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Aging in Place in our Laneway

 

What does it mean to get older?  Don’t shake your head at me, I’m serious.  What will it mean to me, physically, to get older?  Not just greyer and wrinklier, but weaker and more frail.

But still, you know, hip

But still, you know, hip.

I recently had the pleasure of spending some weeks with a relative as she started her recovery from hip replacement surgery.  Overnight a healthy, athletic lady became disabled, albeit temporarily.  She needed a walker to get around even short distances.  She had trouble getting up and down stairs.  And she wasn’t allowed to bend over from the waist, meaning she needed devices to grab items, a long-handled shoe horn, etc.  She’d prepared for the recovery by having a sturdy metal bar installed in her bath/shower and used a bench when she showered.

She’s well on way to regaining her bouncy life.  But staying with her really brought home how prepared we have to be for getting older without having to move.  Because moving is out of the question.  So I looked it up on the AARP website to see if they had any good ideas.  And they did!

Of course, it’s more than making a cozy home, it’s safety, too.

Aging in place isn’t just about comfort. In very basic terms, it’s about avoiding falls. If an older person can avoid falling and breaking a hip, he can prevent a cascade of other health problems.

We have stairs, not ideal in a home where we’ll be getting older.  But our bathroom and bedroom are on the same floor so we don’t have to try to go up and down a flight of stairs in the middle of the night.  And our shower is big enough to get a bench in.  The sink and shower faucets are easy to operate, and we set the temperature on one fixture without having to fiddle with knobs.  Living small means our sink counter is close enough to the toilet to supply a hand-hold if we need assistance standing up.  Also in our shower,

a tiled shower area with recessed shelves at arm’s level to stop you from having to stoop down to the floor or reach up to a shower rack

The kitchen/living room area on the top floor has enough places to hold onto to make it easy to get around if balance is a problem.  And we can sit at our counter and work, so won’t have to stand for long periods if we are trying to avoid that. The dishwasher is in a counter-level drawer for easy loading and unloading, we have deep drawers instead of under-counter cabinets, so no stooping and reaching into the depths.

All our flooring is laminated hardwood, no carpets to trip on.  We do have an area rug, a cowhide in front of the TV with no pile.  But if we ever had problems with tripping, out it would go, decor be damned.

Elsewhere, we have lever-style door handles, again, no knobs to turn.

Some other ideas for making your home senior-friendly can be found at this Reader’s Digest article.  This includes

• No-step entry: You should have at least one step-free entrance (either at the front, back, or side of the house) so everyone, including wheelchair users, can enter the home easily and safely.

OK, we have a very small sill, easy to step over but definitely a problem if we are in a wheelchair.  But then, if DH or I end up in a wheelchair we are kind of screwed.  The doorways are not wide enough to accommodate one, the hallways are too narrow.  But short of that, our place is pretty well set up for aging in place.

If you’re thinking of making some changes in your home, though, read this article on things to consider about putting in expensive renos like stair glides, elevators, or even walk-in tubs.  At first glance they look like a great idea, but they might not be suitable for you.

Of course, another reason we’re set to get older in our laneway is the proximity of our family.  If (or when) the time comes that we aren’t able to get around town by walking and transit, they’ll be close enough to take us for an occasional shopping trip or medical appointment.  But we are also really lucky that transit is so close to our home, and shopping is a pleasant walk down and up the hill.

A hard rain’s gonna fall

Here I sit, surrounded by Christmas cheer — decor, cards, goodies.  My home is the cutest, most adorable little welcome Christmas laneway home all lit up for the season:

XmasHome

But full disclosure — Christmas is kind of a tough time for me.  Three years ago, my mother suffered a stroke and lay in a coma for over a week until she died on Christmas Eve.  You know how Christmas traditions gladden the heart?  Remembering how Mom used to bake for weeks, how the house was filled with music and the intoxicating scent of gingerbread and cloves?  Cards from distant friends and relatives?  Caroling?  Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special? Well, that reminds me of when my Mom died.  Everything about the season reminds me of it.  As the years go by I hope that the achy feeling I get will fade a bit. But for right now…..

