Baby Boomers are changing the meaning of retirement by starting new careers and remodeling their homes to showcase personal style as well as accommodate their needs as they age. How do you express this attitude in a kitchen and bath? Carol Schalla, senior home editor at Midwest Living® (and a Boomer herself), was given this challenge in designing just such a space for the 2008 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago.
For starters, Carol knew what she would want. A "wow" kitchen, now that she can afford one. Design that reflects her independent lifestyle. Products that oblige her (loathe-to-admit-it) aging body without giving in to nursing-home style.
In the kitchen, where a U-shape area centralizes the work hub, brave style and color contrasts set a youthful tone. Carol paired faux stone, rustic beams and weathered (low-slip!) wood floors from Armstrong with sleek modern surfaces, such as KraftMaid's Venicia line of high-gloss, Lustra Thermofoil cabinets. Adding look-at-me blue walls and countertops insured the style was unconventional.
Carol got creative with cabinetry. Opposite the work area, a wall of cabinets integrates the refrigerator and a built-in china cabinet near the dining area. Carol also built boxed display areas, wrapped the peninsula with panels and designed a TV/storage wall in the dining area.
Carol's attention-grabbing use of color and design overshadow some of the less sexy aging-in-place necessities, but they're all there. They include a discreet, easy-to-install foot faucet that controls hot and cold water flow and the garbage disposal with a touch of a toe. Other accommodations: 46-inch-wide traffic paths for wheelchair accessibility, a Wolf induction cooktop (safe, quick-cooling heating elements and easy-to-reach touch controls) and lowered upper cabinets.
An under-counter cabinet on wheels can move to allow sit-down chores at the peninsula. Another feature to make kitchen duties more comfortable: Long-handled cabinet hardware (instead of knobs) that makes opening drawers and cabinets easier. Kohler faucets, meanwhile, have lever controls, which are easier to grip, push and pull. The Sub-Zero refrigerator has two bottom freezer drawers, which are easier to open and, compared to one deep drawer, require less bending to find things.
Dishwasher drawers, placed under the counter, glide out for less reaching and bending. If you're a family of two, their smaller size might suffice and save energy, too. Or install one on each side of a sink, the way we did.
Considering how often we're in and out of kitchen cabinets, behind-the-door innovations make good sense. Interior pull-out shelving brings upper-cabinet items "down and out" within easy reach and an easy-to-see height. Tall, vertical pull-out cabinets roll it all out to you, with two-sided access.
Different DuPont Zodiac colors and counter heights (standard 36 inches and some at 42) distinguish specific function zones. Raising the countertop 6 inches on the peninsula let us place the oven and microwave at more comfortable heights.
A long table works for dining for two or entertaining guests.
A white chest and tropical leaf art in the dining area reflect the decor carried throughout the kitchen.
Brave design extends to the master bath sanctuary with unique wallpaper. Enamel-white mirrors on mirrored walls and suspended glass Kohler sinks are framed by cabinets featuring a TV, a coffeemaker and customized bath storage.
The sight and sound of a window waterfall enhance a bath that's designed with both safety and relaxation in mind. We put a 15-inch deck around our low, step-over height tub. It makes it easy to sit, lift your legs and pivot into the tub. We placed the lever-handle bath faucet on the room-side deck edge, where it's easy to reach for safe operation.
A chair and built-in armoire offer dressing space and handy towel/robe storage.
A towel warmer and walls of shimmering Mandala glass tile and easy-to-clean DuPont Corian complete the barrier-free walk-in shower. Our wider-access shower accommodates a wheelchair. Its built-in bench, handheld showerhead and multiple Kohler WaterTiles (square showerheads designed to blend with other tiles) offer a luxurious, yet practical, shower setup.
A backlit, translucent counter illuminates a luxurious glass sink.
Because falls are the third leading cause of home injuries, this unsexy bath accessory is making inroads, with manufacturers offering fresh designs. Our grab bars in the shower and near the comfort-height toilet resemble the style of our towel bars, so they blend in.
You can find more information on some of the products we used at these websites.
Armstrong (flooring) 
Kohler (plumbing) 
(Originally published in Midwest Living® July/August 2008)