Planning for the unexpected
Updated: Apr 27, 2022
We can make plans for the future, but those plans are not always flexible. In fact, when my husband and I built our ‘forever’ home, we poured our hearts and souls into the designs carefully studying and analyzing every square inch with our architect. We wanted the main level to be functionally accessible; however, we also wanted our home to welcome family and friends of all ages and abilities. At the time of designing, we were unsure if we would have children and that made it hard to plan for the what ifs. Now that we have an infant, there are a few things we’d change to make it easier to function in our home on a daily basis.
When building a dream home or your forever home, it’s hard to design proactively especially when faced with any type of limitations. Our built environments are most often our biggest barrier. We can never prepare for the unexpected whether these challenges are established at new birth, post retirement age or somewhere in between. We have no control over multiple fractures from a motor vehicle accident, a back injury or paralysis from horseback riding, a brain injury as a result of a stroke or accident, a progressive neurological disorder at the prime time of life, or even a knee or hip replacement so prevalent today.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2011 American Housing Survey, only 0.15% of all homes in the U.S. are wheelchair accessible. By 2030 (in just 10 years!), those 65 and older will reach up to 73 million in the U.S. This number does not even include those with disabilities or impairments. How will the existing market accommodate those wanting to ‘age in place’ or those with disabilities? This is where our existing homes or built environments limit us to succeed in our daily activities. Environmental barriers prevent us from adjusting to new skillsets. It’s not the injury that limits us from performing the things we do on a daily basis such as walking, cooking, going to the bathroom, or sleeping. For instance, if an accident required me to have surgery on my right knee and I have to bear all my weight on my left leg with a walker, I still have mobility. But, if my bedroom and bathroom are on the 2nd floor, I may not be able to go upstairs. Instead, I’m forced to either crawl up the stairs or live on the couch until it’s safe for me to take the stairs. If my doorways are narrow, I must turn my walker sideways to get through them. My limitation is not my injury, it’s my home.
Needless to say, I have found pure joy in helping others live beyond their impairments or disabilities and designing spaces for ALL to enjoy. I’ve recently been consulting on a lot of floor layouts, new construction design plans, and even remodel projects. But, my late grandfather reminded me of why I’m passionate about what I do and why I started my business.
At 92-years old, my late grandfather, who we call Pee Paw, was convinced to use a mobility device to provide him with more stability for walking. Before then, he was independent with almost all his daily living skills including driving. He and my grandmother, Mee Maw, were one of my first clients right before I launched my business in 2019. They had a guest bedroom with a teeny bathroom (yes, so teeny only one step was required to navigate from the shower, toilet and sink) they were using on the main level of their two-story home. My Mee Maw wanted to convert this guest room into to a primary suite since they no longer took the stairs to their original primary suite on the second floor. My Pee Paw, like many typical older gentleman, was set in his ways, very economical and often felt like he didn’t need any changes to his home. A few times when more major updates were made, it was to host two of his granddaughters’ weddings on his farm. He actually enjoyed the improvements such as a paved driveway, clearing out his shed full of clutter and history, and simply revealing the beauty of the farm under the overgrown bushels of weeds and shrubs. But every move of improvement had to be approved by him and he thought most everything had value just as it was. He saw value in EVERYthing. Needless to say, when I grabbed my notebook, sketch pad, and new software I was trialing for rehab projects, I had to bring an ounce of backbone and patience as I confidently prepared for this challenging client. I was actually somewhat excited about it because I knew it would only make me a stronger entrepreneur. I always loved a challenge. After all, he was once a successful businessman himself before becoming a life-long pastor.
I clearly remember my first meeting or interview, also known as the consult, with my grandparents. After learning about their priorities and each of their needs, I grabbed a copy of their original blueprint and took some measurements to confirm the size of their spaces. I factored in their current abilities and considered the progress of their conditions when sketching their layouts. Three design options were drafted from least expensive and least amount of changes to costlier and more extensive. They chose somewhat of the middle range and I made sure when I presented the options that they were not finalized and could be modified based on their input throughout the design process. His daughters (my mom and aunt) were able to pitch in their observations as well. This was received well, but having too many family members or even just one can create a lot of tension and frustration on the client involved. Sometimes it becomes so overbearing that nothing gets done. But, in this case, all the parties involved provided good insight. Ultimately, my client was my number one priority though.