Of course, I’m not the only one who is hurting this time of year.  As Marsha Lederman reminds us in her Globe and Mail article,

Maybe this is your first Christmas after the death of a loved one. Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’ve just lost your job at CHCH or Bell Media or Suncor or in some other layoff that didn’t make the news. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Or, heaven forbid, your child has. Maybe you have depression or anxiety. Maybe you had a miscarriage or are trying, desperately, to conceive a child. Maybe there’s alcoholism in your family and you’re worried about another Christmas Day blow-up. Or maybe you’re sober and can’t face one more boozy holiday party. Perhaps treacherous family dynamics have left you out in the cold this year, disinvited to Christmas dinner. Maybe a loved one is in trouble with the law or has a mental illness or has lost their way and is suffering. And so you are too.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the people who just can’t afford Christmas.  The tree, the decorations, the extra food and the gifts.  The stress on them must be nearly unbearable.

Of course adding to the melancholy that overtakes us is the feeling that we should be having a wonderful time!  How dare you be blue at Christmas! It’s the time of CHEER, DAMMIT! Or those poor souls who were expecting a magical Christmas and found that it was just **meh** (kind of like when you were a kid and woke up on Boxing Day and realized that getting what you wanted and asked for was not going to make you truly happy). Those people can find January a very cold month indeed.

And there will be cheer for me, visiting with my beloved family on Christmas Day and just being quietly, gratefully there. But there will be a few tears, too.

I am glad of the way I’ve found to display the very old ornaments we had when I was a child — suspended from a tension rod in a window:

XmasWindow

And I’m especially glad that we’ve cut way back on the baking and visiting and gift-giving (and ergo:  gift buying — so exhausting) and that I can just slip back to our little haven if celebrations elsewhere get too tiring.

So along with all the thoughts of sugarplums you’ll have this year, please spare a thought for those of us who will not be filled with the spirit of Christmas present.

Aly Semigran knows what it’s like to face depression during the holiday season.  And in her blog post she offers this comfort:

That you deserve to be healthy and that it takes work and time and it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it. Your friends and family will be waiting for you at the other end of this, whether it’s on a holiday or some random Wednesday when that fog finally lifts.

It’s okay to skip the songs on the radio that make you feel sad (Burl Ives will have to serenade someone else), it’s okay if the mall makes you feel utterly overwhelmed (though I will take that Auntie Anne’s pretzel, thankyouverymuch), and it’s okay if this particular holiday season wasn’t it what it was “supposed” to look like. It’s the best gift you’ll ever receive: the understanding that it’s okay. You’re okay. It’ll be okay.

VHF Laneway Tour — another great success!

DH and I got into the car yesterday, which is a treat in itself as we usually use transit to get around.  But there was not a minute to waste if we wanted to get through all 6 homes in the Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour.

Three years ago, it was the Laneway House Tour we took with our designer, Laurel, that showed us some of th4e features we wanted to incorporate into our lanehouse design.

Two years ago our house-in-progress was part of the tour, a great honour for us.

Now that laneway homes are becoming more and more common, it was interesting to see how the designs are being interpreted across the city, finding solutions to how to keep families together and even how to save a beloved tree.

The first home on the tour was not, strictly speaking, one of this generation of laneway homes.  Instead it was a strata-title home tucked behind a heritage house in Point Grey.  In 1988, architect Robert Lemon purchased the Barber Residence, built in the art deco style by Ross Lort in 1936.  The home straddled the front part of two lots, and Lemon wanted to make sure that the home would not be torn down to take advantage of the land.  So with a plan, patience, and perseverance, he convinced the city permit department to let him build a complementary home behind his, and to let him enter into a strata ownership with its inhabitants.

The result was stunning:

LW2015-1

At 2340 square feet the home is a spacious one bedroom and den, and those two-storey-high windows bring light and an upstairs view into what could be a rather dark north-facing home.  Skylights upstairs also lighten the interior.  The decor and artwork are stunning, too.  Comfortable but elegant, a perfect partner to the Barbour Residence.

But there was no sense in mooning about what could never be (for us, anyway), on to the rest of the homes.

We zipped up to House 4, just off King Edward Avenue and Columbia.  Built on a 150′ by 50′ lot, this was the largest of the laneways we saw, 1000 square feet.  There was a nice kitchen and sitting area, but the home is used as a vacation rental, with 3 bedrooms and two baths, so it didn’t say “homey” as much as “convenient”.  The take-away from this home was the heating/cooling system — a heat pump.  You get heating and cooling with the same system, and it costs much less to run, but costs much more to install.

House 2 is a real cutey:

LW2015-2

It’s an adorable one-bedroom cottage, all on one level with lovely high ceilings in the kitchen/sitting area.  That rounded front door is repeated in an interior hall archway.

