Growing older at home is possible with the right kind of remodeling

In 2010, Vanessa Piala and her husband Jim Belikove modified their home near Chevy Chase, Md., by digging out the basement and adding an in-law suite in anticipation of moving her parents there from New Jersey.

But after her mother had a stroke, Piala stayed with her parents in New Jersey for 18 months before moving them both to an assisted-living facility in Maryland.

“My mother was in a wheelchair before she passed away in 2016 and my father was in a wheelchair part-time until he died at 97 years old in 2018,” says Piala. “I used to bring them to our house but the struggle with the wheelchairs up just a few steps was difficult and the in-law suite was inaccessible to them.”

Now Piala and Belikove are in their mid-60s, and their experience with her mother has informed them on new modifications to their home. They’ve added a first-floor primary suite, a wheelchair-accessible bathroom and an open kitchen to accommodate mobility issues they anticipate facing in the future.

“While we’d been talking about this plan for a little while, covid magnified the realization that we want to avoid assisted-living facilities if we can,” says Piala.

More than three-quarters of adults age 50 and older want to stay in their homes as they age, according to a 2018 survey by AARP. Aging in place may be more appealing than ever with data showing that as much as 40 percent of the people who died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were residents or employees in nursing homes.

“We’ve seen an increase in customers wanting to modify their homes to bring their parents to live with them, people who want to increase accessibility in their own homes and people who want to create space for a caregiver in their home,” says Jonas Carnemark, founder of Carnemark Design + Build, a remodeling and renovation firm in Bethesda, Md.

Among the projects Carnemark has been working on recently are remodeling a kitchen with lower kitchen cabinets for easier accessibility and, in another home, adapting a master bathroom with a curbless shower.

“The idea is to be good stewards of a house and use good design to modify the space to make it livable for everyone, including grandparents and grandkids,” says Carnemark.

Thinking ahead
For Ned and Susie Maguire, the plan to add an elevator to their four-level house in the District is a precautionary measure in case either one experiences increased mobility problems.

“My husband has some balance issues and we also have aging dogs, groceries and luggage to haul, so we’re looking forward to being able to use the elevator,” says Susie, a real estate agent with Washington Fine Properties. “This project was planned before the pandemic, but covid reinforced our feeling that this was the right thing to do. A lot of clients and friends are looking for safety in their homes and for ways to accommodate aging parents more easily.”

The Maguire’s elevator, which will be installed by InSite Builders & Remodeling of Bethesda, replaces part of their deck off the main level of the house and rises to a hallway in the upper level with a pocket door to their bedroom suite.

“Adding an elevator can cost as much as $15,000 to $25,000 per stop, so from the basement to the third floor could run as much as $100,000,” says Jonathan Lerner, CEO of Meridian Homes in Bethesda. “It could run even more depending on how much of the house gets impacted by the construction.”

Lerner recently upgraded the master bathroom to make it wheelchair-accessible in a house in Potomac, Md., that already had an elevator in place to increase the ability of the owners to age in place.

“We added a curbless shower and put in a vanity with knee room and made sure that the bedroom and bathroom are easily accessible from the elevator,” says Lerner.

Finding the right location for an elevator can be difficult.

“You need space for the equipment and you want to find a way to install it with the least amount of damage to the house,” says Jason Arce, an architect with Anthony Wilder Design/Build, the Cabin John, Md.-based company that remodeled the Piala-Belikove home. “An external elevator on the side of the house is sometimes an option but that doesn’t always look aesthetically appealing.”

At a house in McLean, Va., Lerner and the homeowners opted to add an elevator rather than build a first-floor primary suite addition.

“The elevator took less time to install and cost less than an addition would have cost,” Lerner says. “You also have to be aware of zoning restrictions. A house on a smaller lot might not have enough space to meet the zoning requirement even if there’s technically enough room for an addition.”

Not every project to simplify aging in place is expensive, says Stephen Gordon, president of InSite Builders & Remodeling, who is remodeling the Maguire home.

