We are delighted to publish another article in our online magazine for women by Annabel James, founder of AgeSpace – the online resource for carers of elderly relatives.
John Lewis soft furnishings may have been given the full Marie Kondo magic of de-cluttering by No. 10 Downing Street residents. I haven’t read the book, but I am tempted to write my own version as we start thinking about de-cluttering Mum and Dad’s house. The first task is what already feels like an extremely cathartic process – ‘de-ageing’ it.
It is with total joy that we shall be removing the stairlift, the grabrails, the shower stools and all the other accoutrements of old age gathered over the last decade or so. Joy not just because it feels like returning to life before failing health and increasing frailty, but mostly because the vast majority of all the gear is just bloody ugly and unhomely. It is all practical, useful and in some cases life-saving. Some of it would even be stocked by dear John Lewis but my not-so-inner Princess is wailing loudly “why can’t any of it look good and be useful?”
Function over form
Zandra Rhodes, that wonderfully whacky designer, apparently customised her stairlift by having it painted in zebra print. Of course, she did. That might be taking things a bit far, but looking at the thing that snakes up the staircase at home, does make me wonder if we could have done a better job. But it was a life-saver, in spite of how it looked, enabling Mum and Dad to remain at home when they could no longer manage the stairs.
Like so many others, most of the changes made at home were urgent and at speed after a fall or a medical issue. Inevitably we didn’t take aesthetics into consideration, instead choosing what would be functional and solve whatever the problem was as cost-effectively as possible in as fast a timeframe as necessary.
There was no notion of planning ahead either. The house was not designed with 2 x 80 year olds tottering about in mind. They moved to be within walking distance of the local shops in advance of stopping driving – but it didn’t cross our minds to age-proof the house itself.
How should we all live in later life?
As the debate about how we care for our ageing population continues to loiter in the long grass, where and how they live is central to the discussions. The next generation, or even this generation of house-builders are hopefully thinking about good design of age-friendly homes that have both function and form; in addition to the massively important social aspect of where and how people live. Our top tips for “age appropriate” homes include:
- Try and install a wet room before you think it might be needed; getting in and out of the bath is a huge worry for those less mobile; (never been too sure about those walk-in baths);
- Stairlifts can be bought re-conditioned which might be a thought; whether new or second-hand most of the suppliers can install one quickly; bring out your inner Zandra Rhodes and pimp that ride!
- There are some very neat lifts that can be put in if there’s enough space; slightly more elegant solution than a stairlift;
- Think about the kitchen and its layout; the heart of a home – until it becomes a warzone of navigating spaces, levels and dark, high cupboards…… not to mention the Victorian era spices lurking in the back;
- Go Smart; heating, lighting, sensors and all sorts – to make independent living that much easier; HIVE (British Gas) might be a good place to start;
It’s not just the emergency changes to the fabric of a house that are unsightly. My princess tendencies also extend to many of the gadgets and gizmos designed to make every day living a little bit easier too. Functional all, but somehow the house morphed into a hospital ward over the last few years without us really noticing.
So it is with great pleasure I can report someone is doing something about this. Granny Gets a Grip is a new online shop selling a wide range of products to make life easier and safer in the home.
They have deliberately tried to source good-looking as well as practical solutions, and where they couldn’t find something that had a function but no form, they’ve manufactured it. Some very smart-looking grabrails, lovely swivel seats, a very elegant perching stool, as well as a wide range of just incredibly useful – and nice-looking – stuff. Be still my beating princess heart.
It’s a shame that I won’t need the shop now, although perhaps I should take my own advice and do a bit of planning ahead… a perching stool might just be the start of something.
Annabel James is the founder of AgeSpace.org. All views and taste in soft furnishings are her own.