Cynthia Larsen - Sonoma County Real Estate Broker


Aging In Place: The Role of Barrier Free Design

Roll Away and roll under

Aging in Place, as defined by Wiki, is "the ability to live in one's own home - wherever that might be - for as long as confidently and comfortably possible".

Think about that for a moment ... think about the home you are living in right now. It may be a little too big if you are an empty nester. It may be a little too small if you are a growing family. Then again, it might be just right.

But, even as Goldilocks would discover, an individual with a disability may not be able to function well in your home no matter how big, small or "just right" it is.

Barrier Free Design, in simple terms, provides accessibility. And by "accessibility", I'm not just referring to the occupant, it also applies to anyone who might want to visit.

Here in the Unites States, we have witnessed more than two decades of accessibility improvements, mostly due to the American Disabilities act of 1990. But the ADA does not apply to private housing, so seldom do we see ADA improvements in a Single Family Residence.

All of that is about to change. Barrier free design is becoming more than a need for those with disabilities. It is becoming a planning tool for developers and seniors alike who understand the trend for future housing needs.

Pretend for a moment ... you are confined to a wheelchair. Now imagine yourself going into your kitchen to make breakfast. How easy would it be to sit sideways in front of your stove and scramble eggs? How accessible are your pots, pans and utensils while you are cooking? Could you even get into your kitchen? (I couldn't, that's why I ask).

The photo in this post is an example of modern day barrier free design. The cabinet with pots and pans rolls out. The top of the cabinet provides a preparation area. A person in a wheelchair can roll under the cook top and face forward with easy access to the controls. The cooking elements are electric so that clothing will not be exposed to flames.

And the best part? It's beautiful. Accessibility no longer has to mean flimsy metal ramps and green Astro Turf. Barrier free design is bringing a well planned, aesthetic element into current and future housing. Be ready for it.

- - -

Aging In Place: The Role of Barrier Free Design is one of a series of posts, sharing my thoughts about the aging baby boomer population and how it will affect where and how we live.

Other posts in this series thus far are:

Last-Time Home Buyers
Aging In Place: The New Frontier
Aging In Place: The Role of Universal Design

Stay tuned for:

Aging In Place: Home Modification
Aging In Place: Reverse Mortgages
Aging In Place: Can We Talk About Hospice?



Cynthia Larsen (707-332-2560) is an independent broker and owner of Safe Haven Realty in Sonoma County, California. Visit to view available homes for sale and to learn more about this beautiful wine country destination.

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Comment balloon 13 commentsCynthia Larsen • February 20 2012 01:15PM


Good Afternoon Cynthia

Thanks for the post and information. Have a great day.

Posted by Patrick White, Put our 28 years experience and technolgy to work (Home Driven Realty, Inc) over 3 years ago

If I had to cook a meal from a wheelchair in my kitchen the microwave would out of the question.  Interesting post.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Northern VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Manassas, VA) over 3 years ago

My place right now is very functional and I would get along fine...............they question, is this where I want to be?  Answer:  Nope!

Posted by Roger D. Mucci, Lets shake things up at your home today! (Shaken...with a Twist 216.633.2092) over 3 years ago

Hi Cynthia... while my kitchen could actually be made to work, my problem is the width of the doorway into the kitchen... it is only 29.5" wide and most wheel chairs need a 36" clearance.  Even if I take off the inset molding, I'd only get to 32".  Something I'll need to think about as I love my place and want to stay here until I'm gone.  Great series...

Posted by Peggy Hughes, SF NYC LA (PHA/Peggy Hughes Associates - Professional Moving Organizer) over 3 years ago

My kitchen is good... bathroom... not so much.  we were in our 30s with NO thought whatsoever to anything of the sort when we built this home.  I suppose the first time it even crossed my mind was when Donald had surgery a few years ago.  My next home however will be two things... my last one I build and completely friendly to handicaps.

Posted by Tammy Lankford, Your Lake Sinclair Expert (706-485-9668) (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) over 3 years ago

Patrick - yes

Chris Ann - at least you could get into your kitchen. The door had to be taken off my refrigerator to put it in place.

Roger - I think many folks are not where they want to be. When they look for their "last home", barrier free design is something to take into consideration.

Peggy - could the entry be widened? Offset swing-away hinges (a future post) will gain 2", but it sounds it isn't the door that is the problem. Can I assume it is an older home?

Tammy - by the time you build your last home, you will be an expert in Universal and Barrier Free Design.



Posted by Cynthia Larsen, Independent Broker Serving Sonoma County, CA (Safe Haven Realty) over 3 years ago

Interesting cooking concept, Cynthia.  I can honestly say I haven't seen anything like that (yet).  Great ideas for those in need.

Posted by David Ames, San Francisco (Zephyr Real Estate, San Francisco) over 3 years ago

It was hard when my mom couldn't stay in her home as she got older.  But there was no bathroom on the main level and no way to add one.  It's good now to see more builders putting in a first floor bedroom or den that could later be converted. 

Posted by Cindy Jones, Pentagon, Fort Belvoir & Quantico Real Estate News (Integrity Real Estate Group) over 3 years ago

I really enjoy your series about aging in place.  Recently, I had a buyer contact me about finding her a home with an ADU and it reminded me of your series.  She is certainly thinking about aging in place!

Posted by Carla Muss-Jacobs, Principal Broker/Owner, Buyer Focused ~ Buyer Results ( | (503) 810-7192 Portland Metro Exclusive Buyers Agent | 100% Buyer Representation ~ 100% of the Time) over 3 years ago

Cynthia, I seem to be getting a lot of older buyers lately and they are concerned with ease of living in their senior years.  Unfortunately, in the Spokane area, there are just not enough homes that fit all their needs!

Posted by Valerie Baker, Spokane Realtor (Exit Real Estate Professionals) over 3 years ago

David - I think this post is way ahead of the curve, but the trend will be here before we know it.

Cindy - the bed/bath downstairs was certainly a good start and they are very popular here.

Carla - Thanks ... the request for ADU's will become more and more frequent and the supply will not even be close to keeping up with demand. Can you imagine where this is headed?

Valerie - Again ... the supply and demand of real estate. Except this time it will be a certain type of demand where there is no supply. There is a huge opportunity and challenge ahead of us.

Posted by Cynthia Larsen, Independent Broker Serving Sonoma County, CA (Safe Haven Realty) over 3 years ago

Featured in the group:  BARTENDER, MAKE IT A DOUBLE.

Posted by Chris Ann Cleland, Associate Broker, Northern VA (Long and Foster REALTORS®, Manassas, VA) over 3 years ago

I honestly have never really thought about a cooktop like that for a wheelchair accessible.  That is fascinating.  I love the rollaway cabinetry/shelf. -Kasey

Posted by Kasey & John Boles and the team at Jon Gosche Real Estate, LLC, Boise, Meridian, Ada/Canyon/Gem/Boise Counties (Jon Gosche Real Estate, LLC, Boise ID) over 3 years ago

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