Design for Life: An Architect’s 12 Rules for Vibrant Living


The following article by Lisa Bixler originally appeared in Prime Women magazine.

Every day brings opportunities to enhance our lives, at least up to a point, or so the story goes for many people that I, and probably you, know. My architecture practice, however, has shown me a different kind of story, one that often emerges when people start thinking about life after retirement.

Those opportunities, once embraced, become overshadowed by mixed emotions and resignation. So, I tell my clients who are choosing to live in place (often called aging in place) or build their retirement home: Let joy be your guide in preparing for the future.

When I started my practice, the future seemed like an open field with nothing yet standing on it. What would I create? I wasn’t sure.  Over time, as I listened to my clients, the answers began to take shape.

primewomen_seniors golfOne set of clients, Ann and John, purchased a lot near a golf course but far from the family they loved inviting for holiday celebrations. Another client, Cindy, was thinking of moving into an assisted living center but was dreading giving up her garden. What Ann, John and Cindy had in common, I realized, was the idea that they must give something up in order to brace themselves for growing older.

They equated age with “giving up” for one simple reason: They were not prioritizing. Ann and John put access to the golf course on par with having their extended family come over for dinner. Cindy was willing to replace the garden she loved with access to a healthcare professional, “just in case.”

My approach is collaborative, so once I became aware of these imbalanced trade offs, we could envision alternatives to allow aging in place: Ann and John would need a spare bedroom and a generous family room so that those annual festivities became destination vacations for their children and grandchildren instead. Cindy moved access to nature to the top of her list and was willing to be flexible in how she got help in the future, should the need arise.

Thanks to my clients, I developed a design not only for their homes, but also for my own life. Just as those of us in business would never sit around and wait for the phone to ring, we should never wait until things fall apart in our home or our health and then throw in the towel on what we love to do. So, my 12 Rules that I’ll share with you are as follows:

1. Create a “lifelong home.”

Remember that good solutions can work at many stages of life. A wider doorway will accommodate both a baby stroller and a wheel chair. The popular open floor plan will make life easier in general and possibly enable you to stay in your home for more years than you thought possible.

2. Plan for living in place, not aging in place.

When thinking about retirement today, that often means traveling* and playing golf. “Aging with dignity is for an older generation,” a recent retiree told me. It is applicable for some, but there are many retirees ready to start a new business, a nonprofit or a world tour.

3. Thou shalt not sacrifice aesthetics for function.

Approach your remodeling projects with a long range view. Choose designs and materials now that will also attractively and invisibly accommodate your future needs.

4. Cleave to community.

For some, this means joining a new community in a residential center; for others, it’s remaining a part of their longtime community; and for still others, it’s finding community where their children live.

5. Start with what you love to do as you make your plans for the future.

If you host a family gathering or club meeting once a month, keep doing it. Even most assisted living centers have a party room or family room.

6. Keep doing what gives you joy.

If you love nature, build that into your plans. Even if you are downsizing your accommodations, you can still live in an expansive way because we all continue to grow and evolve every day of our lives.

7. Keep the money in the family.

Hold on to the money you’ve worked for your whole life. Do this by planning for the future, and know that there are many possible futures that you can create while still retaining your wealth.

8. Increase the value of what you have.

Done right, preparations for living in place will actually increase the value of your home.

9. Give yourself more alternatives by starting early.

Take time to explore all your options so you can choose the best ones for you. There are many possibilities for the future; it is not one size fits all.

10. Consider ‘Futuristic’ technology and transport because it’s here and now.

This may either be for you or for an elderly loved one; for instance, it is possible to remotely monitor a loved one who needs constant assistance or oversight with their medication. Investigate how technology could work for you and enable aging in place.

11. Choose a long range strategy versus a short term fix.

Figure out what would be sustainable for you and make thoughtful changes. You can phase in adaptations toward a comfortable and well-supported future, if you have a plan.

12. Start now.

Author: Lisa Bixler

Lisa Bixler of Houston based LKB Architecture, provides sustainable architectural and planning services. She has a passion for creating solutions in accessibility, senior living, and universal design/aging-in-place.