“We do things like add grab bars to a shower and handrails on both sides of a staircase to provide extra support,” says Gordon. “Putting in nonslip flooring in the garage and using brightly colored paint can make it less likely that someone will slip and fall in the garage. We also increase lighting in different areas, particularly around steps and staircases.”

In one household, Gordon added a railing down the middle of a short staircase to make it easier to notice and grab for balance. He says that railing can easily be removed if a future buyer doesn’t want it.

“We also build extra blocking in the bathrooms for future grab bars to be installed more easily,” says Gordon.

Maintaining value

If done well, accessibility features can increase the value of a home to future buyers, says Jennifer Naughton, executive vice president for personal risk services at the Chubb insurance company.

“Many modifications are not even noticeable, such as a spalike walk-in shower,” says Naughton. “From the insurance perspective, we look at replacement costs and we want to see that all work is done in accordance with building codes and with the proper materials to stay in line with the architecture of the residence.”

Larger projects that increase the size of the home, even though they are expensive, may add to the future value of the property, says Naughton.

“We recently did a first-floor addition in record time for a couple in their late 70s who wanted to keep their house in Bethesda to give to their kids one day,” says Anthony Wilder, principal of Anthony Wilder Design/Build. “The house was level to the ground, so we were able to cut out a window and bridge the space between the kitchen and family room with a new laundry room and bathroom leading to their new bedroom. The bedroom has French doors to the backyard, so it could also work as a sunroom.”

While an ideal remodel would create a first-floor master bedroom suite, that’s not always possible depending on the configuration of the house and the land as well as the homeowner’s ­budget.

“If you can add on a first-floor bedroom and bathroom near the kitchen and family room without taking away living space from that level, that’s the best scenario,” says Gordon. “Adding living space will usually add value to the house but taking away a dining room or living room to create a bedroom could hurt a home’s value.”

In addition, Gordon points out, not every buyer wants a first-floor primary suite.

“Young couples often prefer to be upstairs near their kids, while people in their 50s and 60s are more likely to be thinking about being empty-nesters,” says Maguire. “But if the first-floor bedroom can be converted to a study, that can make it attractive to any buyer.”

The Piala-Belikove house, built in 1915 in the town of Somerset, Md., has been added onto three times and had a tree fall on it during its more than 100-year history.

“The age of the house and all the previous additions made this remodeling project more challenging because there are different ceiling heights, joists everywhere and narrow halls and doorways,” says Arce. “We relocated the kitchen to create a more open room that would be ­wheelchair-accessible and added a master suite and a bathroom with a curbless shower.”

Their house required approvals and permits from the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, the Montgomery County planning office and the town of Somerset, says Arce.

“We want the house to look aesthetically pleasing and yet be functional if one of us eventually needs a wheelchair,” says Piala. “This is costing us well into six figures, but it would have been less if we just added the bedroom suite and didn’t change the configuration of the kitchen.”

They anticipate their project to be completed sometime next spring.

“It’s important to take a thoughtful approach and design something that is both practical and beautiful rather than something that’s a temporary fix,” says Carnemark.

One difficulty for many homes is adding a ramp for wheelchair accessibility, says Lerner, especially if a home has multiple steps and a steep grade. In some cases, landscaping can be used to camouflage a temporary ramp.

Naughton emphasizes the importance of working with experts to evaluate your home and the options for aging in place modifications.

“Experts can be creative and understand how to retain your home’s value,” says Naughton. “For example, you may not want to convert your garage to living space because future buyers may want a garage.”

In addition, Naughton recommends consulting your homeowner’s insurance company when doing any home modification to see if additional insurance coverage will be needed.

“I think homes will be in a better position to support aging in place going forward, because many new homes are designed with a configuration to easily install an elevator in the future and with first-floor rooms that can be converted to a bedroom someday,” says Carnemark.

“If you’re remodeling or renovating a house, it’s just as easy to design a barrier-free bathroom and to install good lighting to leverage the fact that you’re already spending money on the project. Thinking about aging in place while you’re doing this will add value in the long run.”

Elements of universal design
While the needs of homeowners and their houses vary, some of the common features to accommodate aging in place include:

● At least one no-step entrance to the house.

