I have a unique passion for creating spaces that are safe and secure and that allow for anyone of any age or ability to remain in their home should they choose. And it seems that many of the 76 million baby boomers are choosing to do just that. But many are in denial about their age or ability and resistant to making changes to their residence that would help them "age in place"... or as I prefer to say it these days... Stay In Place.
So it wasn’t too long ago when I got a call from a prospective client who was asking if I could come to her house and make some recommendations for creating an accessible bath…. You know… the kind of bath that makes it safer and easy to get in and out of.
When I climbed the steps to the door, I was greeted thru a small window next to the entry door by a very large, well coiffed white standard-sized poodle. The bark was loud but it was easy to tell, she was a friendly beast.
The small door was edged opened by an equally small elder woman also with well-coiffed white hair. I introduced myself while she held this monumental dog from jumping all over me. Stepping in, I came thru the doorway noting the rather high threshold should be level or at least made smaller and the door should be wider if at all possible.
We exchanged pleasant greetings while I reached out to pat the dog, this sizeable animal excitably slipping and sliding on the tile floors to greet this new visitor. ( I got this visual in my brain of both this diminutive individual and a jumbo dog skating across the floor everyday to meet the mailman or Fed-ex driver or whomever climbed the steps to ring the doorbell.)
The lady led me thru the well-kept residence to a small bedroom and into the bathroom, a bath very typical of the mid-century homes in the neighborhood. (This one was caught in a time capsule, perfectly preserved in dove gray bath fixtures and petal pink ceramic tiles.)
“Here is my problem,” she said. “I can no longer lift Norma Desmond into the bathtub to give her a bath and I want one of those barrier free showers that I read about in my AARP magazine.” ( Another visual… this very sweet white-haired lady, who is not much bigger than her dog, trying to get Norma into the existing tub. ) “Of course,” I said grinning. “A curb-less shower entry would also make it easier when you need to shower on your own.”
And with a very straight face, she aptly replied, “I never thought of it that way. I usually just climb in next to Norma and take my bath along with her. After all, we are in a drought here in California.” ( Then another brain visual… these two entities, one very large and one very small, each with white hair, each soaking wet in a bathtub that was clearly made for one standard sized person, bathing together yet saving water. )
After discussing some of the details of how a new accessible shower would be designed, I explained that it would be good to have bench, a textured tile on the floor and plywood installed behind the tile walls so that a balance bar could be securely installed on it. Of course, I had to explain what a balance bar was… a much better name for a well-designed version of the typical gas-station grab bar. After a bit of thought, she clearly indicated that having a “grab” bar in the shower would make it ugly. “I doubt that Norma would like it either.”
(Hmm… didn’t know Norma had a vote but I was still visualizing she and Norma in that tub together and all that wet white stringy hair. )
We concluded our initial meeting and promised that I would get her a proposal for the design services we would provide. After putting some time in on the project, I called and let her know how we’d work and the time frame to get plans pulled together.
She provided her immediate blessing to move on with the design of her new accessible shower including the bench and the textured tile for the flooring but without any balance bar. When I asked, she said Norma doesn’t need it. When I asked her about would happen if she should suddenly fall. Without breaking for a breath, she said, “It won’t be a problem. Should something like that happen, I can always grab onto Norma if I go down..”
( Again another visual…. But I’d rather not go there right now. )
Sometimes people can be in denial even when they have a balance dog like Norma.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Desert, CA. He is a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior Designers and a member of the ASID College of Fellows.
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, he creates smart looking spaces that are safe and secure and create homes for a lifetime.
And with thirty plus years in the profession, he has honed his humor, elevated his passion for design and sharpened his wit to not take anything too seriously except his design work.