[00:00:00] Sarah: You’re Listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.
[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org.
[00:00:31] Sarah: Hi, Good Fit Poor Fit listeners. It’s Sarah and I am back in action today with Rebecca and our guest Taylor Davis. Taylor reached out to us as a frequent listener of our podcast and wanted to join in on the conversation. She is the owner and founder of Taylor Plosser Davis Architecture and Design, which is a residential architecture and interior design firm in Birmingham, Alabama, that does a lot of custom, single-family work in homes. I will put the link to her website in the show notes. She shares some of the same passion as we do for making all homes places where people of all abilities can thrive. Her specialty is design that helps families live longer in homes that they love, whether they are making spaces for babies or teenagers, dealing with an unexpected injury or disease trajectory, or just downsizing into homes where kids and grandkids can visit. We thought it would be fun to have a conversation about having people think ahead about themselves and their families in regard to how to grow with their homes. Our experiences with COVID has forced us all to think a little differently about how we can help people live healthier and safer lives. And especially those that are aging.
[00:01:53] Rebecca: That is all too true Sarah, as we’ve discussed many times here, on Good Fit Poor Fit. Well Taylor, I am so glad that you found us and just hearing even this tiny bit about your business and what you do, makes me want to hear more and I’m sure our listeners are in the same boat. How did you come to this work?
[00:02:11] What really sparked your interest?
[00:02:13] Taylor: Well first, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I really have been looking forward to this conversation. I love talking about having people live longer in homes they love, it’s our tagline and we really believe in it. This all started when my family moved back to Birmingham, which is my hometown about 15 years ago.
[00:02:31] Several of our first clients were either parents of my friends or friends of my parents, which meant that they were a little older and working with families in that stage of retirement, or just close to it, I realized that we really needed to learn more about this demographic’s unique wish list for their homes and especially the specific intersection of health and safety and residential architecture.
[00:02:55] Sarah: I think a lot of people get started and thinking about making homes more functional when they have a personal experience or see people they know trying to figure out how to either stay in their home due to aging or if there is an accident or illness that occurs, making the space more difficult to use. You stated it very well, Taylor, there is an intersection of health and safety in the design of our homes, and I think it’s something that more people need to be considering. And it sounds like you’ve heard more about those wish list items in your work. The design of our homes can impact our health and wellness in so many ways. So Taylor, in your experiences, why should we all be thinking about the implications for this kind of change in residential design and construction, and what examples can you share of situations in which people are seeking this out within your services?
[00:03:49] Taylor: So y’all’s work with Universal Design Project, really highlights why we should all be thinking about this. I have been fascinated by the studies that show the tiny percentage of homes in this country that have basic features, really basic features, that support accessibility. And with over 65s, being a growing segment of our population, having housing stock that can support their choice to live in their homes, as long as they can is a pressing concern. Investing in building or renovating homes that have some accessibility features not only enables folks to make that choice as they grow older, but as you all have pointed out, increases the number of potential purchasers down the road.
[00:04:32] So for us, we have this conversation with lots of different age groups. There are plenty of owners in their fifties who may have aging parents, who have a hard time coming to visit and want to make sure not only can their families easily come and spend time with them as well as to make a smart investment for themselves to be able to live there in their own homes comfortably and for the long run. We also talk about it with couples who may have some specific health challenges that they know will have a certain trajectory and how they can preemptively build space that supports their needs. And finally, we talked to younger homeowners about the market value of these home features, knowing that a home that works for a young family with little kids, and specifically, we talk about carrying infant seats on your arm or groceries, or strollers also works really well for someone with a walker or who is in a wheelchair.
[00:05:23] Rebecca: I really appreciate the approach you take in that and universal design can really serve everyone. Exactly like you’re getting at from older adults to the sandwich generation, too young families just starting out. I think it’s something that really needs to be recognized more in terms of the value of this type of design, because it’s not for anybody specifically, and therefore doesn’t exclude anybody specifically. It really just functions for everyone regardless of what stage of their life they’re in. So, can you tell us in our listeners, Taylor, what simple designs you’ve found that helped make everyday life a bit easier for people? How do you build these into your designs from the get go?
