Designed for a new age

It’s a worrying fact that many accidents occur in the home. A fall or an accident could become a major issue and safety in the home is an important topic.

Nicholas John talks to Keith Cockell about how the planning design of an apartment in an Inspired Village can alleviate much of the worry.

Accidents usually occur in working areas, such as the kitchen or the bathroom or, of course, on the stairs in a house. Our apartments have no stairs so our attentions are concentrated on the safe and easy use of the kitchen and bathroom. From our perspective, the design of the kitchen is less about the aesthetics and more about the ergonomics. We plan the size and layout to reflect different lifestyles. For some, the process of preparing and cooking good food is as important as eating and a large, farmhouse-style room in which you can comfortably cook and entertain in will be important. Others may consider that the on-site bar and restaurant beckons when friends arrive! A smaller kitchen can work more efficiently than a big one, and the space is better deployed into the living areas. The size, layout and context of the kitchen will be part of the decision as to which type of apartment is chosen.

Whatever the appearance of the kitchen, how you use it is where we have made changes from a typical family home. These differences reflect the size and stature of our residents and embrace the physical and medical issues that arise as we get older. The first change is to the height of the work surface; as we age we lose height, so this is lowered by 35mm. We can also lower wall cupboards by the same amount. However, 35mm would still put the top shelf out of reach so we reduce the space between the work surface and the bottom of the wall cupboard. This makes it possible for most people to reach the top shelf without straining or needing steps.

Combination ovens and microwaves are installed at a lower height to place the top oven in a more ergonomically safe position for the user. We install the very latest induction hobs that are cool to touch even after use and we plan in as many drawers as possible. These will not only store pots and pans but cartons of food, tin and bottles. It is easier and safer to look down into a drawer than it is to get down and explore the back of a cupboard.

Most residents prefer a freezer to have the same capacity as the refrigerator. Instead of these being located under the work surface, we install a 50/50 unit. This positions the refrigerator at eye level and means the freezer can have drawers; no bending down required.

And what changes have you made to the bathrooms?

In recent years, the move to assisted living didn’t see changes to kitchens as has happened to bathrooms. This is because new care homes and specialist care facilities have embraced the safety issues. We have taken these principles and de-institutionalised the appearance and added in everyday practicalities.

If we start at the bottom up, the WC! This will be set about 35mm higher than the standard height. Clearly this helps in the ergonomics of sitting down and getting up. However to achieve this without using a standard disabled toilet, we have designed a back-to-wall WC that is clear of the floor and stylish in appearance. There are now well-designed washbasins that look good in any bathroom. Some of these are perfectly suited for use by someone in a wheelchair. Although “wet rooms” are a current trend and may at first seem an ideal solution (easy access with no big steps), we have found that our residents dislike the spread of water throughout the room, especially where the WC is used during the day. We install a shallow tray that contains the water in conjunction with a glass screen. The requirement for storage in the bathroom becomes more important as we get older, as well as having cleaning materials to hand.

There are no grab-handles in the bathrooms: surely these are important?

Yes they are and it’s important that grab-handles are located in a position that is just right for the resident. This will depend on an individual’s stature and mobility. We ensure that, when they are needed, we fit grab-handles, seats and equipment in the best position for the user.

First and foremost, however, our residents may like designer bathrooms – they may even like glamour and bling – but they don’t want to see fittings such as grab-handles installed until really necessary. Our residents want everything about their homes to be as normal as possible: they want to live in a home, not an institution. That’s the basic ethos of our approach to the environment we create.

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