● One-level living with a primary bedroom and bathroom on the same floor as the kitchen and laundry.

● Accessible bathroom with a curbless shower with a seat and grab bars.

● Wider halls and doorways for wheelchair accessibility.

● An elevator if a first-floor primary bedroom is not an option.

● Lever handles and rocker switches for easier opening of doors and operating lights.

● Non-slip floors.

● Enhanced illumination, including night lights, task lights and lighting along stairs and hallways.

● Smart house features to remotely manage the thermostat and lights.

● Consistent flooring and extra lighting in areas that transition from one room to the next to avoid a tripping hazard.

Latest design trends inspired by pandemic quarantine

“Our home used to be an escape from the daily routine, and now more than ever it has become our shelter from the outside world. Now our home may be more part of our daily routine, too,” Cristina Miguelez, a remodeling specialist for Fixr, a resource for home remodeling projects, said. “As more people are starting to work from home, do homeschooling, exercise at home or even enjoy the holidays at home, we may start having the need to ‘escape from home,’ which may translate into creating new spaces within our houses where we relax, where we work or where we carry out certain activities like exercising or studying. This will allow us to separate our routine from our respite.”

More and better designed spaces for people to gather is a practical fix, especially in kitchens as people cook more at home and involve the whole family, Carla Aston, an interior designer at Aston Design Studio in The Woodlands, Texas, said.

“I have seen requests for rooms for exercise and play at home,” Aston said. “With no access to fitness clubs, more people are wanting a place at home with some equipment to be able to keep up their fitness routines. Children need more space to spread out and play and burn off energy.”

Additionally, bathrooms will become more of a retreat or an oasis for pampering, relaxation and escape, she said.

“People understand they may not be going back to the office, so they need to improve their home office spaces,” Lori Wiles, principal interior designer at Lori Wiles Design in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said.

In addition to improving their virtual backgrounds and adding more light for better visuals, the acoustics in many home offices need to be addressed.

“They don’t want to sound like they’re in a box,” Wiles said.

Easy fixes include adding softer materials like rugs and draperies and “bass traps” to capture sound so deep voices don’t appear to be emanating from an echo chamber, she said.

“In the short term, homeowners will be more likely to create a working space by either converting an existing room into a home office or setting up a little makeshift office in a common area of the home, depending on their house plan,” Miguelez said. “In the long term, however, we may see a rising interest in adding new home offices.”

Over the last few years, the open floor plan has been growing in popularity, but this trend could be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,

“Many people who have kids or other family members living in an open floor plan house found it difficult to work during quarantine because they don’t have spaces to shut down the noise totally,” Miguelez said. “This might change the open floor building trend we’ve been seeing recently.”

People are also paying attention to outdoor spaces like patios and decks where they can get together with others, at a safe distance if needed, or by themselves, Wiles said.

“Outdoor spaces are becoming very real extensions of the home and a much needed place to retreat out of the house,” Aston said. “Outdoor living will definitely be high on the priority list for more usable space without having to add on.”

The quarantine experience may even change the downsizing trend of the last few years because homeowners will desire to have more spaces for these activities, Miguelez said.

Top Interior Design Trends of 2020: From Home Offices to Two-Tone Kitchens

There is an upside to spending more time at home: researching your dream house, down to the cabinet handles.

To decipher what dream home means in a global-pandemic world, Mansion asked the editors of three house-centric websites—Houzz, Decorilla and The Real Houses of IG—to identify their most popular images from the first half of the year. We examined photos that home-décor followers are clicking, liking and scrolling through to better understand today’s trends.

The verdict? It’s in the details.

People simply have more time and are going to greater lengths to plan out, and to seek inspiration for, their dream home, says Kate Rumson, founder of The Real Houses of IG, a home-and-design Instagram account with 2.4 million followers. Many are in the process of building their homes, she adds, and they are committed to making perfect choices, no matter how small. Questions about wall colors, window treatments and furniture that appear in the background of photos she posts are frequent fodder. “My followers do care about every detail,” she says.

