By Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS
For more than twenty years, I have been "secretly" encouraging my clients to accept certain design elements that increase safety and security so that they might choose to remain in their home for as long as they desire. After all no one ever wants to think about the unexpected occurrence but things do happen in life. And after all,...know one wants a "gas station-style grab bar" hanging around in a bathroom. ohh...yuck. As such, I specialize in keeping client secrets.... creating design plans that provide client spaces with a handsome design and all the while supporting their personal independence.
Such is the case with one Palm Desert, CA client that had a bathroom that needed help. Cabinets were drab. Lighting was abysmal. And one of the smallest phone booth-type showers I can recall seeing for a master bath. ( Seriously !! )
As we discussed the options, it did not take long for her to grasp the idea that by incorporating certain features in the bathroom, she could certainly have it all.... a "wow" kind of space, one that would be more effectively arranged and one that would allow her to "age in place."
While this project required the interior be gutted, it also provided the opportunity to move the shower to a new location, make it much larger and add several great features : a European entry, a teak bench, off-set water controls making it easier to turn the water on before stepping inside, dramatic lighting, a featured divider of glass blocks and a quite handsome "balance bar" on a stacked-slate accent wall.
Other features include a lowered make-up counter area with a teak bench next to a soak-style tub; a medicine cabinet that sits right on the counter making it much easier to reach; an abundance of lighting from a variety of sources; and an open area for the toilet-bidet combo unit surrounded by awesome color and great art - and a balance bar.
Now that the space is all done, one would never know about our little secret: a bathroom designed to be more than just pretty. While it features high style cabinetry and floor and counter finishes that are easy to maintain, this interior was designed to support the needs of the client, no matter age or ability. (Psst.... and I bet you'd never know it.)
That is the key to successful "aging in place" design.... a design that is transparent, functional, safe and secure. Of course, it must be great looking. But just don't tell anyone. They might want one, too.
By: Michael A. Thomas, FASID, CAPS
For the last several months, I've been working on the interior design of an existing residence in South Palm Springs with two quite special clients.
It has been an interesting journey so far and as the project is coming to a conclusion, I started to reflect on the relationships created between client, designer and the design of the house.
While the high-end residence built just five years ago had good bone structure, the interior clearly was showing its age. The interior had been finished poorly and filled with one too many faux-modern and fake-classic pieces by the previous owner.
The result was a feeble attempt at design that made the interior look more "staged" than a real home designed to be lived in by real people. • Funny or maybe not so funny.... I see a lot of interiors just like that,... images published in shelter magazines that try to suggest that a house actually has real people living in real spaces, that it functions as required and that it has an individual personality, not one that mimics interiors from days gone by. Often they come off looking like they are furnished by Ikea over a long weekend.
Initially, we all seemed to struggle with finding a key direction for the project and design. But one thing was clear: the clients expressed a desire to have a visually stimulating yet timeless space and one that would work with their collection of unique art.
A multitude of ideas were floated. Raw concepts were sketched. Detailed drawings made. And eventually after a couple of critical meetings, a vision was created and plans began to take shape, one that would transform the old interior into a warm, inviting and sophisticated contemporary environment.
But there was much work ahead for the clients who moved to the desert valley from Los Angeles last year.
First, a neutral color scheme was determined and approved that ranged from black to white and all grays in between, one that would not compete with the art yet form a solid background.
The peachy beige stacked stone walls that extend from the exterior into the interior thru large expanses of glass walls were stained a multi-toned grey. In the bedrooms, the commercial carpeting was ripped up and replaced with hand-selected, hand finished 24" square slate in a tone that can only be described as as a "raw steely" color.
The quite awkwardly scaled original fireplace wall in the living room now features angular panels of brushed stainless steel and a hearth and mantel of highly polished absolute black granite. Existing kitchen cabinets previously stained in a washed out chocolate are now refreshed in a deep charcoal color.
Furnishings were carefully selected based on their style but also on their scale as the angled ceilings rise above the floors some 16 feet in the entry, living, dining and kitchen areas. For instance, the dining room chairs are nearly five feet tall and provide a bit of visual whimsey to the space in their bold grey, silver and white vertical stripe covering, much to the delight of the clients. An overtly large white glass apple on the 66" glass dining table repeats the use of items that seem to be larger than life.... like something from the Wizard Of Oz.
