Life is cyclical. Just as you grow up, leave home for a better job or life, nurture and grow a home and family, the same thing happens to you. There’s plenty more time on your hands to catch up with friends and relatives; go on holiday, read or just do whatever it is that you put off doing for years. But there’s also a lot more to consider. There are things like should you downsize? Or what do you do with all the furniture you no longer need? Should you put things in storage or give it off? Suddenly, it’s all change, and the home you’ve lived in for many years begins to feel like it hasn’t caught up to a new life stage.
The thought of being left alone when children have flown the nest is daunting, but it is also full of design possibilities and opportunities. Sheethal is a Kerala-based architect and designer whose consultancy firm Geriarc specialises in the home design needs of people as they get older. “The idea of space has changed so much with time and age,” she says. Her advice is to simplify the design of wherever you live. “Ease and functionality matters, as you get older”.
In India, most homes are designed keeping young people in mind. We are, after all, a country with the youngest population in the world. But for another generation of consumer, people who’re retired, folks with children now in college or grownup, or just living alone, there’s plenty of reason to transition into a new space, or to redesign an existing home for a new kind of living. Security, accessibility, ease-of-maintenance and individual preference become key factors, rather than children’s needs, access to good schools or to an office. “Most Indians settle down quite young in one place. We build a house, have children there and grow old there too,” says Sheethal Ann Gijo.
Sheethal is a Kerala-based architect and designer whose consultancy firm Geriarc specialises in the home design needs of people as they get older. “Most people overlook ageing. We resist change and only convert spaces when we absolutely have to,” she says. “But it’s always a good idea to plan ahead,” Sheethal says. She works on a varied mix of projects repurposing existing home for private clients and leading the design efforts of real estate developments that are focused on creating environments tailormade for the concerns of older, independent consumers.
Being in a positive space
These are consumers like Gladys Jose. When she lost her husband three years ago, she was left looking after a house and a
Green open spaces such as these is where residents gather around in the evening to enjoy live music, sunsets, barbecues and practice mindfulness.
flat all by herself. Both her children were abroad. “It was too much for me to do single- handedly. There were things accumulated from years in the Navy; lots of furniture. It felt like clutter.” Gladys downsized to a one-bedroom apartment flat at Bless Retirement Living. It is a community living space for folks over 55 years of age, just outside Kochi, about a 30-minute drive from the airport. “This place is my sanctuary,” she says.
The lobby has a reading corner where residents can pick out newspapers, magazines and books to read. It is also a space where they get together to hang out for regular chit chat.
Along with a likeminded community of people, what Gladys also signed on for is a space that is specifically designed with the needs of those like her in mind. Lija Gijo, the Executive Director at Bless Retirement Living says, “You can literally just move into an apartment in a community living place without having to worry about what furniture or fittings you need; or if the curtains match or landscaping the garden.” Gladys says for her the key to downsizing was letting go of the familiar. “The only photographs I have are the ones that I absolutely cherish,” she says. She likes her surroundings to be minimalist now. Her apartment is open plan. “A clean, clear and clutter-free home is safest for me now. I’ve got rid of rugs and carpets because they can make you slip and fall,” she says. “The bathroom has lots of room, so I can move around easily.” It is a big change for a woman who admits she once
thought of bungalows as the ideal home. “The idea of space has changed so much with time and age,” she says. Her advice is to simplify the design of wherever you live. “Ease and functionality matters, as you get older”.
Lifestyle needs change with age
Sheethal of Geriarc says most people overlook ageing as a consideration when they’re making their home. “We resist change and only convert spaces when we absolutely have to,” she says. “But it’s always a good idea to plan ahead.” For those who have accepted the inevitability of the cycle of life and would like to incorporate some changes into their existing design or even plan ahead, Sheethal has these valuable suggestions:
● Have grab bars, especially in bathrooms and bedrooms.
● Height of the WC is crucial. It should be a little higher, so it doesn’t damage your knees. Have a grab rail to hold on to.
● Kitchen counters should be a little higher, so you don’t have to bend, especially if you’re prone to back problems.
● Wooden floors are best. It is high maintenance but even if you fall, chances of fractures are less with a wooden floor. Vinyl tiles are a good
● Avoid unnecessary optics and furniture.
● Round doorknobs should be replaced with lever handles. Round knobs are difficult to turn as you get older.
● Sliding doors are best for bathrooms. They don’t take up space within the washroom. They’re also easy to close from the inside and outside
and easy to break open should the need arise.
● Avoid gas stoves. Use induction cookers to prevent gas leaks and fires.
● Have areas with good ventilation and natural sunlight. Also have indoor plants. It’s always a pleasure to have a splash of green around.
● Opt for light colours, because it gives a sense of space and calm, and helps with mobility.
● If you decide to downsize, go for spaces which are within 1,500 to 2,000 square feet.
● Have night lamps along the bottom of the room. These are helpful guides at night.
● For those who have two-storey homes, set aside the space and option for a domestic elevator or chair lifts. These are functional and easy
to install, and will prove to be a boon.
The rooftop garden is where residents get together for music and dance classes, celebrate festivals and parties. This is how unused and deck spaces can be converted into green and usable areas.
The apartments have a living room, pantry area, a bedroom with an attached washroom and an open balcony. All apartments have been designed keeping in mind the needs of the seniors for example wooden flooring and rounded furniture to avoid injury.
The washroom has been designed keeping in mind the needs of seniors. There are multipurpose grab rails which double up as towel and clothes holders. The wash basin is also wheelchair- friendly. The washroom is also fitted with a nursing alarm.
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