These days, many are ushering in brass-adorned kitchen cabinets and high-contrast living rooms, and are rethinking office areas. They seem to be saying goodbye to the all-white kitchen, acoustically challenged open-floor plan and unequipped outdoor space.

Homeowners also are moving away from a single style of home throughout—be it contemporary or farmhouse—toward mixing and matching décor elements, says Houzz editor Anne Colby.

The company had a 58% surge in demand for home-renovation and design professionals in June 2020, compared with June 2019.

“We’ve seen particularly strong interest in major outdoor projects,” says Ms. Colby.

Today’s homeowners are mindful of overall size, choosing realistic footprints. “We’re not in a period of economic optimism…the dreams are somewhat different,” says Catherine Wallack, an architectural archivist at the University of Arkansas and a trained architect. “The marketed dream home is something that’s aspirational, but it’s possible.”

In the spotlight: the home office.

Homeowners want versatile, well-lighted spaces that are soundproof and can be closed off from the main living area, perhaps via sliding or pocket doors.

They are interested in the notion of separable space—having the option to be part of the living space, says San Francisco-based architect William Duff. In some instances, families request two or more nooks to accommodate quiet areas for everyone in the home, including children needing space to do classwork. In past projects, he says, home offices were set up in a spare bedroom as an afterthought.

Overall, construction costs in 2020, to date, are $700 to $900 a square foot, compared with $600 to $800 in 2018 for high-end homes, says Mr. Duff. “People may spend more money on elements of their homes because they are valuing them in a different way,” he adds.

He says homeowners are upping spending on areas that don’t have a wow factor for visitors. They want top-of-the-line HVAC systems, in an effort to make indoor life safer and more comfortable. Other choices are solid-wood doors for quiet, and custom, built-in storage throughout for more space.

Ms. Rumson has noticed increased interest on her Real Houses Instagram account for utilitarian spaces, including the laundry room, mudroom and walk-in pantry. These private areas are getting a makeover for the benefit of families, not guests, she says. Daring wallpaper choices, funky floor tiles and thoughtfully chosen wall sconces or chandeliers help these smaller areas feel more playful.

“They are spending a lot of time in those rooms, and they want to make them functional and beautiful,” she says.

Meanwhile, the dream kitchen is getting more down-to-earth. Popular photos show soft greens and browns, with wood accents that complement brass or mixed-metal fixtures. Light-colored oak shelving is another common accent.

“All-white is less popular,” says Ms. Colby, whose site now has more than 20 million images. “People are leaning toward a two-tone or three-tone kitchen.”

San Francisco interior designer Caitlin Flemming designed a two-tone kitchen that was popular for its simplicity. She used Farrow & Ball’s Pigeon paint for some of the brass-adorned cabinets, then installed a plain white quartz countertop instead of one in veined marble. “It is all flowing together; sometimes marble can be a little distracting,” Ms. Flemming says.

Bathrooms are getting their own updates by blending neutral colors with interesting textures to make small spaces seem bigger, says Stephanie Fryer, a Newport Beach, Calif., interior designer. In one of Houzz’s most popular photos, Ms. Fryer hung a painting above the toilet and expanded the shower tile to the entire bathroom to create a cohesive modern space. “It makes it more like a room than just where to use the toilet,” she says.

When it comes to dining areas, homeowners are focusing on statement lighting or modern wood elements that give a polished feel and set the spaces apart visually from the kitchen, adds Devin Shaffer, lead designer at Decorilla, a company that offers 3-D renderings and product suggestions.

Average project costs rose to $1,205 this year, to date, compared with $990 in 2019, because people are renovating more rooms, he says.

Living and dining areas are using high-contrast black or blue elements, says Ms. Colby. The wall color has switched from darker hues to simple whites.

The pandemic is influencing the outside of the dream home, too. Favored outdoor spaces have décor and lighting that wouldn’t be out of place indoors. Covered cooking areas with built-in grills, fire pits with comfortable seating and dining areas are making it easier to relax or to work outside.

“The patio and the deck are really just another room in the house,” says Ms. Colby.

