There are so many residential design innovations and features that enhance wellness. These include steam showers, bidet-style toilets, combi-steam ovens, induction cooktops, smarter home technology and low maintenance surfaces like engineered stone and porcelain slab.
Then there are design details, styles and trends that can put your home’s wellness potential at risk. Here are six, along with tweaks that can preserve it or reduce the hazard potential.
I find this trend puzzling, as it seems like handrails should be part of building codes everywhere, but they show up often enough in modern home photos that this is apparently not the case. They would almost certainly not be recommended by most designers serving older clients, as fall-related injuries present the greatest hospitalization and fatality risks for seniors.
A few possible alternatives to delivering the style punch without the safety risk include a glass side on the open end with a contemporary rail on top, a handrail on the wall side, and rails on both with the openness being limited to the risers. (This can still be a trip hazard for someone with vision issues.)
There are definite wellness design benefits to soaking in a relaxing, restorative bath. The wellness challenge doesn’t come from the tub, but from its extra depth and frequent placement in the space.
These deep, beautiful fixtures often sit in the middle of the room, challenging the bather to climb in and out without the benefit of a secure handhold, (floor-mounted faucets are not designed for this purpose). Yes, she can bend over and grip the edge of the tub, but that can be difficult for someone with flexibility issues. The extra depth of these sexy soakers can also be tricky for someone who doesn’t have a gymnast’s agility and balance. Wet feet and hard wet floors increase the risk.
Rather than centering a tub in the middle of the bathroom, place it in an alcove with designer-styled grab bars on each end. There are models that don’t look institutional and blend in with the room’s other hardware.
Better yet, install a soaker tub into a surround with a wide front ledge, (not as sleek and sexy, to be sure, but a ton safer).
Open Kitchen Shelves
These have become very popular, but create a few wellness challenges. First, they limit what can be stored on them to more decorative items, limiting the room’s capacity – particularly in its key work zones — for more essential items that should be close to the appliances or fixtures where they’ll be used for functionality.
Second, they create an extra cleaning chore, as whatever sits on them is subject to dust and kitchen splatter. (This is especially true in cooking zones around the range or stovetop.)
Third, for the style-forward homeowners who choose open shelves, there will be constant pressure to keep their contents looking just so, (and no one needs that extra stress, however trivial).
Rather than placing open shelves in a kitchen’s key work zones, they can be located in a different area of the room (or home) where they won’t impact functionality. Glass-front cabinets are an alternative for displaying pretty dishes and glasses. These are often far enough from the cooking zone that splatter isn’t a risk and related chore.
Personalizing your home with eclectic details like your grandmother’s sideboard, collectibles or crocheted floor rugs, or your favorite country-cute wallpaper, can be a great way to add comfort and joy to your space, but it can also create a more cluttered feel to a room, that can subtly add stress.
“Living in a home with moderate visual complexity is optimal and keeps stress levels in check; living in a place with high or low visual complexity is stressful,” advises Sally Augustin, PhD, a practicing design psychologist and principal at Chicago area Design With Science in an article about the wellness benefits of minimalism.
Maximalist furniture and cabinetry styles are often higher maintenance too, requiring more work by the homeowner to keep them dust or grime-free. (That doesn’t even take into account the decorative objects stored on their surfaces.)
Limit maximalist style to a single focal point, rather than an entire room, and concentrate it in a space with less foot traffic. If this is your preferred style, design it into a room where you indulge yourself — perhaps your hobby corner — rather than a hard-working area like a kitchen or home office.
Refrigerated Side Tables
“Sitting for prolonged periods of time is the new smoking,” declared physical therapist Nina Geromel in Wellness by Design (Tiller Press, 2020), adding, “Even if you are active, it doesn’t negate the effects that prolonged sitting can have on the body… putting you at greater risk for strokes and cardiovascular disease.”
So what are we to make of trending new additions to the furniture world that make a trip to the refrigerator for a cold drink unnecessary? For the average American watching four hours of television every day, (and spending even more hours on phones and tablets), that might be the only non-bathroom excuse to get off the couch!
Side tables are great. They hold both your drinking glasses and eyeglasses, your remote control and reading material. They don’t need built-in refrigeration. A better choice might be a model that incorporates air purification instead. This, at least, can help address the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by some televisions.
Spy Home Technology
There are tremendous wellness benefits available to those who want to smartly adopt technology in their homes. Human centric lighting can enhance sleep. Voice control can help seniors avoid home mishaps and provide support for their caregivers. Leak detectors can prevent a home flood. Indoor air and water quality management systems can resolve health and safety threats.
The wellness challenges in some home technology is twofold: First, mass market offerings are often provided by companies with business models based on leveraging your usage data, potentially impacting your privacy.
Second, these more affordable products are frequently the first ones targeted by hackers because of their large and fast-growing user base.
Consider smart home technology features recommended and installed by professional integrators from manufacturers that respect user privacy. If that’s not in your budget or plans, set up these internet of things (IOT) add-ons on a separate network to protect your personal financial, family and medical data.