House 3 fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood and allows a mother and child to live on the grandmother’s property (having grandchildren right there is a blessing!):

LanewayTour2015

House 5 provided a solution to a marital break-up that didn’t break up the children’s lives.  One ex-partner lives in the house, and one lives in a spacious laneway with room for the children to stay:

LW2015-5

House 6 is right in our neck of the woods and provided another solution — how to keep a mature magnolia tree and build a laneway house.  Lanefab found the answer:

LW2015-6

The house is a reverse plan like ours, with the kitchen/sitting area up top and the bedroom in the lower level.

So what did we take away from the tour?  All the homes were well-built, and most had radiant floor heat with boilers instead of water tanks.  So new home technology is being used freely in these new builds.  I’m sure all are energy efficient, and all make the most of the natural light available to them through windows and skylights.

We met some new builders on the tour, so you have lots of choice when it comes to pick your own you’ll have dozens of options.  And the tour showed us that laneways are a solution, not just for Vancouver’s housing shortage, but for all kinds of problems that people have.  A way to keep families together, to let children stay in the neighbourhoods they grew up in and to raise their own children there.

Vancouver Heritage Foundation Laneway House Tour is October 24

Three years ago, DH and I and our designer, Laurel, took the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway House Tour.  It wasn’t the first time we’d been inside a laneway home — we’d seen a couple of examples — but it was a real eye-opener as to the esthetics of the different builders.  Plus it showed us that we didn’t have to be bound by old-fashioned designs and expectations — we could truly have what we wanted in our home.

Two years ago, our unfinished laneway was part of the Tour — a real honour for us.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the tour last year — but we’ve been looking forward to seeing what the VHF have in store for 2015.

LanewayTour2015

This year those hard working people at the Vancouver Heritage Foundation promise fabulous examples of new laneway homes, showing a wide variety of design. Plus you can also see an infill home that was added to the property of a heritage home on the west side of the city over 20 years ago.

This tour is not just for people planning to build a laneway, it’s interesting for everyone who loves good design.  But it’s invaluable if you are looking for ideas to incorporate into your home. We had never seen a small window set into the backsplash between a counter and the upper shelves in the kitchen before we took the tour.  But we’ve got one now, and it makes the kitchen much brighter.  We loved the way open staircases allowed you to see onto the stairs and the lower storey — so our designer put that into our home.  After seeing how bright the upper floors were on the two-storey homes, we confirmed our wish to put our bedroom in the darker ground floor level.

Get your tickets now!  You won’t be able to get into those tasty homes without a valid ticket.  This is a tough tour to do by transit, if you want to see all the homes start right at 1 pm and drive between the homes — carpooling is a good alternative if you can find someone else who wants to take the tour.

See you on October 25!

Water pressure

faucet

 

The other day the water bill came to the big house on the property.  We split it 3 ways, with the main house paying for two thirds (home and basement suite) and us paying the remaining third for the laneway house.  The bill gave us three amounts:

$XX low season rate
$XX water metered A
$XX meter charge 25mm
and while none of us are sure what those numbers mean, we ARE sure that we are paying our fair share because both houses are metered.  All NEW houses (and those with substantial renos) are metered in Vancouver.  The rest pay a flat rate. The City of Vancouver talks about putting meters on all homes, as this recent story says.  Of course this story from 2013 says the same thing.  AND this one from 2011.  The cost of putting meters in all the homes would be very expensive.  But until government is prepared to go that route they will not convince people to conserve as we should. Counting all the new homes, the businesses and institutions, only 50% of water consumption in Vancouver is metered. And that will cost us more in the long run.
Because think about it….if we are all paying a flat rate, what incentive do I have to conserve?  Not wasting water is not going to bring me any monetary advantage.  And there’s always that feeling that it’s not going to have any effect on the big picture — especially when we’re sure that our neighbours are not doing their bit. Having a meter reminds us all that higher usage means higher payments.
Vancouver has plans to be the Greenest City in the world by 2020. Maybe that means green colour, as in well-watered lawns.  The plan does not include water meters on all residences and businesses.  Instead, they are hoping a stern talking to and short-term incentives will lead to conservation
incentives and programs Low-flow toilets, rain sensors for sprinkler systems, and water meters are some of the many technologies that can improve water efficiency in homes and businesses. This strategy includes actions such as incentive and retrofit programs to install these tools in new and existing buildings.
Even though water consumption is down over the past 10 years, this story in Friday’s Vancouver Sun shows — 40% in West Vancouver which has universal metering, 16% in Vancouver;
  Vancouver uses more water per capita than communities such as Surrey and Maple Ridge
In Richmond, BC, the plan is for ALL homes to have meters by 2018. Vernon, BC also has water meters on all their homes. Most major cities around the world have universal water metering.
Right now the Vancouver area is in the middle of an unusually dry summer. We didn’t have those customary heavy rains in June to replenish our reservoirs.  Plus the unusually dry winter meant that there was no snow pack on the local mountains to fill the reservoirs in the first place.    Water restrictions are currently in place (no watering your lawn!  No power washing!) but many experts feel that it’s too little and too late to avoid a serious water shortage by the end of the season.
In the long run it doesn’t matter so much about the amount of precipitation we get (Tofino, one of the wettest places on earth, suffers from periodic water shortages) as it does the amount we can store.  Currently we have adequate storage for the city if we maintain average precipitation and everyone conserves as best we can.  The city is expecting to grow significantly over the next 20 years.  Metering water is one way we have to monitor and control the amount we use as our community grows.