New built-in wall shelves of black granite are a repeating theme in the interior, defining areas of interest and highlighting places for art and accessories. They pierce the walls at acute angles while echoing the same multiple angular design seen in the home's architecture and to a degree, making connections to the angles of the mountains and desert just outside the windows.
Diverse three-dimensional wood, metal and stone sculptures along with stimulating wall art like the one (above on the left above ) of a gang of "upside down people" crafted on sheets of lucite beckon guests to begin their exploration of the residence. Halls also provide exceptional spaces for installing art by creating strong focal points and incorporating lighting from a combination of sources: natural daylight thru windows, LED can lighting and tubular-style skylights from above.
The extensive patio deck, one with a front loaded curved pool, now has a face of fine Italian porcelain tile in a dove "greige" accented with a companion steel gray tile at the water line providing a low maintenance finish and nearly seamless appearance. The landscaping follows the same philosophy as the interior with a minimum of desert plantings and furnishings.
While there are a few remaining pieces to be installed and a select number of fine art yet to hung, the clients are most pleased with the results and glad to be living once again without the construction debris and team of workers.
"Thank you so much for helping us with this house. When people ask, we always tell them that you were always right in the all the important decisions." - JS + CQ
Actually the success of this interiors project was about the team work that occurred among the clients, contractors, me and, of course, the house, each with their own personality and contributions; a team built thru constructive conversations about what how it would function, how it might look, and what it would take to make both happen.
What is it that makes planning for the future so challenging? Is it that we fail to take the time to plot and scheme? Is it that we are afraid that we might get it wrong? And why is it that some people make planning out their lives, their careers, their vacations in vivid detail like it was second nature?
Recently I learned news from a client that got me to thinking about the real benefits and value of planning ahead before one is forced into making plans, occasionally due to unexpected happenstance and very often, plans that are made with haste.
Take this client for instance.
A fall from a short ladder in their home was certainly unexpected but as she remarked during a call with me this week, she stated in her very Southern drawl to me,… “not to worry.” Thankfully, there were no broken bones, just a facture, a concussion and a lot of bruises and a few days in the hospital but she was able to skip out on the traditional rehab process.
One reason for the very short stay in the hospital and quickly home was that her residence had been designed to increase her personal safety and security. And by having such “universal design” features built in, she didn’t have to go into a rehab facility, heading instead back to the comfort of her own home to recuperate. And the prescribed physical therapy she would need would be provided in the comfort of her bed and bedroom.
I will gladly take part of the credit for helping her to make this short trip from hospital to home because ten years back, I educated her on the value of planning and plotting for the future and by making plans for the unexpected such as the way the interior was designed. And during the interior remodeling process, I ensured that certain design elements would be incorporated into the spaces just in case something might occur in the future.
Wider doors and halls, a European entry to her master bathroom shower, textured tile flooring, balance bars securely installed in appropriate locations and a nearly flat and level entry path all the way from the car to the front door all added up to a home design that accommodated her short-term disability.
Best thing about the home perhaps is that you’d never realize that all those design elements were expected to perform when the unexpected occurred, each quietly in the background all these years, as transparent to the eye as clear glass is to a window.
While it is not something many like to consider, things like this can and do happen.
After all, making quick decisions is not something one should be doing just after an accident or responding to a critical health issue such as a stroke. Planning one’s home for the future is just as important a task as having health insurance or executing a financial plan to support retirement. It just makes common sense.
Towards the end of the call with my client, she told me the accident had forced her to cancel her much anticipated trip to Australia this fall, one that she had been planning for at least a year.
“ah,…That’s a bummer.” I replied.
She quickly retorted with a great quote by Allen Saunders, an author and cartoonist, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
I smiled knowing that she was absolutely right and that she was probably already planning and plotting for Australia for next spring.
And I was glad that my interior designs provided comfort when she needed it most. But that is what interior design does. Interior design is much less about how a space looks or the colors we choose. It is more about the connection it makes to the clients and their lives.
Michael is an award winning interior designer based in Palm Springs, 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.