[00:06:04] Taylor: So we actually provide a consultation service called “Thrive at Home”, where we work with homeowners directly to evaluate their existing homes in terms of their long-term plans, whether they’re thinking about moving immediately and they want to decide whether or not they need to sell, or they can stay, whether they have an imminent construction project or whether they’re planning for something in five years and they want to know what features they should incorporate or should be thinking about in that renovation. We provide them with a graduated list of recommendations, ranging from do-it-yourself to major construction projects. And there are lots of really low-cost things that anyone can do to make their home a little bit easier to enjoy and a little more accessible.
[00:06:47] For me, some of the easiest things with the biggest impact, and this is number one, is making the switch to LED bulbs. These provide much more light and we all know that seniors need more lumens to be able to see colors and changes in level accurately. And LEDs are really good at this.
[00:07:06] They can provide more light, they’re energy-efficient, and especially with recess lighting, these can actually reduce fall risk because they need to be changed less frequently, meaning people aren’t on ladders. So paddle light switches is another one, low-cost, easy thing to do. It’s maybe not a do-it-yourself project.
[00:07:25] I would always have an electrician do this, but they are certainly easier to operate than a little switch where you have to grasp it or even worse the dimmers that you have to turn that are circles. They’re easy to operate for people who have arthritis, but they’re also easy to operate if you’ve got four-year-old grandkids in the house.
[00:07:43] And then the third one that we like to talk about that super easy is lever or touch-operated faucets. Again, these are super easy, they’re cost-effective, they’re great for kids who are learning how to wash their hands and they can just touch the side of the faucet and it comes on at a pre-set temperature as well as for older adults and they don’t have to negotiate numerous levers or trying to figure out which is hot and cold, touch the side of it, it’s easy to wash your hands.
[00:08:09] Sarah: I love all these ideas and as a mom of a three-and-a-half-year-old, my daughter is always saying hot mommy hot. I love that touch faucet idea. And I also love the idea of your consultation service, Thrive at Home. I think being able to offer people options that can meet their functional needs at different price points is so important. And those three examples definitely do help people in a variety of ways that are also appealing to other people. Even when you put these into a home, it doesn’t scream disability and it can look beautiful too. A few other examples that I often like to talk about are typically related to how people do different tasks in their home. I think that more storage in general is helpful. We all have a lot of stuff and people with disabilities have even more stuff to take care of themselves. Adding in reachable storage for closets and cabinets in all the rooms in the house is a game changer for feeling organized and successful in grabbing those things we need for the activities we do from cooking to cleaning to dressing and getting ourselves ready for the day. Or for the toddler, trying to pick out their clothes too, but making things more reachable, it can also be as simple as installing shelving or racks to hang things at different heights. Places like the bathroom and kitchen and laundry, instead of changing out the entire cabinetry, which can cost a lot, I’ve even seen people add pullout shelving on sliders to turn what they would normally store in a stationary shelf, into a drawer pulls out towards them into the room, which is much easier to reach things on. In addition to your faucet idea, in the shower I always like to suggest installing a handheld shower head that actually adjusts on the bar. And sometimes those actually can double as a grab bar if you buy the right one. It also gives increased safety and it makes it easier for cleaning yourself and others. I’ve heard people sing praises of a handheld shower head for washing their dog too. Rebecca, as we keep talking through these, do you have any other simple ideas that you’ve seen make a really big impact?
