5 stylish home design upgrades to help you age in place

Whether they’re updating quarters they’ve occupied for decades or moving into a new space entirely, older adults are looking for stylish innovations that also improve safety and maneuverability.

Jo Rabaut, owner and principal of Rabaut Design Associates in Atlanta indicates it’s an age group that’s been underserved.

“I think one of the problems is that there haven’t been enough (designers) paying attention to the needs of older people. But they like good designs, too,” she said.

She said she’s working with an increasing number of retirees and older adults on ambitious projects.

With that in mind, here are five stylish and safety upgrades that she and others are talking about.

The living room

Tatiannah Clarke of Onyx and Annah Interiors suggests upgrading that area with a mix of traditional and modern pieces while keeping that area inviting and not too “industrial.” She said classic pieces like sideboards and coffee tables — but nothing too ornate — can be paired with more modern pieces with clean lines, not an overabundance of curves.

From a safety standpoint, she favors making sure couches and chairs are the right height to minimize problems with getting up and down. Putting safety guards on sharp furniture corners can lessen the risk of falling or being poked, which can cause an injury. Wayne Austin of Bonsai Architectural Designs, suggests oriental rugs over hardwood floors as more stylish — but make sure protection against slipping is in place.

Rabaut said instead of chair rails flush being with the walls they can be projected outward to some degree, giving older adults another thing to grab onto and steady themselves.

Upgrading shower and tubs in the bathroom

Designers say a walk-in shower that works well is one that eliminates curbs, lessens the danger of tripping, and is angled so that water doesn’t emerge onto the bathroom floor. Rabaut emphasizes installing grab bars and shower seats while a renovation is ongoing to look more integrated as opposed to tacking them on later. A stone or tile configuration looks good, she and others say.

Getting a better grip on the shower/tub bottom can also work to prevent falls. A pebbled bottom to a shower floor imparts a rustic look while spotlighting increased safety.

It only makes sense to give that area focus, said one long-time local designer.

“Two rooms in a home add value to a house: the bathroom and a kitchen,” said Austin. “The more you can do to those rooms, the more you add value.”


Lighting may also be due for a safety and comfort-related upgrade. Rabaut said she works with three levels of lighting: ceiling height, eye level, and lower-down task lighting, which can make such things as chopping vegetables with knives easier — not to mention safer.

Use a dimmer system, she said, and put it on a rocker off-on switch. She said that’s an easier proposition for older adults who have arthritis and don’t want to grab or pinch.


In the same vein, designers say, older adults with hand or strength issues should consider touchless faucets. When it comes to knobs and cabinet pulls, rounder, and larger knobs can minimize pinching and gripping problems. And U-shaped pulls can help as well — the kind that can be snagged with a cane. Designers say utilizing brushed nickel or polished chrome can make them look spiffier as well.

Credit: Chris Little Photography

Credit: Chris Little Photography

Blinds and curtains

Clarke suggests having blinds and curtains remote-controlled by a device such as a smartphone. And if you’re replacing older blinds, she suggests a more modern design that rolls out and rolls up flat. Austin said plantation shutters are popular right now.

Bottom line, said Austin, “the more pleasant you can make the interior of a house, the more likely a person is going to want to stay there.”

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