Working toward a universally designed world


Aging with The Tonight Show


French chanteuse Genevieve -- seen here on The Tonight Show in 1957 with Jack Paar, center, and actor Errol Flynn -- inspired my first pixie haircut.
Not to say I'm old, but I watched Jimmy Fallon host The Tonight Show Monday night with a bit of excitement mixed with deja vu. This is not the first time I've seen a new host -- being of the generation just entering our teens when Steve Allen  premiered the storied late night show in 1954, through Jack Paar (1957-62), Johnny Carson (1962-92) and Jay Leno (1992-2014, with a 9-month hiatus in 2009-10 when the show was hosted by Conan O'Brien).
     After seeing Jack Paar interview French chanteuse Genevieve on The Tonight Show in 1957, I went out and had my hair cut in a pixie style. My mother freaked, explaining to my date that night that I didn't always look this way -- in hopes, I guess, that he would be able to fathom a woman-to-be worth knowing beneath the wisps of hair I had left after being so severely shorn. Mom may have been foreseeing that my cry for freedom from nightly bouts with brush rollers would lead to my marrying a bearded Beatnik -- which, of course, I did, much to her horror. Should John and I divorce after 51 years of marriage, I have no doubt my mother will come out of her urn (no graves in the 21st century) and say, "See, I told you it wouldn't work out," still believing that if her daughter hadn't gotten that pixie haircut in 1957 that I would have ended up with an organization man and kids who qualified for Harvard Law School. Oh, well!
     Anyway, Jack Paar was just the beginning of our relationship with The Tonight Show. Carson took over the show on Oct. 1, 1962, 40 days before John and I were married, and we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary the year Johnny hung up The Great Carnac's turban for the last time. Not that we watched every episode of Carson's run, any more than we watched every episode of Leno's 21-year run.  
     Still, Monday night was a new experience. The Tonight Show is back in New York City, after 40 years in LA. Jimmy Fallon is one of our favorite entertainers. Will Smith, Fallon's first guest, was fine. U2 was wonderful, playing on the roof and later harmonizing on the couch. The parade of entertainers who pretended to pay Fallon $100 each for betting he'd never host The Tonight Show -- that included the venerable Joan Rivers (first time back after being banned from the show by Carson in 1986) and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- was funny.
     Being night owls, we'll continue to watch The tonight Show. But Fallon, an incredible impersonator and song and dance man, is no Jay Leno when it comes stand-up. He's no Letterman when it comes to snark.
     And, gee, we miss Johnny.
--Lynette Evans

No sweet old ladies hereabouts

     "Aren't you going to help that sweet old lady?" the TSA guard asked my husband as I struggled to push our luggage along the conveory belt at the SFO security checkpoint.
     "Nah, she's been doing that for me for 50 years," John replied, moving into the scanner line. (Thank heavens, or the TSA for that matter, for airport scanners which allow those of us with metal knees -- John -- and hips -- me -- to avoid being treated like would-be bombers!)
     After half a century of marriage, I didn't take John's joke seriously (although schlepping both sets of luggage wasn't all that hilarious), but I couldn't help remarking to the white-haired gentleman behind me: "Couldn't she have just said 'sweet lady' rather than 'old lady'?"
     Of course, I am old and the annual birthday trip to Manhattan is to celebrate my 72nd birthday today. Nothin' to write home about, my paternal grandmother might have said. She was 72 when my grandfather died, and she was looking forward to another 28 years -- 27 of them healthy and active -- before dying two months after her 100th birthday.
     My maternal grandmother, an inveterate gambler, didn't cash in her chips until well past 90, and her oldest daughter, my aunt Marguerite, celebrated her 99th birthday in February.
     So I'm hoping I have a ways to go.
     Nevertheless, as the TSA agent noted, I am old -- and, however well-trod the path ahead, as far as I'm concerned I'm charting new territory.  I do not intend to do it without some slashing and burning.
     An inveterate story teller, I intend to share the journey in this blog.
     I invite you to come along.
--Lynette Evans
("Sweet old lady," my ass!)

Health guru Jane Brody misses a step

New York Times health columnist Jane Brody speaking at the Stanford Center on Longevity. (Monika Weiss photo)
   Once dubbed the High Priestess of Health by Time Magazine, Jane Brody, longtime New York Times Personal Health columnist came to the Stanford Center on Longevity early this month as a Distinguished Lecturer to talk to people of certain age on living long and well.  Her advice stemmed from both personal experience and the most currently available evidence on how to achieve this.  While this was sound and mostly familiar advice for someone who takes health seriously, I found myself thinking that Brody was missing an opportunity to send an important message for future health and well-being out to her peers: how to live safely at home.