Where — and how — do you want to live

When DH and I began planning our laneway we started by looking around at what was familiar to us.   We had a pretty conventionally designed condo, two beds and two baths,  and we couldn’t get around the idea that we were going to be living in less than half the space we had.  We thought about what we would lose, not what we would gain.

We looked at how other people were downsizing and building laneways, we saw what we liked and what we didn’t like.  And gradually it dawned on us that we shouldn’t just look at how other people live, or how we USED to live, we should look forward, to how we WANTED to live.  We let our imaginations go a little.  We didn’t just want an average house that had been shrunk, we wanted a new plan for us that would lead to a whole new life.  We knew there would be sacrifices (Like “space”.  And “things”.) But in the end we had exactly what we wanted.

There was no way to imagine at the beginning of the journey how it would end. And how it would change our lives.

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Among many other advantages our new life has given us is that we drive less and take transit more often. And we like it. When the car was available down a flight of stairs we used it all the time — whenever we went down town or out for dinner or over to the kids.  Even though transit was right there we didn’t even think about it, we had a car!  Why not use it?

But now we take transit all the time.  I take the 99 Express to work.  It takes a little more time than driving, but I read or knit, and there’s no problem getting a seat because I’m at the end of the line (both ends of the line).  We take transit down town, it’s less than half an hour and we don’t have to worry about parking.  We get down to Granville Island without going through the Hell that is finding parking on a sunny Saturday. If we want to take in a Night Market we can zip out to Richmond or take the Sea Bus to North Vancouver.  All in all Translink is a pretty good system.

So when Translink wanted to expand we were enthusiastically supportive.  Even when the Provincial Government said that the local governments would have to raise their share through a sales tax hike (.5%) we said yes.  But the Provincial Government wanted it put to a referendum; we said yes — but 62% of the region said no.

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I was pretty steamed. Although I could also understand it.  It’s the old problem of trying to see the end of the journey from where you are now (comfortably behind the wheel of your car).

Others were also frustrated.  Peter Ladner in Business in Vancouver pointed out it was a pretty dumb idea in the first place (or as he put it more elegantly “Determining complex funding and planning issues with a single yes-no vote is an abysmal surrender of political leadership.”) Follow the link, he points out other lessons learned through the referendum process. Hard, nasty lessons, but lessons all the same.

But it was a column by Peter McMartin that put all my inchoate rage into a coherent verbal form. Read the whole thing, please, but for me this is the key issue:

The questions pile up. But the most perceptive question was one I heard in a conversation with Gordon Price, director of Simon Fraser University’s City program. To him, the plebiscite asked a question much more philosophical than yea or nay to a transit tax.

“To me,” Price said, “it was an existential question.

“It asked Metro Vancouverites, ‘Who are we?’ ”

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Pete+McMartin+real+Vancouver+emerges+from+ruins+plebiscite/11187386/story.html#ixzz3fF1TYKXt

I have to agree with Peter McMartin that Vancouver is currently nothing special.  We’re in a lovely natural setting.  But we’re not living up to our reputation as innovative and free-thinking nature-lovers.  We just can’t imagine our lives without cars.