Many homeowners are asking for easy-to-open walls that can create indoor-outdoor spaces to bring in fresh air and make it easier to entertain during a pandemic, adds Mr. Duff.

For most families, the idea of a dream home shifts with their values and goals, adds Lindsay T. Graham, a researcher at University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment.

“That notion of I’m going to do this once and it’s going to be done is kind of a misnomer,” she says. “We grow, so our spaces are going to grow.”

Tips for How to Handle a Labor of Love

Decades after falling in love with California wine country, Gordon Rudow, decided to build his dream home in Napa. It took four years to perfect the 4,000-square-foot, prefabricated, modular 1950s design—at a cost of $4.75 million. He offers tips on organizing the process:

Start with a concept. Mr. Rudow, working with Jennifer Jones, founder of Niche Interiors in San Francisco, had what he called his brand words—luxury eco-resort spa—to guide the design process. “Every choice we made, we shared the same filter,” says the leadership consultant.

Decide on must-haves. Rudow and his wife, Sophia Rudow, who live with their two school-age daughters, opted for natural wood throughout. It took months for them to find a hypoallergenic couch without MDF elements, and a latex mattress. They also installed a $100,000 water-filtration system.

Customize. For the Rudows, it was about perfecting form and fit. The couple went so far as to measure the length of their thighs to tailor built-in seating around the fire pit; custom indoor couches conformed to the same measurements. The team also studied the sun to determine the best angle for the outdoor canopy. “We belabored every one of those measurements and geeked out on them,” he says.


New Remodeling Trends Report Points To Growing Wellness Design Popularity

It may seem counterintuitive that interest and activity in home projects is soaring when millions of Americans have lost their jobs, are waiting in food lines and can’t be certain that they won’t be thrown out of work in a possible second Covid wave this fall. Retail, hospitality and travel have certainly seen those impacts on their bottom lines this year.

What appears to be the case is that with so many of us spending so much more time at home than in past summers, our unplanned residential stress test has shown their shortcomings and we’re looking at ways to make our living spaces serve us better.

Houzz, the massive home design and renovation platform, reports that project leads for home professionals in its latest analysis jumped by nearly 60% compared to last year, particularly those specializing in outdoor spaces. This makes perfect sense: While hosting parties in our great rooms isn’t a great idea right now, making the most of our outdoor spaces with our family members definitely is, and so is making other areas of our homes more functional for new pandemic-driven demands. These were some of the top trends in the latest Houzz report:

  • Swimming pool design and installation projects more than quadrupled (up 334%).
  • Deck, patio and porch project inquiries nearly tripled (up 178%).
  • Home extensions and additions grew by 52%.
  • Fence installation and repairs were up 166%.

These all have a wellness design component. For example, if your gym closed, then reopened, then closed again, you could very well be looking for a more consistent solution for your daily swim right about now; those ‘quarantine 15’ pounds aren’t going to shed themselves.

Since this latest Houzz report looks at contractor inquiries, rather than trends related to the spaces themselves, here are some glances at what’s going on in each of these areas, generating these calls to home improvement pros. You’ll see a wellness design component in each of them.

Deck, Patio and Porch Trends

America’s great urban parks were designed and built for city dwellers to enjoy fresh air and nature, and they remain popular to this day. For those fortunate enough to have their own slice of nature at home, whether in the city, suburbs or country, there are numerous ways to enhance them. Here are some hot trends

  • Edibles – People are looking to eat healthier and are blending vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and other greens into their outdoor living spaces. This ties into the victory gardens resurgence, and helps explain the increase in inquiries to outdoor pros. If you’re building a deck, you might be looking at adding planters or a green wall to it.
  • Urban farming — Also related to this trend, according to the popular home channel publication is an increasing interest in chickens and bee-keeping.
  • Water features – These are popular across all budgets, and are often built into updated outdoor spaces. They tie into the biophilia trend, as well, and have calming benefits for PTSD sufferers and others.

Home Extension Trends

It’s not surprising that with our houses needing to stand in for our gyms and offices, and potentially quarantining a family member away from the household, that we’re looking at ways to expand them.

