of reach to avoid potentially dangerous straining. 

Bathroom. For your bathroom, think about design elements such as:

  • Consider a level entry shower, which can be easier to use and step into than other showers.
  • Install grab bars for stability and safety.
  • Shower seating can give you a stable place in the shower, and is ideal for people with mobility issues.
  • Choose surfaces that provide grip, even when wet. As mentioned above, textured tiles are safer than polished tiles. 

Sustainability. If you want to leave a legacy and inspire your friends and family to make better choices, think about the following:

  • Pick eco-friendly and sustainable materials and design options to lessen your impact on the world. 
  • Consider solar-based heating options, such as areas designed to let the sun heat your home rather than solely relying on a heater. 
  • Think about materials, such as aluminium, that can be recycled and reused in the future. 

Kitchen. Your kitchen is one of the most important spaces in your home, so it’s natural to want to make it a beautiful and practical place by using design elements like:

  • Drawers with ample storage space that are easy to access and use.
  • Automated overhead cupboards that are easy to open and close.
  • Wall ovens that are accessible and simple to use, and can be positioned at whatever height you find most comfortable.
  • Scullery or pantry spaces that allow you to keep appliances such as cake mixers on the bench so you don’t have to lift them out of cupboards.
  • Think about handles on your drawers and cupboards – while hidden or recessed handles are very popular, you may find a conventional pull handle easier to use, particularly with wide drawers.

Designing The Perfect Space For Comfortable Living After Retirement

To get it right the first time and avoid having to make changes at a later date, speak with us at Chaplin Crooks Architects. We’ll help you design a home that’s beautiful and practical so you can safely and happily enjoy your retirement. 

Create the perfect home for you with Chaplin Crooks Architects.