    For the woman who never “broke the five foot mark,” Brody is a commanding figure when talking about health.  She enthralled the audience with some pretty hefty facts, like how processed foods remove 21 nutrients but only replace a measly four. Or that regular physical exercise is the single most important thing we can do for our health followed by the zinger that only 10% of children today could pass a JFK administration fitness test.  

    But her message went beyond simple diet and fitness. Brody explored the importance of social connectedness as keeping us healthy. It is a social network, she said, that will add to our longevity regardless of our behavior around food and exercise.  But once you open the argument to a more comprehensive look at living long and well, you must examine the preventive steps you can take in your home to reduce the risk of injury. Those who fall once are two to three times more likely to fall again. We lose 9,500 older Americans a year from falls. Installing grab bars in the bathroom, arranging furniture so that it supports you as you move about the house and removing unnecessary obstacles like cords and throw rugs could all prevent a first fall from occurring. 

    When I posed the question to her about what she is doing to make sure she can age safely at home, Brody, now in her seventies said she is slowly de-cluttering and has an electric staircase tucked away for the day she may need it as she plans to stay in her multi-story home.  While this gives evidence that she has given home safety some thought, including this in her lectures could be equally life extending to her attentive audiences.

    Brody described her last book, "Guide to the Great Beyond" (Random House, 2009), as a how to on living long and exiting graciously. As hip fractures are none-too-graceful, hopefully Brody will remember to put home safety on equal footing as diet and exercise 

-- Monika Weiss

What American homebuyers want -- bigger or smaller?

     Americans want bigger houses. No, we don't, in the wake of the recession we've rejected McMansions and are seeking smaller homes. 
    Which is it?
    Neither, and both, according to experts addressing builders and the press at last week's International Builders Show in Las Vegas. As the housing market begins to recover from the burst bubble of over-building, panels of researchers, editors and architects did agree that, regardless of the size, it's how a house functions that counts.
    We are seeing a "return to small, beautiful living," said
Karen Kassik-Michelsohn, one of the judges of the Best In American Living Award Winners. Another judge, St. Louis architect Barry Glantz, agreed that details count more than space. Among the projects the judges saw such features as "bathrooms that weren't so gaudy, but beautiful," Gantz said.
    Michigan architect 
Wayne Visbeen sees a trend toward "building for 20 to 30 years out" with houses built for "kids to grandparents." Detailing this move toward multi-generational houses with "universal design features making the whole house function for aging in place," he also used the term "right-sized" to explain that both builders and homebuyers are looking to maximize spaces. 
    That doesn't mean small houses, however, as Visbeen reiterated when showing a number of his firm's projects. Although he had been able to shrink the original projected size of the projects, with "smaller spaces, areas that are elaborate and fun," the resulting houses were still in the multiple-thousands of square feet.
     If the American Living Award Winners were large houses getting smaller, the typical American home is getting modestly larger since the recession, growing from 2,300 to 2,500 square feet, according to Rose Quint, assistant vice president for research at the
National Association of Home Builders
, who, along with Jill Waage, executive editor for home design at Better Home & Gardens, briefed reporters on what Americans want in a home today.
    Quint reported findings from NAHB's latest consumer study, "What Home Buyers Really Want."
    People who live in a 1,906-square-foot house would like to move up to 2,226 square feet, which is 20 percent larger, she said, but still smaller than the 2,500 square feet we wanted in past years. The number of bedrooms desired depends on whether the family has children, but three-quarters of us would like an open kitchen and two-thirds would like high ceilings in the living quarters, although not the once-fashionable two-story entry foyer and family room.
     The most popular kitchen features are table space for eating, a walk-in pantry, double sink, pull-out shelves, wood cabinets and natural stone countertops. An exhaust fan, linen closet and separate shower stall and tub are desirable in the master bath, where double vanities and ceramic tile walls are still popular. Whirlpool tubs are still in vogue but less so as people age (possibly because they are often difficult to get into and out of, although Quint did not say so). Private toilet compartments are also still on the list of desirables, but colored fixtures not so much. (Go with white, if you are building or remodeling; it's less expensive and a potential buyer won't be put off by your fuschia tub and toilet).
    Outdoors, would-be homebuyers want exterior lighting, patios, front porches, trees and a deck or rear porch, but, although people still want an outdoor grill, the expensive outdoor kitchen extolled a few years ago is a non-starter today.
    If you're building a spec house for sale, forget the following features: According to the NAHB surveys, people are not willing to pay, or pay extra, for elevators, a golf course community, high-density community, only a shower stall in the master bath, gated or mixed-use communities, laundry chutes, outdoor kitchens, game rooms, his and her baths, glass-front cabinets and ceramic tile countertops. (As to the elevator, many architects, designers and builders are stacking closets so that an elevator can be installed in future, just as they are backing bathroom walls for future grab bars.)
    Prospective homebuyers would also be willing to make some tradeoffs in order to be able to afford a new home, Quint said, including accepting some unfinished spaces, a location farther from shopping, or a smaller house or lot, but we still see an energy-efficient home with lower energy bills as preferable to a cheaper house without that energy efficiency. Whether we want a smaller house with higher-quality amenities or a larger house with fewer amenities depends on the size of our family, and our ethnicity, and although nearly 70 percent of people want higher environmental quality, only 14 percent of us are willing to pay more for it.
    Better Homes & Gardens readers want to clear out the clutter and make our
homes more comfortable and efficient, according to Waage, whose research echoed the findings of home builders and home improvement retailers that people are more apt to plan home improvements or to purchase a home than we were a few seasons ago. As with other Americans, BH&G readers' priorities are affordable price, energy efficiency and comfortable family spaces.
    These include a deck or patio, separate laundry room, additional storage space, upgraded kitchens and baths, at least one additional bedroom with a private bath, home office space, indoor fireplace, in-kitchen eating area, and outdoor living/entertaining areas.
    When it comes to home improvement, Waage said, nearly a third of BH&G readers say now is a good time to spend, with home repairs and general maintenance (possibly postponed because of the recession) being the primary driver of that spending, followed by a desire to update design and decor, to improve organization and storage and update appliances. 
    Bathrooms "outpace kitchens in gut and remodel," she said, and homeowners are still more likely to update their decor than to do a whole remodel.
Painting rooms other than the kitchen and bath is job one, followed by replacing flooring in those rooms, decorating, landscaping and window treatments.
    After the long-lamented pre-recession race to build and buy bigger and bulkier houses that drained our bank accounts of cash and credit, today's would-be homebuyers may appear more subdued, (who would have thought that a kitchen table would be a must-have in the house-building bubble?), but in the long run, we'll probably be more content with a little less house to keep up.
--Lynette Evans 


