Designing a home for life

Inclusive design can help adapt homes to cater for the needs of an ageing population, writes Barry Eagle of anti-slip flooring solutions supplier GripClad.

According to a YouGov poll, more than four in 10 Londoners aged over 55 believe they would struggle to find accommodation in the capital if they decided to downsize. Compounding this view is the fact that the number of people over 50 is only set to increase.

The ever-changing housing requirements are one of the most important challenges facing local authorities in London. It is vital that new housing supply meets the needs of an ageing population as estimates show that 84 per cent of existing homes in England are not wheelchair accessible.

Inclusive design is at the heart of resolving the issues around catering for an aging population and can be achieved by removing barriers that create undue effort and separation.

Inclusive design

According to the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), there are seven principles of inclusive design:

  • Inclusive – so everyone can use it safely, easily and with dignity
  • Responsive – taking account of what people say they need and want
  • Flexible – so different people can use it in different ways
  • Convenient – so everyone can use it without too much effort or separation
  • Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility, ethnicity or circumstances
  • Welcoming – with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people
  • Realistic – offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs and recognising that one solution may not work for all

As people age, certain features within the home can become liabilities. Beyond common hazards presented by stairs to those with mobility problems, issues such as limited access to showers, doorways and kitchen drawers can further affect one’s quality of life.

However, by incorporating inclusive design principles into building design, you can create spaces that enable users to gain access to areas that are otherwise inaccessible to those who rely on mobility aids. Making doors a wider for example would not only make a home feel more open plan and spacious, but also make it wheelchair-accessible, too.

For the visually impaired, long corridors with identical doors on every floor can cause confusion, so creating clear indicators in communal spaces can improve access and mobility while also enhancing the interior design with unique visual touches.


Accessible shower facilities are becoming increasingly common, in the form of walk-in showers or wet rooms, as reduced mobility can make taking a bath or shower less convenient. An open-plan alternative to the traditional bathroom, a wetroom can provide a space-saving, ergonomically-friendly and safe showering solution that is not just luxurious, but practical – a key consideration for the older generation.

Incorporating an appropriate wetroom drainage system into the main bathroom and the downstairs toilet – even if they are just capped off initially – is a cost-effective means of achieving this. When the time comes for the bathroom to be converted, the installation of the wetroom drain for the floor build up is a non-intrusive build.  This future-proofing method embraces the principles of Lifetime Homes.

An investment for life

It is important for architects to take a long-term holistic approach by specifying solutions that would help satisfy consumer’s needs as they transition through the retirement years. With retirement now likely to span 20 to 30 years, buyers will be looking for a home that will adapt to their needs over time. Having a bathroom that is ‘wet room-ready’ from the start could be beneficial to both the homeowner and the property’s future resale value.

There is a clear financial advantage, to both individuals and society, for older people remaining independent in their homes rather than going into a residential housing. We all want to remain as independent as possible when we reach later life and an inclusively designed home adapts to the limitations of the occupier over time.

Barry Eagle is managing director at GripClad