NELA Living Blog by Emilie Broughton

5 Essential Design Features for Aging in Place

Whether you are looking to downsize for a more manageable environment, or looking for a property to establish a multigenerational household.  Here are five design features considered essential for an older resident.

  1. No steps, transitions or thresholds
  2. A comfortable reach zone
  3. Bigger bathrooms with curb-free showers
  4. Elderly-friendly lighting
  5. Contrasting countertops and floors


  1. No steps, transitions or thresholds

Stability and balance diminish with age, while the chances of needing a walker or wheelchair increase.  Entrances should be step-free and floors should have smooth transitions between rooms.

  1. A comfortable reach zone

Age can also increase problems with both reaching up and bending over.  Cabinets and shelves should be set within a 54” reach zone so that people with “frozen shoulders” and other mobility issues can comfortably reach them.  If possible electrical outlets should be 18-20 inches off the floor rather than the typical 12-15”.

  1. Bigger Bathrooms with curb-free showers

Bathrooms may eventually need to accommodate a walker, a wheelchair, a caregiver or a combination of the three.  While typical tiny houses often have tiny bathrooms, some ADU’s have full-size bathrooms.  Showers flush with the floor are an important feature.

  1. Elderly-friendly lighting

Eyesight can also diminish with age.  Natural light through windows and skylights is the best.  When possible, these should be north-facing because this is the most consistent and consistent light.  Each workplace needs task lighting to cut down on shadows.

  1. Contrasting countertops and floors.

Depth perception also lessens with age.  If the counter is the same color as the floor, it can be harder to see.  The contrast doesn’t have to be as extreme as black and white; a good example would be brown and tan.  But white and white or black and black will not work.

Abridged from “Designing for the Ages” Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2020

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