Explaining life's (and website's) little glitches

    An apology is in order (if we were in ancient Japan we'd impale ourselves with our swords, but as 21st Century bloggers, we don't even have a pen to fall on), so here goes: Our website,, is being remodeled to make it easier for visitors to navigate. And, as anyone who's ever remodeled a house, or a website, will tell you -- things never go quite according to plan, and on-time schedules are more fantasy than fact.
    So, it was, when Monika and I set out last week to report on the International Builders Show in Las Vegas. The site -- being somewhere in internet limbo on its journey from old to new incarnations -- refused to load properly, leaving us to turn to Twitter for hot tidbits and forcing us to save main reporting until the website ceased fluttering around the ether. 
    We're getting closer and will be sending out alerts when we post new articles and images to either the website or here on the blog.
    We ask your indulgence, and, again, apologize for our disappearing act.
--Lynette Evans 

International Builders Show opens in Las Vegas

Las Vegas from The New American Home (Lynette Evans photo)
    We've made it to Las Vegas. The town (city, I should say) looks nothing like it did when I lived here 35 years ago. It's huge! And glittery.
     The International Builders Show is not glittery, but the LV Convention Center exhibit halls are filled with the latest -- and we hope -- greatest building ideas and materials, and I'm looking forward to scoping out the best ideas for houses that people of all abilities can live in comfortably -- and age in gracefully.
     If last evening's preview of The New American Home is any indication, however, finding people-friendly design is not going to be easy this year.
     At least, with the vastness of the convention center, I'll be getting my exercise.
     More anon.
--Lynette Evans

Diary of a remodel: Ground Hog Day is almost over -- isn't it? Part 7


     It's been like the Bill Murray movie "Ground Hog Day" since June 2011 when we started the farmhouse remodel.

     Of course, as you can see from the difference between the house as it was in the "before" image below, the journey was a long one, and though the house looks pretty much like the "after" photo above, with the interior finished except for a stove/fireplace makeover we're still arguing about, the unfinished outdoor areas still to be dealt with make me fear that, if for no other reason than that landscapes are living entities, this remodel will never be entirely completed.

