Adapting our homes is just interior design by another name

Adapting our homes is just interior design by another name
August 15, 2017 admin
Roller painting a white wall dark blue


No need for buzzwords, all we need is a fresh look at home improvement.

Read time: 3.5 minutes

Much like a 70s avocado bathroom, the way we talk about adapting our homes to make them more suitable as we get older, desperately needs a makeover.

1970s bathroom advert with woman in an avocado bath

Image credit: The Advertising Archive

At best it’s presented as a dreary, deeply uninspiring chore, signalling our decrepitude. At worst we don’t talk about it at all.

‘Ageing in place’ and ‘future proofing’ are useful sound bites and are gaining traction, but they do little to really encourage and inspire people. To me, ‘ageing in place’ sounds a bit like sitting still for a really long time (who wants to do this?). ‘Future-proofing’ is even worse – like damp proofing – something dull, costly and complicated. Or like the future is something we need to prevent when *SHOCK HORROR* we are all getting older and we can’t stop it.

These soundbites also don’t do justice to the lifelong benefits and pleasure of making our homes more livable throughout our lives. For everybody. No matter age or ability. 

Adapting your home is just interior design by another name. We do it every day; changing our surroundings to make it work better for our current needs and future hopes – whether having children, getting a new TV, or trying to be the next Mary Berry in the kitchen. We pick out products that reflect our interests and make us feel good. At any other time of life it is called home improvement, redecoration, renovation, upgrading. Yet when we put in a bannister, a ramp, or a stairlift as we get older suddenly it becomes very unsexy; a pitiable malfunction of mind, body and style.

Paint colour and tile samples

Have you noticed that many adaptations people make are temporary because we are so desperate to make sure they can be removed at a later date and pretend they were never there – bath seats, ramps, grab rails. If something absolutely has to be screwed to a wall then we leave it until the very very last minute, often too late to adapt to it or for it be much use. The effect, unsurprisingly, is it ends up looking exactly like it is: an ugly thing screwed to a wall with little thought.

This last minute approach has stunted innovation and a broader look at the issue – preventing subtle, beautiful, quality design that considers our different and changing needs not as a problem, but as a fact of life.

The thing is there is woefully little information about what products and ideas are out there and how to incorporate them well throughout our lives, which has led to woefully little demand, which has led to woefully little innovation.

The Lifetime Homes movement is doing great work to counter this, making us think about how more accessible homes and a few tweaks and features make life a whole lot nicer for a whole load of people from cradle to grave, with very little effort. I challenge you to even notice the additional design features in a Lifetime Home unless you directly need them, to most people they just mean a more spacious, pleasingly efficient and well laid out home.  However, these standards only really apply to new builds (and the professionals building them) and we all know that we aren’t building enough new housing for everyone anyway, leaving thousands, probably millions of existing homes in need of retrofitting. Adding on things as an afterthought costs more in money and stress. Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) are great, but tend to only kick in when when your needs are super high (verging on crisis), you get what you are given (generally a symphony of beige plastic, red buttons and harsh, boxy, clinical shapes) and waiting lists can be huge. I know a lady with severe arthritis unable to use her bath who has been waiting 10 years for a new walk in shower.

The truth is no-one likes to think about getting older and our changing bodies – I get it – I have been ignoring a pain in my hip for months – and so we don’t think about adapting until we absolutely have to, when things are starting to get unbearable. But the result can be great emotional, financial and logistical cost further down the line when we are possibly not at our physical and mental peak.

So we need to talk about it. Now.

But we don’t need catchy soundbites. We already have a perfectly adequate description – home improvement. We just need more exposure to new ideas to inspire us.

There are SO many creative, beautiful, practical things we can do ourselves bit-by-bit throughout our lives to make things easier and which our future selves will totally love us for. More to the point, these can be things that look great now too. It is also a lot cheaper to do it incrementally as part of the cost of home improvements we might make anyway, it’s just about thinking a little differently and considering some different options.

Take the flatpack revolution. It didn’t happen magically, or even in response to demand for Billy bookcases. It happened as a result of some clever, gutsy people seeing a gap in the market and jumping into it. People didn’t know how useful it was until they were shown. Love it or loathe it it has transformed the way we think about design and how we interact with our homes.

We need designers today to step up again. It is an area ripe for creativity (and fat cash – it’s a huge growing market). And the best bit….it makes life easier for lots of other people along the way (whether for buggies, rugby injuries or rusty knees) and our homes more visitable and sociable.

Unlike an avocado bathroom, what’s not to like?

At The Pretty, Good Project we hope to inspire you to have a go.

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