How to Design an Age in Place Closet
OK – I’m going to tell you right up front I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE designing closets. However, I’ll also admit the idea of ‘aging in place,’ makes me feel like an old dude. Sure, maybe this is because I’m 61. And yes, I still like to ‘reframe’ my age as (29 x 2) + 3.
And if you’re like me and thinking about age in place strategies for your home weirds you out, I still think this article will help you. However, whether you’re designing a bathroom, kitchen or even a master closet for yourself – (or for a loved one who wishes they could turn back the clock), making sure these home remodeling projects will work today (and in the future) is simply the smart thing to do. After all who wants to end up in an expensive assisted living facility anyway.
And since I am a (very-young looking….OK, I’m stretching it here) 61 year old guy who also runs a closet organization business in Columbus Ohio (and designs closets as well) I thought it would be right up my alley (unfortunately) to share 3 key pieces of design advice and 7 important features to include in an age in place master walk in closet which will work now, and in the future for you (or for your Mom or Dad).
I’m going to guarantee you if you follow these design advice tips and add these important features, even if your mobility, eyesight and dexterity aren’t what they used to be (even if YOU don’t want to admit it) this closet will work for you or your mom or dad. At the end of the article let me know which ideas have improved your age in place closet design (even if you don’t dare call it that) or let me know other questions you have to make the craziness which is your walk-in closet work for you as long as you’re in your home.
3 pieces of design advice for an age in place closet
#1) Get help, or more importantly, get the right help BEFORE spending any money
While it’s tempting to ‘try’ to do the closet design and installation work yourself, unless you’re the real-life Jay Pritchett from Modern Family, this may not be the smartest thing to do. You see closet design really is a specialty project. There’s a lot of specialized products, systems and suppliers and if you don’t know what you need, you’ll end up with a design which may not be the best.
And while you may be tempted to run out and buy a budget-basement modular closet off the shelf, many of them aren’t designed to fit your space or help you gain room in your odd-shaped closet, OR make a safer closet which will work if you can’t reach up or bend down as well as you used to.
And while you may also be tempted to hire a ‘trim carpenter’ you’ve known for years to design and build your closet, this strategy can be plagued with all sorts of issues (learn more about these issues in the article below titled, 9 Reasons You Shouldn’t Hire a Trim Carpenter to Build Your Custom Closet (and 3 Reasons You Should).
No, I think the smartest way to get a stylish, safe aging in place closet is to first develop a ‘game plan’ with a closet designer whose intimately aware of the products and systems you’ll learn about in the features identified below (and no, I’m not just saying this because I’m a professional closet designer – it’s because I know it’s true). Don’t be a ‘stubborn old mule’ and think you can figure it all out on your own.
And if your closet is as overstuffed as your favorite corned beef sandwich your spouse DOES NOT want you to order, then also bring in a professional closet organizer to help you do the decluttering you don’t have the stomach to do on your own (or maybe more importantly to get your spouse to do on THEIR own!).
#2) Dispel myths about what type of closet system is unsafe for aging in place design
First, I’ll let you know I’m going to ‘dumb it down’ by saying there’s 2 basic types of closet systems. First you have the ‘wall hung closet.’ This system is hung onto the wall using a rail which is tied into the studs. The second type is a ‘floor-based closet’ which is built to the floor. And while I’ll tell you it’s more stylish (it gives a finished furniture look), I’ll also tell you not everyone has the budget this type of luxury closet system.
However, despite the fact the floor-based system looks cooler, I want to dispel the myth I’ve read which says you should not use a wall hung closet for aging in place closet. This advice is flat-out WRONG! This advice should have had the following warning…
Don’t use a wall hung age in place closet IF IT’S NOT PROPERLY ANCHORED!
You see, usually the biggest problem with cheap wall hung closets (like those ‘less-than-high-quality’ wire ones slapped in by the original home builder) is they were improperly anchored (and then these cheap units ARE susceptible to falling off the wall and hurting you or a loved one).
The key is to make sure your wall hung system uses a rail which is tied into the studs AND has a cleat (no, this isn’t the type of cleat you used in football practice, but it’s simply an extra piece of wood used to support the closet) which also ties things in. As a matter of fact a wall hung closet organizer can be the absolute right choice if need a closet system which works for a family member in a wheelchair (and if you don’t believe me, read, 8 Tips for a Universal Design Closet).
And if you don’t understand whether to buy a wall hung or floor based closets read, How to Choose Between a Wall Hung and Floor Mounted Closet Organizer.
#3) Insist on a 3D design
Quite frankly I don’t know how ANYONE can spend thousands of dollars on a custom closet design and make a purchase based on a hand-written drawing which looks like the one below and actually think they know what the finished closet will look like (and more importantly how it will function).
No, any professional closet designer worth their weight in ‘closet shelves,’ will create a 3D design so you can see what the heck you’re getting. As American Express would say, “Don’t buy a closet system without it!”
Ok, so now that we’ve got the overall design advice out of the way, let’s turn our attention to 7 smart product features which make age in place closets work for those who need them.
7 smart features to include in an age in place closet design
Feature #1 – Pull down closet rods within ‘double hung’ closet sections
It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, if you’re like 99.9% of the people in the world (OK – this WASN’T a scientific survey), you’re desperately trying to ‘find’ more space in your closet. And the #1 (not too secret) closet ‘trick’ to help you do this is to ‘double-hang’ (‘er this is putting rod on top another in a closet section).
And while double-hanging sections are the ‘staple’ of a closet designer’s existence, what many people don’t realize is in an age in place closet the top rod could become useless if you’re unable to reach it due to mobility challenges.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, the smart strategy in an age in place closet with double hang sections is to use pull-down rods. And if you want to get real ‘fancy-schmancy’ you can even get ones which operative with a remote control.
