From lighting to flooring, here’s what you need to consider when remodeling or building your forever Northern Michigan home.

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Wider doorways, curbless entries, barrier-free showers, reinforced walls for someday-grab bars—these are just a few of the features to consider when building your forever home or remodeling a house you want to be in for years to come.

Even if your health is optimal and mobility issues aren’t yet a concern, thinking about future needs now is wise. Subtle adjustments and plans today can prove especially meaningful and impactful down the line; studies have shown that aging in place is strongly linked to greater health and happiness.

Aging-in-place principles are supported by what’s known as universal design—the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Universal design allows people who have different needs to all enjoy the same home, even when their needs change.

As the number of older adults continues to increase—this population is projected to grow 69 percent, from 56 million to 94.7 million between 2020 and 2060—universal design features will keep growing in demand, according to the NAHB. Even a majority of young buyers (less than 35 years in age) rate these features as essential or desirable, indicating that accessibility features will generally add value to a home for most buyers, according to NAHB survey reports.

Bradley J. Butcher, a Northern Michigan architect, says his work is heavily influenced by universal design, and he incorporates aging-in-place concepts into his new-build and renovation projects whenever possible. Butcher is a part of Sidock Group, offering custom designs for residential, commercial and other clients throughout the Great Lakes region.

“We still present it more often than people ask for it,”he says. “But as soon as it gets brought up, they’ll say, ‘Oh, yes, I didn’t think about that.’ It becomes just as important in the design as where the windows go.”

He also emphasizes the importance of planning today for what may come tomorrow. “Designing things that are within reach makes life more accessible, allowing you to stay where you are much longer,” says Butcher. Design plans can be adjusted for just about any budget, he adds. “We want to make the house as useable as possible. If costs prohibit aging-in-place design on the inside, how can we do it on the outside? It might mean adding a sidewalk to the lower-level walkout.”

With a few tweaks to your current home, or some pre-planning with your new-build design, you can set yourself up for successful aging in place, Butcher says. “In the long-term, you are trying to make the most of this house that is so important to you and using it as long as you can no matter your mobility issues.”

Here are some of Butcher’s best tips for designing a home where you can stay comfortably and safely for years to come:

Main Floor Living is Ideal

Keeping living spaces that are supported by utility spaces on a single level makes life activities more accessible. For example, have your laundry on the main floor, and within that room, make sure there’s ample space to accommodate a walker or wheelchair. Also keep items you use every day on the main living level, rather than downstairs in the basement or spare bedroom.

But you can plan for multiple-level living. An in-home elevator is out of most people’s budgets—these cost in the tens of thousands of dollars typically—but you should plan today for an eventual electric chairlift. This involves reinforcing the stair wall so that it can support the necessary equipment.

Limit the Number of Material Transitions 

If a high-traffic hallway in your home is carpeted but leads into other rooms with hardwood, vinyl or tile flooring, you’ll want to make sure the floor transition is low enough to the ground to accommodate a walker or wheelchair. Make sure the threshold is as flush as possible so there isn’t a lip to navigate. Ensuring area rugs on hard surfaces are secure is also important, so as to prevent slipping or tripping. If your home has a sunken living room and you’re remodeling, you’ll likely want to remove that feature, which can be a barrier to mobility in the future.

Types of flooring

Let There Be Light—Plenty of It

Consider using automatic lighting controls. For example, as you enter your house and move from one room to the next, a sequence of automatic lighting will illuminate your path. Low-level lighting, at ankle height, is helpful and can be set on a timed schedule. Don’t forget adjustable task lighting under countertops where you prepare food. Flexibility in lighting is key as our eyesight diminishes.

Light grey kitchen

Consider Your Kitchen’s Functionality for Today—and Tomorrow

Think about the items you use most often and whether they’re located in the cabinets and spaces that make the most sense. If you have a walk-in pantry that’s easily accessible, for example, would it be better to create a workspace in the pantry and house everyday items like a toaster or blender there, rather than lugging them out and placing them on the kitchen counter? If your remodel calls for a kitchen island, consider placing it on wheels so it can be moved in the future if needed.

Kitchen with shelves

Heather Johnson Durocher writes from Traverse City. She is the founder of and also hosts a weekly podcast.