An early 20th century mansion is renovated with technology for aging in place
Even as their limitations increase, most seniors procrastinate moving out of their houses for as long as possible. No one wants to leave behind their home for what often feels like a depressing last stop. Especially as people are living longer and multi-generational families are more common in North America, seniors and their families are looking for solutions that help them live independently and comfortably for much longer.
That’s where designers like Lisa Cini come in. Cini is the founder and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, Best Living Tech and Infinite Living, and she specializes in senior living design, multigenerational living and aging in place technology. She began exploring this field when she decided to take care of elderly family members and discovered that there were tech and design solutions available to make significant improvements in their lives.
“I have always actively pursued and researched these types of products out there in the world,” said Cini. When speaking on her books at a senior living conference, “one Phoebe Stein prodded me to ask vendor collaborators for help in making this project a reality and was critical in making introductions to more than 50 vendor partners.”
A Mansion of Possibilities
These collaborators — which included everything from smart flooring manufacturers to lighting designers and furniture makers, as well as several other interior design firms — came together with Cini to renovate a 1914 French Opera-style mansion in Columbus, Ohio. This grand historic home was purchased by Cini for exactly this purpose: to highlight the latest technology for senior and multi-generational living. The road wasn’t easy for this ambitious endeavor though.
“Every single time we turned around, there seemed to be an issue,” said Cini, citing everything from electrical issues to delivery delays and the pandemic. “The biggest challenge was getting permission from the city to implement some of the tech we used in this home. It was an education process.”
Cini wanted to use the home not only for renting out for weddings, events and for vacation rentals but also as a way to showcase how technology can improve lives in any stage — but particularly for seniors. She hoped that she could reveal that this age bracket can continue to live independently in their current homes with the help of beautifully designed technology.
Invisible Tech that Increases Independence
The design team arguably started installing from the floor up with Shaw Floor’s Sole with SensFloor technology. This unseen tech alerts caregivers if there is a fall in the room, if someone hasn’t moved in some time, or can even activate lighting when it detects feet. The bathroom — where a large majority of fall accidents happen — also includes elements like an Assisto bathtub and Pressalit height-adjustable sinks with support arms, toilets and shower systems. LED undercounter and door lighting pair with in-room circadian lighting for motion-sensing, time-of-day-appropriate lighting.
“Many people of this age group are a little uncertain about technology,” said Cini. “Because this technology is not tied to their person, they are more open to it.”
This high-functioning safety tech is also prominent in the kitchen. Cini installed Pressalit height-adjustable kitchen cabinets and countertops, which allow everyone of all sizes and abilities to reach inside them. Samsung’s Smart Hub refrigerator — known for being both a smart home hub and a connected appliance — allows users to see from anywhere what items are running low inside the fridge and in some cases, automatically order them.
Cooking and eating is not always easy for those with dexterity issues. The connected oven allows users to easily start meals directly from their phone, and Brondell’s water filtration technology ensures that drinking water is clean and safe. A kitchen Tower Garden hydroponic farm uses technology to grow healthy produce in a simple and easy-to-access manner.
“Woodland Manor will showcase what’s possible now and coming in home and senior living communities, stimulating the imagination about what the future holds,” said Cini. “As our population grows up with more and more tech integrated into the everyday, look for senior living to reflect our fully digital age.”
Wellness Inside and Out
Older generations are much more active than they used to be, and that keeps them healthier and more independent for longer. To encourage this, Cini created a designated exercise area in the home that makes it safer, easier and more fun for people to work out.
Named the HuSpa, the gym — although in a lower level — features virtual skylights from Sky Factory that offer photographic illusions of real sky views. This helps relax users in the spa and sauna spaces especially. Along with more senior-friendly designs for safe workouts and balance, the gym features Smartfit, a dual-tasking gaming machine that helps with cognition and balance in a fun way. The gym also includes Ecore floor technology with their Forest Rx and FITturf technology, which reduces impact and the risk of injury while supporting older joints.
The wellness benefits of this type of technology continue upstairs, where the design partners worked to also create artfully smart spaces. For example, there is a piano in the living area that might look like a standard grand Yamaha piano but is both acoustic and digital. It can record, play tracks on its own and even play along with streamed music.
None of this would be possible without a strong network. According to Cini, having a strong network is the number one element she preaches to designers just getting started in smart home integration.
“You can have all the smart lighting, fitness tech and even a connected piano, but it won’t be at all helpful without the bandwidth to handle it,” said the designer. “You need the railroad track for the train to run on.”