    Oh, well.
    Or, should I say, oh, hell?
    Frank Lloyd Wright and my own father were in the middle of construction projects when they died in great old age, so I've no reason to think that's a bad thing. (On the other hand, the "Ground Hog Day" aspect, where we seemingly relived every agonizing moment ad infinitum over the course of months, is hopefully behind us.) 

     The farmhouse (above) was built about 30 years ago. A single-story ranch-style house, with picture window and texture 1-11 plywood siding, it was common for its time in the neighborhood and nearby small towns.

     Indeed, there are still several iterations of the house in the immediate neighborhood. And, truth be known, I prefer the simple ranch style to the phony European villas and mushroom-roofed monsterettes that have been planted lately on 2-acre farmettes hereabouts.  

     On the other hand, the ubiquitous metal barns and sheds are very much in the vernacular of the area, and so with inspiration from Neill Heath's "Farm Houses: The New Style" (especially the Wagner Residence) and architect Jean Rehkamp Larson's "The Farmhouse: New Inspiration for the Classic American Home," especially the chapter called "Farmhouse Gumbo" (beginning on Page 187), I cobbled together what I hoped would be a house that would reflect the vernacular of San Joaquin Valley farmhouses and still be livable in the 21st Century. 

The Wagner Residence in Ferrisburgh, Vermont; Wagner McCann Studio, architect:

Farmhouse Gumbo in rural Mississippi; Ken Tate, architect:

      On the website I've detailed the various features we've put in place to make the house more comfortable and safer for us -- and our friends -- as we age. Here, however, are the before and after floor plans, once again.

floor plan before: 

Farmhouse floor plan as built:





PCBC: Trends in senior housing

       Our aging society presents a lot of challenges, and opportunities, for builders, and The 50+ Housing Forum today at PCBC addressed that demographic and its constantly changing wants, needs and lifestyles. Speakers ranged from doctors to architects to developers, interior designers and marketers. And the most noticeable thread running throughout the day was an emphasis on quality of life and community.
    What's trending in the senior community, according to a variety of speakers, is the desire for meaning and purpose in life, for community with others and our surroundings, for the intangibles that buildings may provide a shell around but for which they may otherwise be irrelevant. 
    Meditation gardens, cafes and juice bars, walking trails and dance studios are trending with the 50+ crowd, according to Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, who spoke on "The Future of Aging."
    Architect David Dillard told attendees to the session, "Beyond the Clubhouse: Embracing a New Concept of Wellness," that older people want freedom and choice in food and living arrangements, just as younger people do.
    Dillard, whose firm D2 Architecture designs communities for people over the age of 78, said even people in that later age demographic want indoor pools and spas, walking trails, community gardens and water features. They also are interested in cooking, music, drinking (wine cellars are trending as are having dog-friendly areas) and small houses. He said designers, wearing an "age suit" should spend a night in a senior residence to see what life is like for the very old, and he admitted that the best thing for designers of senior communities "is seeing younger people wanting to hang around."  
      Margaret Wylde, president and CEO of ProMatura, walked builders through research on what people ages 50 to 79 want in housing, and how to plannfor that market. 
      Wylde shared the results of a conjoint analysis study that tested a developer's plans against a mix of housing types and found that, although 60 percent of people say they want a single-story, single-family home, the developer's plan would have addressed only 69 percent of prospective buyers while alternative products and price ranges the study tested would have resulted in plans that would have satisfied 87 percent of prospective buyers.
     One of the points she stressed is that builders should only do research among those who would be prospects for the community (people who are planning to move and would consider purchasing at their community), because many people will say they like a concept "but not for me," and that will not only skew the builder's data but will waste his time and money as well.
    In a talk entitled "Towards a Poetics of Aging: A Different Understanding of Life," psychotherapist Nader Shabahangi, founder and CEO of AgeSong senior communities and creator of last fall's Poetics of Aging confab, suggested that we substitute the word "maturity" for the word "aging."  "I'm 55 mature," he said.
   "The goal of life is towards the very end," Shabahangi said. "All other phases are preparation" for that stage. The question then becomes, he said, "what do you want to do with the rest of your life?"
     Or, as Dr. Roger Landry told an earlier session: "Think of what George Eliot said: 'It's never too late to become what you might have been'." 
    Hear, hear.
--Lynette Evans


