One of the inevitable realities of life is that everyone ages. Francis Bacon (1561-1625) wrote that “age appears to be best in four things – old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”
More than a century later, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote about “an old age serene and bright.” In the Bible, the Book of Job (11:17) speaks of age being “clearer than the noonday.”
In a new “Innovative Model of Living” at the Vinson Hall Retirement Community in McLean, bright spaces and accessible features are retrofitted into an existing efficiency apartment, providing an interesting new approach to the challenges of aging, making the old efficiency into a new studio apartment. The demonstration project is a collaborative effort between Vinson Hall, whose history dates to post-World War II needs for housing for sea service widows, and M. Quinn Designs, a small business based in Mason District (MQuinnDesigns.com). Moira Ann Quinn Leite, a long-time lighting and interior designer, is the visionary behind the concept.
A recent visit to the remodeled Vinson Hall apartment revealed several simple, but smart, changes that could be incorporated into any home. A motion sensor in the switch unit by the front door automatically turns on the ceiling light, allowing the resident to see the path into the room. The old carpet was removed and replaced with smooth flooring, easier to walk on and less likely to be a tripping hazard. A disappearing Murphy bed was installed in place of the tiny sleeping area next to the bathroom, and floor-to-ceiling cabinetry provides computer space and lots of storage. More storage is available in the wide, but shallow-depth media center, topped by a large flat-screen television. No more side-stepping around furniture that juts into the room. Large, comfortable recliners face the media center, and are equipped with “lifts” that help the occupant out of the chair at the push of a button. One chair is cloth-covered; the other is leather, to help visitors see and feel the difference in surfaces.
Most residents take their meals in the Vinson Hall central dining room, so the kitchen is compact, but large enough to bake cookies with grandchildren or store Bacon’s “old wine to drink.” The counter features a contrasting color edge to provide what its designer calls “a visual cue,” and was extended to provide eating space near the large windows overlooking the Vinson Hall campus. Sturdy Asian-style stools, wide enough to accommodate ample figures, slide under the counter when not in use. A clever mirrored “window” above the sink camouflages access to the electrical panel behind it.
In the bathroom, a walk-in shower and built-in tiled seat were installed. The shower door slides in three sections, to allow more room to maneuver, especially if a caregiver is assisting the bather. A conventional shower head and a hand-held shower device are included, with the diverter valve placed near the seat, along with grab bars for safety and convenience. The undersink cabinet is recessed so that a resident using a walker or other assistive device can use the sink easily while retaining stability. Independent switches provide incandescent and fluorescent lighting options for the user.
The Vinson Hall model demonstrates that simple approaches can retrofit existing living spaces, and accommodate life-style and mobility (now and later). While there is no fireplace to burn “old wood,” the redesigned space provides ample opportunities for “old authors to read,” and make old age “serene and bright.”