Have you walked by the new offices of designer Andie Day on Hanover Street recently – just past the Fire Station? It’s a visual delight to behold. Either by day or night, the office is aglow with colorful fabrics and glass, flashy laptops, photos … and activity. This is Andie Day’s home-away-from-home.
Day is an award-winning interior designer who has set up shop at 402 Hanover, six-or-seven blocks away from where she and her partner and husband, Rob, now live in the Boston’s North End.
Not your typical interior designer, Andie Day and her design team distinguish themselves from other designers through client-centered service and a philosophy built on the simple idea that our homes should “age” with us and accommodate to life’s many changes.
“We call this Design For Life,” Day says, sitting down in her elegant shoebox–size office. “Design For Life starts from the premise that a home should grow with us, that it should accommodate every generation in our family through each phase of our lives: a new baby, an elderly parent, retirement.”
“All of life’s changes bring on new challenges,” she notes. “A well-designed home that focuses on functionality as well as aesthetics can help ease transitions from one phase to another.”
For many elderly people, in particular, the choices can be challenging: to remain in one’s own home safely, independently and comfortably or to move to an assisted living facility or nursing home. And according to the National Association of Home Builders, home owners who plan to stay in their homes as they get older are one of the fastest growing segments of the residential remodeling market.
This finding, coupled with recent demographic projections, emphasize the importance of what has come to be called “aging-in-place” design strategies. Day refers to her own early experiences that helped galvanize her commitment to shaping her philosophy and approach to Design for Life.
“My mother-in-law had lived alone for many years in her waterfront cottage built by her late husband. She loved looking out the windows at the ocean in Gloucester,” she explains. “But then – slowly at first – she began to sucumb to the ravages of memory loss: she forgot to take her medications, to bathe regularly, to clean the house, and even to remember to eat. She ended up in the hospital.”
“We met with her doctors and nurses who stressed that she would most likely have to enter a nursing home,” Day said. “My husband and I sought to explore other alternatives. We pulled together a team of medical experts to identify and understand better how we could transform her home to ease tasks, reduce hazards, and introduce sustainable design features and practices.”
“For example,” she explained, “we transformed her tiny bedroom with little natural light into an airy elegant retreat with ocean views. How? By capturing an adjacent unused den with a view to the sea, where we installed features like LED nightlights and a bedside emergency alert system. We doubled her closet space and created a discrete nook for a convenient washer and dryer from the basement, and we incorporated several other safety features.”
These included: automated medicine dispensers that reminded her to take her medications; bathroom handlebars; hands-free faucets; lower kitchen countertops; a see-through glass front refrigerator to remind her to eat; an inductive stove top that turned off automatically when not in use; and, of course, fresh, bright and pleasant wall coloring throughout the house.
When Day’s mother-in-law returned home from the hospital, she was able to resume living safely, independently and comfortably for several more years.
Day is quick to point out that not all such features are costly or even necessary. “But some features, such as curb-less showers and bathroom handle bars are of critical importance, pointing out that falls are the #1 cause of injury and death among the elderly,” she says. “Others make economic sense, such as hands-free faucets that can save a thousand gallons of water a year. An understanding of ergonomics and a team-approach are central to our effective residential design.”
Design for Life is not exclusively about the elderly. “It is a multi-generational approach to living well”. For example, Day refers to recent demographic reports that indicate that over the next few decades, the number of Americans 65-and-older will double. By 2030, they will comprise almost 34% of the national population. And today, many middle-agers are coming to realize that they still have almost one-third of their lives ahead of them. “This is why we consider our Design for Life approach as multi-generational,” she says.
“Take, for example, the transitional needs of children: how does a wheelchair-bound child recovering from an accident get into a shower, get through doorways, get up and down stairs,” she asks. “With an increase in the number of generations living within one household, there is a growing need to incorporate ‘adaptable’ design from the outset – to move away from the “universal” design approach of one-size-fits-all. Our industry is moving – albeit slowly – in this direction,” she says.
In the interim, her team of designers, medical experts, occupational therapists and general contractors will be “pushing the envelope” of design and execution. She has even begun to expand her design frontiers to include stylish everyday objects, such as lamps and tote bags.