[00:10:22] Rebecca: Well, I am definitely going to echo that I love the flexibility of that handheld shower head as well. It is definitely good for some dog washing, still a messy endeavor, but that definitely helps. Another thing that I like to advocate for and also sort of relates to your storage comment is labeling. So, whether that be labeling little bins in a really big medicine cabinet or shelves in a coat closet to say whose gloves go where, I think this can go a long way in terms of functionality. It serves people of all different ages, you know, little kids to helping them to learn how to put their things away or maybe some older adults or anybody who has any cognitive impairments who has trouble remembering where to put things or even where to find things. It’s also something that I have even advocated for in my house when we have a lot of company over. Putting simple labels on things to say like where a trash can is or something like that, even if it’s temporary to say so that people don’t just go, around opening every drawing cabinet that they see.
[00:11:28] Sarah: Yeah, this is such a great idea. And I even like the labeling idea with pictures for little kids, and like you mentioned individuals that are older, that might be adults or kids that struggle with reading and spelling and I’ve even had that same experience where babysitters are coming over to help out and cleaning our house and they just need that little extra cue for where things are organized in our kitchen. What a great thing to mention, Rebecca. So we’re going to keep moving on here and dig into your expertise, Taylor. Are there any design features you feel people should consider when building or renovating that forever home they’ve always been talking about?
[00:12:06] Taylor: That’s a great question. Traditionally, we’ve always talked about kind of the obvious features and sometimes these sort of fall into a safety bucket: wider doorways, blocking for grab bars, a zero-step entry, well-placed outlets and lights switches, curbless shower and a bedroom and bathroom suite on the main level. These are great features and they really increase the usability of a home as well as the safety issues with having, you don’t have people necessarily going upstairs, it’s easy to reach the light switch or to plug something in, getting in and out of the shower is easier, but I’d also like for people to consider some of the less obvious things that can really impact people’s abilities to live longer and more easily in their homes. Things like maintenance and energy efficiency, in particular. Low maintenance homes, keep people off of ladders and maybe even out of the yard on the weekends, which can free time. An energy-efficient home means more predictable energy bills, which can impact folks who may be looking for their budgets that especially right now, that can line up with their retirement spending or might allow them to shift some of their budget to other hobbies, like travel or spending time with their grandkids. So as we design homes, we are thinking about these safety features, but also about installation and HVAC, thinking about exterior materials that don’t need frequent attention or windows that don’t ever need painting.
[00:13:34] People really get focused on how their home looks and they should, this is really important to us, but we also want to make sure it functions well and it does so for a long time.
[00:13:43] Rebecca: Yeah, I think that that is such a good call out to functionality because sure it’s fun to click through Zillow images of different homes and apartments and ogle at the beautiful aesthetics, but if it doesn’t work, and it’s not going to work for a long time, for as long as you live in the house, then my goodness, what is the point in spending all the money?
[00:14:04] So I really think that that’s an important call-out and aesthetics are just one piece of the puzzle, which is also something that we think about in universal design too, right? Like there’s no reason something can’t be functional and beautiful and designed as such from the beginning. I really wish that more people thought like you, Taylor.
[00:14:24] Sarah: Definitely. And I’m going to jump in here real quick too, and say that I love this line of thinking. So many people are looking to carve out more time and spend time with their families, and these are just the things that need to be considered to be a big part of that. I also love when homes are designed so that many of those HVAC filter locations, as well as electrical switches, and those important shutoff valves are also within easy reach for people to access as well, not up in their ceilings or locations that require stairs to get up into. But some of these things are not really visible, but when you think about them in the design process, they’re really important as people are going about doing their daily tasks.
[00:15:06] So sorry Rebecca for interrupting but carry on.
[00:15:09] Rebecca: No worries at all. I think that that’s a really important comment to make, especially when we’re thinking about aging in place or people with disabilities, we want to make sure that those things are in a space where people can safely access them as they need to, especially in an emergency, which I actually think is something Sarah, that you’ve mentioned before in a different episode. But Taylor, I’d love to hear more about some of the common hurdles that you face with clients, as they’re thinking about implementing your design suggestions. How do you work with them to address some challenges or reservations they may have?
