Making your home a friendlier place for guests this Christmas is about more than a scented candle and a full fridge. Watch and learn this Christmas.
Read time: 5 minutes
Today I read an article about getting ready for Christmas. It’s that time of year – I suspect it is the first of many. Love it or loathe it, it’s coming! For many of us that means having people over to our homes, or making the trips across the country to visit friends and relatives. So unsurprisingly, for lots of us our thoughts are turning to getting things ready for the inevitable onslaught.
It’s one of those times of the year we go out of our way to make our homes warm and welcoming for guests with beautiful decorations, thoughtful gifts and fridges bursting at the seams with the finest food and drink we can find. And this article I read suggested all you need to do is update your curtains to make things more cosy, get some new bedding in your guest room and get yourself a scented candle of two.
It’s true, these things are all lovely (please feel free to do them if I come and visit!), but I did have to giggle as it got me thinking about what makes our homes really welcoming for our guests at Christmas. And it is a whole lot more basic than the smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
There is a movement called visitability in the USA. The key things they identify as making your home truly ‘visitable’ are a flat entrance, wide doorways, and a downstairs loo you could get a wheelchair in. If you have these three things, it means that almost anyone, no matter age or ability, is able to visit you in your home. In the UK we have the Lifetime Homes Standard which is very similar.
I like how they explain it on the visitability website (in typically energetic American style):
Who benefits from visitability? Everyone!
- The young mother with a baby in a stroller, who doesn’t have to hump it up and down steps when she visits her friends
- The UPS driver who brings your new cabinets and leaves them on your front porch
- The homeowner trying to get the new cabinets into the house from the front porch
- Grandma who wants to visit the grandkids but knows she won’t be able to use the bathroom when she visits
- The college kid moving out with all his boxes and belongings
Sounds good right? Yet you might be surprised to know, only 7% of UK homes have these features. Which means as it stands the other 93% of homes might as well be telling their friends and family there’s no room at the inn this Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we all call in the builders immediately on top of present buying, hoovering every surface and feeding the christmas pud daily. As if we don’t have enough things to pay for this month or enough things to worry about.
Nor are these things easy to change up – for most of us they mean some pretty major renovations. But should you ever be considering some home improvements in the future – a new drive, a new front door or perhaps upgrading a downstairs loo – I would encourage you just to take a little minute to consider whether any of these visitable features could be incorporated at the same time, rather than just accepting the traditional options.
Not only would this make it more welcoming for your friends and family right now (and hopefully new ones you don’t even have yet!), it could well help you somewhere down the line as well. I don’t know about you – but I know I would like to grow old in my own gaff and I can barely be bothered to do any DIY now, let alone when I’m 80. After a lifetime of work, that’s my me time!
A little while ago I wrote a blog called ‘Could my Gran use it?’ to help people think about these things a little more practically in their own homes. Based on my own experience of my nan coming over to our family home at Christmas over the years, I also developed a game bingo to demonstrate all the ‘nan-traps’ we had in our home that caused her struggle.
Sure, I know lots of you are going to say that the Visitability and Lifetime Homes guidance are focussed on new build homes, not renovations, so don’t really apply to us all. But I would argue they provide a gold standard of what we should be aiming for, and indeed is possible with a little, knowledge, creativity and will.
I have seen some amazing, inspirational and attainable examples of this (retrofitting as it is known) lately that will make you drool. In 2019 I plan to feature a whole load of these real life examples to show what can be done to inspire you all, so keep your eyes on the blog. I have recently added a new section to the website with some some quick guides full of things to consider, questions to ask and ideas, which I hope will help you to put more inclusive design into practice in your own homes too.
But in the meantime….your Christmas challenge…
Over Christmas I am setting you a little challenge. More specifically a watching brief. Don’t worry – no building work is required! Just watch your guests (not in a creepy way!). It’s a high traffic time of year, when people young and old and of every different shape and size come through your door (hopefully bearing gifts!). If ever there is a time you will notice whether your home works or not for different people, this is it. And all I want you to do is watch how people interact with your home. What is easy, what is hard? Who couldn’t come and honestly, why?
Seats that are too low for grandad; a toilet you have to undertake a team building activity to push gran up the stairs to reach; shower imprisoned in a high-sided bath you have to be able to do high kicks to get into; deep pile carpet Aunty’s crutches get stuck in? I would love to hear what obstacles you find. Why not play nan-trap bingo!
If you yourself are a guest in someone else’s home, you can do it too. Think about what you find tricky: things out of reach, sofas hard to get up from, showers you can’t work out, toilets you can’t find, and where the hell are the mugs kept?? In our own homes we get so used to things, create workarounds, hack things to work better for us. But being out of our comfort zone is one of the most eye-opening experiences to really understand how design choices in our living spaces can either help or hinder us. And it is just a tiny taster of what many people have to deal with every day, not just a Christmas.
There are plenty of people like my nan who are not able to visit their friends and family. Not because they don’t want to, or the invitation isn’t there, but simply because they cannot get into or around other people’s houses. Or if they do manage to get in, they can only stay for a couple of hours before they need to use the loo, which may be upstairs or unsuitable. So instead people have to go to their house, or have to plan, plan, plan and meet in more accessible locations but wouldn’t it be nice to slob out with a box of chocs after Christmas dinner wherever you want?
So, I look forward to hearing your findings (anonymised please!). Drop me an email or comment below. And thanks for reading as always. Please share with anyone you think would like to take part too!
Oh, and if you come across any good, helpful, inclusive design at the same time, please post it on instagram and tag @prettygoodproject – there is a great hashtag #inclusivechic run by the wonderful @theinclusivehome and @wheelchichome doing just that.