Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ageing Suit & Designing for Ageing in Place

Designing for multiple abilities is not a new idea.  "Universal design" was the hot design theme back in 2000 when I was studying for my CKD exam. The fact is, I rarely have the opportunity to employ universal design since very few of my clients have been of limited abilities.  That is not to say the guidelines aren't worthwhile.  In fact many universal design guidelines are simply good design.  But many are specific to those with limited mobility and are not the best solution for other able-bodied members of the house.

Recently I've seen a shift from universal design to designing for ageing in place.  The so-called Baby-Boomer generation is approaching its senior years and design issues are beginning to arise.  To explore these issues the folk at Blum have invested the "Ageing Suit" to help better understand these issues in relation to kitchen and bathroom design.  The suit restricts the wearer's ability to move, feel, see and hear ... mimicking the abilities of someone in their middle seventies.

I had the opportunity to watch the Ageing Suit at work at KBIS this year as part of the Universal Design Today seminar.  The seminar, presented by Mary Jo Peterson, addressed many of the design solutions available today, but the highlight was watching why these solutions needed to be created.  Fellow designer and good friend Roberta Kravette donned the suit and was asked to perform a number of simple tasks.  Roberta gave commentary as she attempted each task, but it was obvious to all who were watching that even the simplest task was extremely difficult.

What I took away from the seminar was the importance of little details in design to making it suitable for all ages.  Contrasts between surfaces, cabinet handles that are comfortable and easy to grab and even something as simple as roll-out shelves can make all the difference for someone with poor eyesight or arthritis.  When choosing materials for your kitchen project, be sure to work with a kitchen design professional to ensure these little details are considered in your design.


Roberta said...

Glad you liked the KBIS program. That suite was difficult but the eye opener for me was trying to do the very simple things like getting something out of a base cabinet.This is not only about "aging" or "disability" but also pregnancy, a strained back from tennis,and even saving time by making the kitchen more efficient. Thanks Arne for bringing it "home" again!

Jeff said...

I'd love to wear the suit for a day to simulate what many of our senior clients go through. You get a really good idea watching somebody in the suit but actually being in must be so much tougher.

Arne Salvesen said...


I spoke with Roberta afterwrads and she commented on disoriented and even dizzy she felt.

I had an "Aha!" moment during the presentation when she was asked to pick out a single paperclip from a box full of them. She ended up dumping some of them out onto the countertop to be able to grab just one ... and at that moment every "little old lady" that had ever been in front of me in the cashier's lineup in a grocery store flashed in front of my eyes.

The bottom line ... this was a very worthwhile seminar.

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