From a small guest suite to an accommodating primary suite
As a visionary, it didn’t take me long to mentally connect the dots before sketching their new layout plans on paper and plugging them into a software for more estimated measurements. I factored in ways to keep the costs down. I could visualize expanding the bathroom into their walk-in closet which was on the opposite wall of the bathroom. I saw room to stretch the bedroom into part of their 3-car garage which would still provide enough space for their golf cart in the small third garage space. I like to provide clients with three options when designing and planning. Too many choices make it overwhelming while too few make it feel too limited. The options also allow room for input and modifications as well to remain within the budget. When it comes to modifications, the first question I usually ask is “how important is it for you and your family to stay in your current home…in your current neighborhood or school district?” When it comes to ‘aging in place,’ the older populations do not want to leave their home or their community. They’ve already established their lifelong social connections. Therefore, home value does not always affect the outcome of remodeling. However, it’s not uncommon to find multi-generational homes which is on the rise today. Adult children want their parents to live with them to not only help care for them, but at times, they’re present to help with grandchildren.
As for my grandparents, they wanted to stay in their present home that they built 50 years ago. It is surrounded by acreage upon acreage of farm land that they continued to enjoy. Three of their four children live on the farm so it was convenient for the family to help out with one another and the family needs.
Rural areas often do not require an architect to be involved and permits are not usually necessary.
Therefore, once they selected their design plans, we presented them to the contractor. At times, I can provide contractor referrals based on my relationships with people I trust. But when working virtually or clients outside of St. Louis, they usually have their own contractor lined up. I do highly recommend interviewing contractors prior to breaking ground or demolition if a client does not have a contractor beforehand.
I was able to guide them through the process of the construction and even had virtual calls via FaceTime to check in on the progress. When it came to the bathroom design, tile pattern designs were sketched out to provide visuals. Some things required advanced planning such as electrical outlets and even installing an outlet behind the toilet for a bidet toilet seat which is a less expensive option than a full bidet toilet. When planning for a walk-in shower, there can be limitations expected such as what lies below the floor (whether a slab, vents in the basement ceiling, etc.). A drop floor (usually performed in new construction, where the floor is dropped below subfloor) is ideal; however, they chose to simply slope the shower to keep water inside. Surprises can pop up especially in older homes. Plumbing lines or electrical wiring may have to be updated to meet code. Plan for surprises in remodeling. Surprises happen in new construction as well which is why most of the time they say to factor in a 20% increase in the end budget.
Allowing the clients to be in control creates a more joyful place. As a consultant, I also provide guidance on materials that will promote my client’s well-being that doesn’t compromise their style.
My grandparents wanted traditional and warmer colors so they chose their tile, carpet, and even added a touch of their own creativity by creating built-in wall cabinets for their beloved books. Their new large walk-in closet with a wide pocket door was large enough to house medical equipment, but also was filled with a taste of their history along with their clothes and storage. It was neat to see my Pee Paw’s face light up when he saw that we had displayed his old pitcher’s mitt, trophies, pictures and other things that brought back such sweet memories for him. The master bathroom had a double door entry with a wall cabinet for storage of any medical supplies and linens. They graduated from a single sink vanity to a double sink. The bathroom was large enough for a walker and even wheelchair. A bidet seat was installed to their existing toilet with an assist toilet paper bar (not a full grab bar but a small dual-purpose accessory feature for a person to help push up from the toilet and serve to hold toilet paper beneath). No glass was needed around the shower which makes it easy maintenance and cleaning. While the bathroom is much larger and the shower is large enough for a wheelchair, there is still limited space. The wheelchair could not turn around near the toilet; however, the shower had enough turn around space.
In an ironic twist, my Peepaw became SO proud of his new space. Every person who came to visit, including all the various medical staff, did not get out the door before he took them on a tour. His new living space brought him such joy! And when medical professionals told him that he had a better set-up than any hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation center around, he just beamed.
With my grandfather’s health declining the last 2 years, the ample space around the bedroom and bathroom made it possible for him to return home each time he was discharged from the hospital. A temporary ramp in the garage allowed him to get inside his home. He enjoyed his primary suite for the last couple years of his life. It was a blessing we made this upgraded change for he would have never been able to discharge home from his last hospital stay. Having a safe place to transfer, ample space around his bed, and a walk-in shower allowed him to come home with great needs. Carpet was replaced with vinyl planks to maneuver the wheelchair and a power standing lift. He was able to come home and spend his last days with his loving wife and even to enjoy his little dog before he passed peacefully in his sleep in the comfort of his own bed.
This was assurance and a confirmation that my business is needed and will be needed more than ever…now and in the future. Being an entrepreneur or starting a business requires perseverance and faith. Knowing there are many more stories that haven’t been heard, keeps my Blue Day 2 wheels turning. Life may throw us unexpected curve balls, but that doesn’t mean we have to strike out or sit on the bench. I have a dream and I have goals and nothing is more satisfying than helping others experience their abilities and find joy in their spaces again.