Lisa Sandlin, left, designed a home for Gary & Diane
Knapp, below, with accessibility, including a raised
When many folks hear "aging in place" and "universal design" "” two terms that go hand-in-hand as the age-50-plus set settles into middle age "” they think of rented hospital furniture and nursing homes.

But a visit to Gary and Diana Knapp in West Chester's Reserves of Providence or to John and Eileen Murphy at Park Place at Lytle downtown will blast that myth.

The Knapps live in a sunny transitional ranch with rooms opening to a shaded deck and pool. And the Murphys have styled an airy high-ceilinged loft with striking downtown vistas. Visitors notice the deluxe touches "” granite countertops, glass sinks, furniture-style cabinets, spacious master suites and stylish showers "” before they take note of the slightly higher toilets, no-barrier shower entry, wider doorways and hall, lever door handles and elevated dishwashers.

"My showers are beautiful glass block and cultured marble with handsome hardware, hand-held showerheads, seats, built-in shampoo storage," all tell-tale signs of high-end living, says designer Lisa Sandlin. She is the author of Houses That Work for Life (Booksurge Publishing) and she designed the Knapps' home.

The fact that her airy bathrooms can also accommodate wheelchairs and assistance, with no-step access to the shower, have multi-level counters and higher "comfort height" toilets just makes good common sense.

"The term "¢universal design' gets a bad rap, I don't like to use it," says Sandlin, who left a financial services career to return to school at the University of Cincinnati to study design and architecture. She now specializes in creating houses that work through all life's changes. "A lot of people hear it and think institutional. But the Boomer market wants beautiful, luxurious and functional as well. "

"Universal design is still not mainstream," says Mark Streicher of Abacus Design Group in Montgomery, "But I don't know why because it's just good design, trying to make structures accommodate the largest number of people possible."

"We try to tell clients, it's not just grandma in a wheelchair," says Doug Gallows, an architect who co-owns Lifespan Design Studio in Lebanon with his wife Ellen Gallows, a gerontologist. "It's a matter of creating or re-creating spaces where everyone of all abilities, can use the space."

A couple with two kids came to them with an addition in mind, looking to the future when the kids would be teens and interested in private spaces. "I started by asking them what their
A double-drawer dishwaster
allows easy access and dish
storage for Eileen & John Murphy.
parents' situation was. They said they hadn't given it much thought but eventually at least one of the mothers would probably come live with them and she was starting to show some signs of frailty. So we started looking at an addition to accommodate someone living there in a wheelchair. We started talking about hallway width, a no-sill shower, blocking in walls now so grab bars could be added later."

But planning ahead isn't always on the Boomer agenda.

"We have not had a lot of aging-in-place inquiries," he says "but we do talk to a lot of occupational therapists about modifications after the fact" following a medical emergency or illness.

"There are a lot more re-active calls than pro-active calls," says occupational therapist-turned home modification expert Marnie Renda of Destination Home in Hyde Park who helped the Murphys plan their home to accommodate Eileen's scooter use due to MS.

The biggest mistake she sees is "people not making the changes that will work in the long run like replacing the tub with a shower, but then installing one with a lip on it. One client with MS spent $20,000-$25,000 remodeling a bath and installed a shower with a 4-inch lip. The client said "¢it may as well have been Mount Everest.'"

The Murphys didn't want their condo "to look like someone disabled lives here," says Eileen. Renda's experience led them to several accommodations that make sense for any kitchen including a two-drawer under-counter dishwasher, pull out under-counter shelving for pots and clearance under counters for her scooter.

The Knapps wanted their new home to accommodate their mothers.

Sandlin's ranch design has a dining room and a study on either side of a foyer with the central open space for the living room, breakfast room, kitchen and sunroom flanked by a master suite with laundry on one side and two bedrooms and a bath on the other.

"I doodled a boxy layout on a sheet of graph paper for Lisa and she opened up the area beautifully," says Diana. "Instead of my little squares, it's airy and angled space with a lovely back porch, one of my favorite spots." Gary's mother passed away before construction was completed, but Diana's mother enjoyed living there several months before she died.

"The day after her mother died, she called me to thank me, saying her mother was empowered by the design, especially the bathroom," says Sandlin.

"Our goal was to be able to stay here and have the house function through our aging," says Diana. "Recently we stayed at a hotel with a step-in tub and it reminded me of how effortless living in our home is now."
Information: Doug and Ellen Gallow, Lifespan Design Studio, 513-228-1196,; Lisa Sandlin Design, 513-863-6170,; Marnie Renda, Destination Home, 513-276-0515,; Mark Streicher, Abacus Design Group, 513-489-3200,

If you are thinking about building a home or remodeling or retrofitting a home with aging in place as a goal, be sure to ask your professional if they have CAPS training and certification. The Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program teaches the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential in modifications for the aging-in-place. The National Association of Home Builders Council, in collaboration with the AARP, NAHB Research Center, and NAHB Seniors Housing Council, developed this program to provide comprehensive, practical, market-specific information about working with older and maturing adults to remodel their homes for aging-in-place.