[00:15:40] Taylor: Well, the first hurdle is really a big hurdle and it has to do with people’s vanity a lot of the time, but it’s actually starting to have the conversation with them about aging in the first place. No one likes to think about themselves getting older and we’ve associated aging with decline for so long that even talking about it is really tricky. We generally end up talking about our own personal experiences. So things like a curbless shower would have made a recent knee operation much easier to rehab at home, or how my arthritis from an old wrist injury means doorknobs can be fairly painful for me to operate sometimes. And we really want to show homeowners that accessibility features make life easier for everyone who lives in a home, regardless of their age or ability.
[00:16:27] The second hurdle is always cost. The assumption is that doing things this way will be more expensive. But many times it’s just not. Adding blocking for a future grab bar is a pretty minimal investment. Switching to LEDs actually saves money in terms of energy costs. Adding insulation is an upfront cost that saves money down the line in the form of reduced energy costs.
[00:16:50] And when a proposed design is more expensive, we really encourage homeowners to look at what the ROI is on that investment. So on a podcast a little while ago, with Janet Engel, who pointed out that the cost of a curbless shower is likely less than the realtor fees associated with buying a new home, which I thought was a really great point.
[00:17:11] Finally, it’s really an aesthetic hurdle. We know that a lot of the imagery we see when people search for accessible homes just doesn’t line up with their aesthetic or the style of their existing home. And they worry that by renovating with accessibility in mind, this will detract from the style of the home where they’ve invested a lot of time and we want to show them how lots of these features can be invisible and then accessibility and ease doesn’t have to equal ugly. That’s our job as designers is to make things easy and beautiful.
[00:17:42] Sarah: Most definitely these are common misconceptions I am seeing with people latching onto this idea of adding more universally accessible features into their home as well. Just starting to have those conversations I think is the most difficult part for people who may have a preconceived idea of what you’re talking about. So being able to show them pictures and like you said, share those personal stories, and evidence of the benefits can go a long way. Education’s a big part of helping people understand the value, so I’m glad to hear that this is a big portion of what you do. It’s sort of like it’s a little counseling session added into your design service as well. Each family I’m sure has their own experiences that come into play as you’re working with them and you really have to kind of dig into that to see what their hang-ups are. Do you have any success stories you’d like to share with us, Taylor, or other things you’d like to add before we wrap things up?
[00:18:41] Taylor: So, this is my favorite story, really, of all the work we’ve done, whether it’s been associated with aging in place in universal design or not because it, it really just sort of touched my heart. And years ago, we really did our first aging-in-place master suite. It was a really good introduction to all of this emotion that gets wrapped up in these projects.
[00:19:02] The owners really wanted an accessible bathroom, but they wanted it on the second floor next to their existing bedroom, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense. So after many conversations with us and with their own family and with their adult children, they eventually decided to take over a bedroom on the main level and create a really spacious master suite.
[00:19:23] And this included a great bathroom, big bathroom with a curbless shower, a new walk-in closet, and even a small laundry area adjacent to the closet so that the owner didn’t have to go downstairs and do small loads of laundry. It was right there and accessible. About a year later after the bathroom was completed, I received a sweet handwritten note from the owner thanking me for the project and letting me know what a blessing it had been to her and her husband.
[00:19:48] That note stuck with me both literally and figuratively, I keep it in my drawer, and I realized just how much I enjoy designing with homeowners who can see a real, tangible benefit from our time working together. And it really is such a privilege to be able to do this work.
[00:20:05] Rebecca: That is a really wonderful and touching story, so thank you so much for sharing it with us and our listeners. I think that that really just sheds light on the value of collaborative design, which as you obviously know, we are all about here at The Universal Design Project. So, thank you so much for being with us today on Good Fit Poor Fit, Taylor, and for joining the conversation and doing the work that you do. I know I’ve learned a lot and we’re happy to have you in our Universal Design Project network. So I hope you have a great day! To all of our listeners, thanks for joining us and we’ll be back in your feed soon.
[00:20:41] Sarah: Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].
[00:21:12] Thanks for fitting us into your day!