Designer Kerrie Kelly offers strategies for wellness-centric, livable design. By Dianne M. Pogoda
American residential trends center around lifestyle and life stages to create environments that contribute to health, happiness and longevity. In design, it’s “a forward-thinking concept that beautifully integrates long-lasting functionality for the ever-changing lifestyles of today’s multi-generational families,” according to design influencer Kerrie Kelly, CAPS. This includes seniors aiming to stay in their homes, or anyone with compromised mobility, whether temporary (a broken leg) or permanent.
Kelly, founder and creative director of Kerrie Kelly Design Lab in Sacramento, Calif., shared some key elements of wellness and functional, livable design at an NKBA Global Connect event in Manchester, England.
Today, 80 million baby boomers are in or nearing retirement, and they require great design as well as function in their homes. The trick is designing a beautiful space that doesn’t stick out as designed for “aging.” In fact, Kelly said, true accessibility means a space is livable and safely visitable by anyone.
“Livable design is not a single feature, but a series of elements that likely escape conscious notice,” she said. “They work in concert to enhance the functionality, flow, beauty and safety of the home.”
Livable and Visitable
Top priorities include easy cleaning and maintenance; faucets and door hardware that’s easy to manipulate or voice-controlled, and layered lighting. These goals can be accomplished utilizing on-trend designs — think architectural vs. institutional, Kelly said. Barn doors, for instance, slide easily and allow for a wider opening than a traditional doorway. French doors open wide for easy maneuvering of a wheelchair, walker, hand-truck or stroller.
A universally “visitable” home has a zero-step entrance, doorways with a minimum of 32 inches of passage and at least one bathroom on the main floor with no threshold.
For an easy-access shower, a wet room is tiled from floor to ceiling and is curbless to avoid tripping, and allow easy roll-in access.
Customized cabinetry includes motorized and vertical-lift doors, interior lighting and vanities that push aside to allow easy wheelchair access.
Working Toward Wellness
Wellness is currently a $1.3 billion industry, with 8% growth expected by 2022, Kelly noted. “People spend 90% of their time indoors. It’s important to spend this time in the healthiest possible environments.”
Air Quality and Materials
Exposure to air pollutants increases the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Achieve optimum air quality through source elimination or reduction, building design and adjusting human behavior.
Many common contaminants, like carbon monoxide, come from candles, fireplaces, tobacco, stoves and furnaces. Volatile Organic Compounds — VOCs — emit from building materials, furnishings, fabrics, adhesives, cleaning and personal care products, etc. While many dangerous chemicals have been restricted or discontinued, they might still be present in older buildings.
To cut exposure, reduce use of their sources; incorporate ventilation, air monitors, operable windows, filtration systems, mold and VOC control; think in terms of hazardous materials abatement, sustainability, waste management and material transparency.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, improved drinking water is one of the 10 greatest health achievements of the 20th century. Filtration systems limit water-borne bacteria, and smart technology dispenses precise measures of water to help in conservation. And enhanced water quality means it tastes better, and thus encourages drinking more water to stay hydrated and flush out toxins.
The Nutrition Factor
Elements that contribute to wellness in nourishment include refrigerators with flexibility to meet homeowners’ needs for more fresh-food storage or freezer space; indoor gardens to grow healthy, organic vegetables, herbs, greens and more. “Kitchen design is changing to accommodate a family’s particular needs,” Kelly said.
Light the Way
Good lighting encourages proper circadian rhythms and optimizes visual, mental and biological health.
“Light is the main driver of circadian rhythms. It impacts our sleep cycles, mood, symptoms of depression, healing and recovery,” Kelly noted. “Integrating daylight and electric light, along with traditional requirements for visual acuity and comfort, can lead to healthier and more productive environments.”
To maximize these benefits, introduce products that mimic light in nature, enhance light exposure, balance light to control glare and address circadian rhythms to support sleep and wellness.
Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold
The thermal environment is one of the highest-ranked factors in determining human comfort indoors, she observed. It impacts buildings’ energy consumption; how people experience their environments, and health, well-being, productivity and enjoyment of a space. Incorporate products that control air temperature, zoning for heating/cooling, humidity and even a heated floor or toilet seat.
Acoustical comfort means people can hear properly, and annoying sounds are minimized. This can be optimized with sound barriers, fabrics, acoustical tiles and other materials that absorb or mask sound, which also helps with speech intelligibility.
Of course, all the physical elements of design for healthy living contribute to a healthy mind. Depression and anxiety contribute to 4% of disease and are among the largest causes of disability. The built environment can help mitigate these outcomes. Design features to boost mental health include access to nature, restorative spaces, sleep support and use of organic materials.