Jane Toland: Design for a Lifetime

May 17, 2016

Not long after I became a certified aging in place specialist, I realized that the my homes haven’t necessarily served me well—as an ordinary person, at any age. The light bulb then went off! Life happens. I am not talking about sudden, urgent needs that require an immediate home re-design. I am talking about ordinary people and ordinary events. Our families and friends have allergies, suffer broken bones, slip on floors, spill beverages, recover from surgeries – all age irrelevant, and mostly temporary. Shouldn’t we automatically include design solutions that alleviate the added stress of these “happenings”?

And, we can avoid the stigma associated with aging and associated references, and adopt a new moniker “Design for a Lifetime.” This would be considerate all of the ordinary people who either live in, or visit your home, allowing them to function safely and comfortably, and, of course, with great style. It is design that fosters health and wellness.

Designing for a lifetime where age is irrelevant might include:
• Consideration of staircase railings – on both sides or is one side sufficient? If you have ever had to navigate a staircase with a cane as a result of a quirky back or knee, you know that it only works on one side and the other side needs the support of a railing. And please consider adding carpet or texture to the treads to avoid slipping. My energetic Springer Spaniel gave me quite a fright as she slid down an entire staircase to say hello! This can happen to humans, too—I speak from experience.

Traditional double bannister

Design by Phoebe Howard

• Paint is a common offender for those suffering from asthma or allergies. Farrow & Ball has embraced low or no-VOC formulations for years and are child and pet safe.

Farrow & Ball Children's Bedroom

Farrow & Ball

• Performance fabrics for upholstery and soft furnishings not only protect against sun damage but the spills and accidents happen to us all. There are a myriad of gorgeous choices now available.
• Thoughtful consideration of where to locate the microwave oven – never over the cooktop! Not only is it dangerous leaning over a hot cooktop, it is uncomfortable for short people to reach (like me or children), and anyone (at any age) with a limited range of shoulder motion. I love this under counter option from Subzero-Wolf.

Wolf undercounter microwave drawer

Subzero Wolf

• Wall ovens with a right or left swinging door. Bosch Benchmark offers a variety of configurations and sizes. I have to wonder why this hasn’t become the norm a long time ago!



• Dirty, greasy, food covered hands? Single handle kitchen faucets allow you to use your wrist or elbow to turn the water on and off. It eliminates the need to use two hands for temperature adjustment. Convenience. Touchless technology takes it one step further. Mostly seen as contemporary in style, there are stunning traditional options, too.

Lever Faucet

Tolhouse Design, Photography by Christiana Rifaat

• Bathrooms deserve an entire post of their own: Curbless shower entrances, flooring that is beautiful but not slippery, safety rails that are now disguised as towel racks and toilet paper holders, and can be installed after the fact and meet ADA compliance; comfort height toilets and sinks; appropriate lighting for all tasks; handshowers that making bathing children and pets much easier, not to mention easier clean up.
• Incorporation of energy and water efficiencies in appliance choices. Saving money appeals to everyone, and so should thoughtfulness of our natural resources.
• There is so much more!

Design for a Lifetime has my attention. As designers we can make homes beautiful, and, make a difference in a client’s daily lives – functional, comfortable and convenient. Social responsibility. Let’s keep thinking and doing more. Will you join me?

Jane Toland, Principal of Tolhouse Design, is a kitchen and bath designer. As the former Head of Professional & Continuing Education at the Boston Architectural College, she was the education director for a variety of residential design certificate programs. Jane holds Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) certification, from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB),  is a member of the International Furnishings & Design Association (IFDA), and the National Kitchen & Bath Association, Northern New England Chapter (NKBA NNE). She’ll be shortly introducing her own blog, tolhousedesigntalks.com, where she’ll continue the conversation about Design for a Lifetime practices and products in much greater detail.

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