I want you to do it — to imagine your life with a dependable transit system that can take you all over the Lower Mainland.  Cheaply.  Easily. No congestion. Freeways with smoothly-running traffic from Horseshoe Bay to Hope.   Doing your shopping by hopping on and off the Broadway Skytrain.  Taking the family to the beach or the park on the bus.  No parking problems.  Less pollution.

Or how about this?  Using a service like ZipCar or Car 2 Go in combination with Transit.  Giving up the ownership of a vehicle that sits parked 90% of the time for greater freedom of mobility. Answering the question of Who are we? with “we’re the people with vision, we ARE the future, we embrace change for the better and accept the inevitability of the end of the automotive age. We are part of that change.”

Otherwise those of us who use transit will be forced to use a less reliable form of transportation:

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It’s a small, small, smaller world

About a month ago, you might have seen a line-up of people waiting impatiently for an office to open in a local suburb.  No, not to snatch the Apple watch.  Not to put their names down for the Google self-driving car.  This crowd of near-rabid buyers was after their own piece of Metro area real estate — a condo in the new Evolve development– for less than $100,000.  This post is not going to be about how to get that space, it was gone within minutes of the doors opening to the sales office.

No, we’re going to talk about how a studio apartment can be big enough for one, or even two. Yes!  You can do it. Don’t listen to the people on TV who roll their eyes as they spout nonsense about how NO ONE should have to live in these eensy spaces.  For one thing, they’ve obviously never done it or they’d know it can be done — easily.  And also they are probably making a lot of money because, hey, they are TV stars, so can afford to live any way they want.

For those of us who choose to live in an exciting, busy, space-challenged city a small space is just what we need.  And want.

Now I could get into how you can design and build a super-duper space within the confines of a studio — and I will — but right now let’s look at this super-sweet 400 square foot space from Apartment Therapy to see how one woman manages to get the most out of every square inch without lifting a hammer or wielding a T-square. And, if it’s a rental, she can move out without leaving a mark to show she was there — a little patch and paint and she’s set to go.

Kay Rozynski is already lucky, because although her New York City apartment is only 400 square feet it is open and bright.  The living (i.e. non-bathroom) area is basically a large box with a very sunny balcony. Kay says she didn’t want to erect dividers because she wanted to maintain that airy flow.

StudioMay1

 

And the sun just pours in!  Kay has taken advantage of this brightness by keeping her walls a warm taupe — neutral but not boring.  Plus she has lots of reflective surfaces, mirrors, windows, stainless steel appliances, the white wardrobe, even the TV screen.  Everything bounces that lovely light around.

StudioMay2

And her major furnishings are all the same tone — a mid-range of greys and browns.  Nothing to make the eye stop as you scan the area.  Once again, a neutral backdrop to the accessories.

When Kay introduces colour, she keeps it to a couple of shades — yellow and orange, in the kitchen, blue/green by the bed, with the throw at the end of the bed matching the chair in the dining area and the one pillow on the sofa.  That watery aqua colour is repeated in a cushion and the throw on the sofa.  Your eye goes naturally from the aqua cushion on the sofa to the ones on the bed then up to the Moby Dick poster on the wall — also in ocean blue.  Very natural and soothing.

Kay has used area rugs in the same greys and taupes to separate the “bedroom” part of the suite from the “living room”

 

StudioMay3

 

In the Lilliputian kitchen area, Kay has painted one wall with chalkboard paint.  This gives her something to write on, of course, but it also visibly moves the wall back.  And check out those accessories — once again she keeps to ocean blue and yellow.

 

StudioMay4

To add a little rustic touch Kay has hung a yoke on the bulkhead that separates the kitchen from the rest of the living area, but once again it’s tonally in harmony with the cupboard and the butcher block counter, so it’s not jarring at all.  And it’s a clever contrast to the Eames chairs at her table.

StudioMay5

What are the lessons this little home has taught us?

  1. If you’ve got light, keep your windows as bare as possible so that it can flood in.
  2. Co-ordinate your colours so that the eye travels in a natural way from one part of the space to another.
  3. Unframed, graphically simple artwork can introduce the accessory colours without visual clutter
  4. Simple white lamp shades disappear into the wall — once again, no visual clutter
  5. You can use a lot of white in different textures to keep it light without bringing in the boring.

Check out the original post in Apartment Therapy.  What other features do you see in Kay’s apartment that you could borrow for yours?

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