PCBC: Longer lives lead builders to rethink concept of wellness

     Dr. Roger Landry, president of Masterpiece Living in Massachusetts, told builders at the 50+ Housing Forum on day two of the Pacific Coast Builders Show, that knowledge of how we age will change how we treat aging. "We can age in another way," he said, because how we age will depend on our lifestyle.
     "If the environment isn't right," he said, our aging will be impacted. Centers for healthy aging is achievable, he said, if we go into it with purpose. Designing communities for an aging population, as the MacArthur Foundation has found, includes providing means for residents to stay engaged in life, have a network of friends and share with other living things. Aging well, Landry said, means having a sense of community and having meaning -- a purpose -- in life.
     When you're designing communities, he told builders," think of a university. Include growth, growth, growth." Think about what you would want, think of growth, and universities. Think of what George Eliot said: 'It's never too late to become what you might have been'."
--Lynette Evans

Pacific Coast Builders Show opens in San Francisco

                                                                                                                  (Lynette Evans photo)
The exhibit hall at San Francisco's Moscone Center was busy but not crowded for the opener of the 2012 Pacific Coast Builders Show.

      Motivational speaker Sir Ken Robinson pumped up builders at the opening of the Pacific Coast Builders Show with the exhortation to "find your passion." And the truncated (two days) show could use the pep talk.
      The author of the best-selling book "The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything" (Penguin/Viking 2009) wasn't simply giving the standard graduation speech; i.e. "do what you love." He was lamenting the fact that we are too often thwarted in the search for those things we would be good at -- and, yes, that we love -- by parents, schools and society as a whole. Many, if not most, of us pass our lives without ever knowing where our best talents lie, he said, and that has created a society facing not only "a crisis of natural resources" but also "a crisis of human resources." 
     Robinson, an emeritus professor of education at Warwick University in Britain whose 2006 and 2010 TED Conference speeches have been viewed by 200 million people, decried the institutional dumbing down that restricts creativity. "If we design an educational system based on uniformity, compliance, standardization," he said, "that's what you'll get." Such "teaching to the test" stifles creativity.
     What does this have to do with the construction industry? Such constraints are not confined to the educational system, he insists, but have pervaded all aspects of society. Recounting the story of his hometown of Liverpool, England, that was bombed during World War II and "finished off" by developers who "lost sight of the organic nature of human life," he called for building that "accommodates and houses people" but that also nurtures community, culture, etc. "We contain and restrain rather than allowing people and communities to flourish," he said.
     And, while we cannot know what's going to happen, he said, dissuading a child from trying out her passion will surely prevent that child from discovering what she's good at, equally importantly, what she will love doing. So, too, communities may not become utopias by builders who open up their thinking toward nurturing the organic nature of human life, but continuing to lock into the traditional building box will ensure that we won't find out.  
     Bookending Robinson's keynote address, Dana Cho, partner at IDEO, and Kate Lydon, design strategist & project lead at the Palo Alto design firm, wrapped up the daylong Consumer Insights Forum by showing builders how to see homes and their surroundings holistically. 
     "Home is never set in stone," Cho told the builders, but the roles of houses evolve as do lives, and builders should look at "How might you create a home that adapts to new conditions and needs?" Outside (or maybe inside) the home "Network is the new neighborhood" and builders must look at "What's the role of the physical home in the new networks" where we strangers have become "important influences"?
     Lydon elaborated on the need to see homes from a holistic angle elucidating a set of values and worklife roles that include the current trends  to "own less, share more" and "creation over consumption." and wondering aloud "How might houses enable healthy habits and rituals."
      "Work is a lifestyle decision," she said, and if "work is no longer monolithic, why should home be?"  
     Words for builders -- and everyone else -- to chew on.
On the lookout for accessible products
     We spent the middle part of the day (when we weren't at Jillian's sports bar taking in the semi-finals of the European soccer matches -- a nail-biter in which Spain bested Portugal 4-2 in the penalty kick phase following double overtime to face the winner of tomorrow's Germany-Italy match) searching for building products that accommodate people with physical disabilities and the challenges of aging.
     We were impressed with the touch-on kitchen faucets by Delta and Briza and the soon-to-be-introduced MotionSense kitchen faucets (see them in the Gallery section of the website:, and we were literally "walked through" the ThyssenKrupp's stair climber, a lift that helps one walk up and down stairs that has been introduced in Europe but not yet in the United States. (We're showing it below, but I'm not sure how popular this fixture, whose $10,000 or so pricetag is far above the average $3,500 cost of a for a chair-type lift, will be for home use.)

--Lynette Evans


April 2014

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