Feature #2 – Add lighting – especially motion activated lighting
Most closets have no windows. Most closets have too few working light bulbs in the fixture at the top of the ceiling. In most closets it can be hard telling your blues from your blacks (and that was BEFORE your ‘advanced age’ crept up– ouch!).
It’s for this reason a smartly designed age-in-place closet DOES NOT overlook lighting. And if you don’t want to increase costs by adding outlets in your closet, you can go with rechargeable, motion-activated LED lights to make a brighter space at a low cost.
On the other hand, if you want to make lighting a wow feature, use LED lights which are routed into the sides of the closet sections. Then you’ll be ready to show off your new custom closets to your friends and family and impress them with how cool you are!
Feature #3 – Get your shoes off the ground and onto shelves
Are your shoes buried under hanging clothes and are a ‘complete-pain’ (as opposed to an ‘incomplete pain) to find?
If so, with a new closet design this is THE TIME to stop this nuisance. Instead use flat adjustable shoe shelves where your favorite pairs are not only front and center, but the distance between these shelves can be changed as your shoe preferences goes from heels to flats. It’s time to start treating your shoes with the respect they deserve! And if you want to get ‘extra credit’ for your age in place design, use a ‘notched’ adjustable shelf to make sure these shelves are not only adjustable, but also, you’ll minimize the chance of them falling out.
Feature #4 – Don’t forget seating
Whether you’ve got the room for a built-in bench seat, or need to use a moveable Ottoman or stool, seating is a luxury (and in many cases a necessity) you don’t want to do without in an age in place master closet. If your balance ‘ain’t what it used to be,’ the ability to sit down to take off your pants and shoes is a smart way to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. And besides, adding seating creates a luxury closet look at the same time.
Feature #5 – Don’t forget closet drawers you can use – no matter how tall or small you are
Most people have never had drawers in their closet (unless they threw in an old bedroom dresser in the space). However, I’ll argue drawers are the key to an organized (and stylish) closet which works for people of all ages and abilities. And if you think I’m crazy insisting you use drawers in your closet read, 11 Secrets about Closet Drawers Even Most Closet Designers Won’t Tell You.
And while drawers will help you add space and improve the design for an age in place closet, not all drawers are created equal. Here’s three points to look out for to make sure you’re getting quality closet drawers to fully utilize your space.
- Point #1 – Make sure the drawers fully extend – if the drawers don’t come out fully it’s hard to see – and find- what’s in the back.
- Point #2 – Make sure there’s room to open your drawers from the side – If this closet is to work for someone in a wheelchair- who will have a tough time bending into the back to pick something out, the ability to open the drawers from the side will make it ergonomically possible for them.
- Point #3 – Make sure your drawer sizes fit what you’re looking to store – Closet drawers come in all heights, widths and depths. The key is to use drawers which fit your clothes. When it comes to widths, I like 24” wide drawers because you can fit 2 stacks of clothes side by side in the same drawer (for an 18” wide drawer you could only theoretically fit 1 ½ stacks – and unless you’re planning to cut your clothes in half, this makes no sense). Also pay attention to drawer heights. Taller drawers (say 12”) are good for bulky sweaters and blankets. Mid-sized 8” drawers are the ‘workhorse’ size designed for t-shirts, jeans and work-out outfits. Shallow 5” drawers make sense for socks, hosiery and jewelry.
Feature #6 – It needs to be your ‘thing’ to use the right ‘bling’ …’er closet hardware
Most people treat closet hardware (i.e., the drawer handles, rods, and pull-out valet rods) as an afterthought. However, I’d say doing this deprives them of not only a more stylish closet, but also one which is easier to use as well.
You see while closet hardware is the ‘jewelry’ of a closet design, it’s even more important than that. When you choose a closet handle vs. a closet knob, you’ll also make it simpler to open your drawers if you have arthritis or your dexterity isn’t what it used to be.
Also – if you want to go back to feature #2 (lighting), you can also buy closet rods with LED lights built into them.
It needs to be your ‘thing,’ to choose the right ‘bling’ (closet hardware) if you want an age in place closet which really works (and looks good).
Image Source: Patty Miller at Boutique Closets and Cabinetry
Feature #7 – Locate light switches lower and outlets higher
Not to depress you or anything, but if you’re getting older (and if ANY of us are being real right now we’re ALL getting older!), it becomes harder to reach down to plug in your iron into your closet outlets or to reach your light switch (especially if you – or a loved one – uses a wheelchair or walker). It’s for this reason a smart ‘universal design closet’ will move the light switch down to 42” from the floor and will move the electrical outlets up to 18” off the floor.
Do you need help with your age in place closet?
I know even talking about ‘aging in place’ can be depressing (it’s like planning your funeral – OK, now I really sound like Danny Downer!). However, being proactive designing your home to be not only safe, but stylish can be a smart, and cost-effective, thing to do. This work will help you live where you want to live for as possible AND NOT be part of the growing number of people in expensive assisted living facilities.
Knowing – if you’re like most people – you’ve never designed your home (let alone your closet) for aging in place, it can become hard figuring out where to turn first. And I’d like to welcome you if you live in Columbus Ohio to look up my business – Innovate Home Org (614-545-6888)– to help you design your age in place closet and/or provide you with a 3D closet design.
And because I know most of you reading ARE NOT from Columbus Ohio, ask for a referral to a professional closet designer in your town in the comments below and I’ll do my best to connect you with one of my friends in the industry.
Thanks for reading!
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