Dan DiClerico, home expert for home improvement platform HomeAdvisor, notes these trends among homeowners:

  • Master suite additions — Many are choosing to make room for a home office, given the COVID work-from-home realities. These offices have more elevated designs than in the past, since they serve as a staging ground for Zoom calls and other public virtual interactions.
  • Family room additions also continue to be popular, [with] a real emphasis on multi-functionality. They’re still meant for watching TV and gathering with the family. But if there are young children at home, one corner of the room might be devoted to homeschooling, with a desk, shelving, craft supplies, and the like. Another area of the room might function as the home gym, including a platform for the Peloton bike or treadmill.
  • Mud/utility room – This speaks to the increased demand for storage and organization now that we’re spending so much time at home. Often the laundry appliances will be located there. Some of the utility centers even incorporate some kind of package receiving station, such as a pass-through that delivery persons can use to safely deposit packages inside the home.

Fencing Trends

If you’re going to be spending more time in your personal outdoor space, privacy becomes more of a priority. This is especially true if you’re exercising or conducting business outside. Outdoor Essentials, a products and information resource for homeowners, shares these fencing trends:

  • Dark colors – These are designed to blend in with more naturalistic settings and provide a low maintenance background.
  • Panels and screens – homeowners are looking at new ways to give themselves privacy, the site says. These can include louvers, living walls, trellises, louver and connecting privacy screens.
  • Multi-functional – Fences are doing double duty as handsome backdrops for outdoor living rooms. They can include built-in planters and lighting, as well as style integrated with the space’s overall décor.




Pandemic home remodeling is booming: Here’s what your neighbors are doing

There is a lot of activity in Justin Sullivan’s backyard, as workers hammer out his new deck, and jackhammers pound through the basement.

Concrete for the new pool has already been poured. The Sullivans had planned a renovation before the pandemic hit, but then suddenly it became a much bigger project.

“The pool, the home gym, the sauna — those are things that when you’re not able to go out, your house is an enjoyable space where you can live bunker-style and still be active, still feel comfortable, and still enjoy,” said Sullivan. “The kids will have spaces to make sure they can work from home, and when it gets really hot in the summertime, they’ll have a place where they can cool off.”

The Sullivans are far from alone in their desire to create a retreat, even if that retreat is in their own basement. Houzz, an online home remodeling platform, reported a 58% annual increase in project leads for home professionals in June.

Those working on outdoor spaces saw the biggest increase in demand, with searches for pool and spa professionals three times what they were a year ago. Not far behind, landscape contractors, deck and patio professionals all saw more than double the demand.

Pool demand is so strong that even Wall Street investors are taking note. Poolcorp, an international distributor of swimming pool supplies, parts and outdoor living products, hit an intraday all-time high this week and is up over 54% year to date. The stock is on pace for its best year since 2003.

Much like real estate agents, remodeling professionals are now adapting to a new world of social and professional distancing.

“Over the past year we’ve made many significant additions and improvements to how our platform helps homeowners find and connect with the right professional for their project — enabling people to directly schedule video meetings with pros through Houzz Pro is just one example — and we’re really seeing the impact of those investments in the number and quality of connections we’re making,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing at Houzz.

Kitchen and bath have always been popular remodeling choices, but even those saw a 40% jump in demand in June compared with a year ago. More people are cooking and eating at home, and kitchens are now even more the center of family life.

Home extensions and additions jumped 52%, and security and privacy also saw much greater demand with interest in fence installation and repairs up 166%.

Homeowners are likely getting extra incentive from the record high amount of home equity they now have. Home prices continue to gain, despite the economic downturn, as demand for housing soars.

Just over 15 million residential properties were considered equity-rich in the second quarter, meaning mortgages on those properties was 50% or less than the value of the home, according to ATTOM Data Solutions. That is 27.5% of all mortgaged homes in the U.S., up from 26.5% in the first quarter.

“Homeowners saw their equity rise far and wide throughout the United States during the second quarter of this year in yet another sign of the housing market punching back against the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM. “More property owners rose into equity-rich territory and escaped the seriously underwater lane, putting more money into the average household.”