Design and the Aging Eye

As we age, we notice deterioration in our physical abilities. We make adjustments to our lives to adapt, with many solutions resolved through interior design and detailing specific to the needs of older adults transitioning from independent living to assisted living environments.

One of the earliest signs- and often the most unaddressed within interiors- is vision loss, or the “aging eye”. Good research is essential to differentiate how older occupants see both colour and lighting within their interior environments.

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Cells in the retina, which respond to normal colour vision, decline in sensitivity while we age. Colours become less bright and contrasts less noticeable. Blue shades in particular lose their intensity and appear faded.

To balance and counteract any appearance of colour degradation, Seniors environments are designed with a higher saturation of colour and differentiation of contrasts between surface elements, such as a floor and a countertop. Simple use of colour and contrast can aid the eye in judging distance and navigating more effectively, which assist mobility and direction finding.

Muscles that control the pupil – its size and reaction to light – also lose strength as we age. Those in their 60’s need three times more ambient light for reading than they did in their 20’s. Colour also assists in this regard, as brighter shades return more wavelength activity than muted shades.

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Although the eye requires more light for detail as we age, older eyes are also more sensitive to glare. Avoiding glossy surfaces and light control devices, such as perforated blinds and dimmer switches are simple solutions that make a difference.

As we expand our Interior Design portfolio specific to Seniors and wellness environments, our designers provide subtle, but essential design details that meet the needs of the aging eye, while creating a comfortable, safe and stylish environment, in concert with the current trends for senior living.

The following are elements considered within our design development for Senior living:

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  • A warmer colour palette. With age, the lens yellows and alters colour perception, causing some blues and greens to appear grey. Warm, highly saturated colours are the easiest to see.
  • Accent Contrasts. Adults over 40 gradually lose depth perception. Maintaining distinct contrasts is key, especially when navigating stairs and differentiating furniture/countertops from flooring.

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  • Increased light around stairs, within Kitchens and Bathrooms or any high-risk areas.
  • Minimized glare with a good light diffusing window blind or drapery; avoid glossy and polished surfaces in favour of matte.
  • Dimmers as light can be controlled to provide the right level of lighting every time.

Regardless of age, optimum lighting choices and timeless design details create a healthy environment while improving usability and productivity within your current home. Within our Senior living communities, these subtle design considerations can make all of the difference.

Margo Smith  RID IDC IIDA NCIDQ
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Downshift – Enjoying the New Work/Life Balance

I’ve been in the design industry for over 18 years now, and I’ve always loved the fast paced, heart thumping exhilaration of this career. Interior design is not the glamourous life one imagines, but is a series of impossible deadlines to meet and problems to solve, all while keeping the client content. Days were long and the hours were complete insanity – and I loved it!

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But, in the last year or so, our economy has changed and my overdeveloped skills in multitasking were no longer in constant use. Deadlines were still tighter than ever, but I wasn’t juggling as many of them at one time. I could even go out for lunch some days! It was as if my work life was given a newer, more human dimension, and I liked it. I had more time to refresh my knowledge base and reenergize my creativity. Our teams developed tighter connectivity with each other and we all began to have a better life, outside of our work and studio time.

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Many Architects in Vancouver and Calgary have moved to a 4-day workweek during this slower economy, with little complaints. I’ve explored many options for this extra day, as a professional development opportunity, or to spend more time with family and friends. Through classes and dinner parties, this renewed face-to-face social activity has counteracted years of social isolationism that our email world has created between colleagues and friends. We now talk, connect, observe: all the little things which we have missed when our lives were much more demanding.

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In work, all of this new time can make it easier to become distracted and lose focus – especially when you are used to years of constant, driven activity. Certain philosophies I’ve created over the years to manage time still work in this new slower paced world, plus I have discovered some new gems!

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I’ve always only answered voice and email messages at set times, and I never take business related phone calls during my evening hours. My clients know my system, and they know that I return phone calls within 2 hours, unless I let them know via voicemail message that I am away for longer. Even during busy times, I’ve never felt guilty about not being “on-demand”. Managing my time to my advantage, allowing focus on the work required, ensures high quality consistent design solutions for my clients. Distraction destroys both efficiency and good work.

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Scott Young expresses a new philosophy I’ve recently adopted in “The 4-hour Workday”.
This productivity strategy has really worked well for me, and I love the efficiency it creates – in either a fast or slow paced environment.

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Despite a rough economy, I have to admit that I am really enjoying a downshift to a much more healthy lifestyle and attitude. The most surprising fact is that I truly believe that I actually accomplish more than in years past – plus there is no doubt that I live better. Speaking of which, I think it’s time to head down to the beach!

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Good Design is Good Business

It’s proven that office design plays an important role in business success. Architecture, Interior Design and space planning are much more than just decoration, but are indicators of strategic management; how space is used, optimized and meets the needs of the user to achieve top performance. Organizational initiative and design invention are essential to manage the ever-changing high performance workplace. A responsive professional design team and motivated client with vision, working together can achieve business success through design.

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But it’s just a building, just space, right? Wrong. Bad architecture can be detrimental to business in a variety of ways: space that is too expensive to run; leases that can’t be escaped in times of recession; inflexible square footage (too much or too little); poor building footprints that don’t support flexible internal design; infrastructure that can’t evolve with changing technologies; environments that poison and pollute. Most importantly, what does the architecture that houses your organization say about your business and your values? Does it support the way you operate your business? How your employees function?

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These days, real estate isn’t so real anymore. It’s no longer necessary for us to sit behind a desk from 9 to 5 – five days a week anymore. Armed with our PDA’s and portable internet access for our laptops, we can work from pretty much anywhere. It’s starting to seem that our downtown cores, full of big glass office buildings that, due to enthusiastic overbuilding and poorly conceived architecture, fail to meet the needs of occupants and how we now work. Office design is changing at such an accelerated pace; if we continue our reliance on old philosophies for architecture and construction, we are just creating more dinosaur buildings and offices.

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Right now, you may be thinking that now is not the time for your company to re-think your office design. The reality is that it’s the perfect time. Look around your office; how is it being used? Do people spend most of their time in their workstations on individual tasks, or are they often interacting and collaborating in informal meetings? Are meeting rooms in constant use, or do they stand empty more often than not? Was your office planned with you in mind, or are you simply repeating a design methodology established years ago?

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It’s often an eye-opening experience for my clients when we do an optimization study of their existing office space. It quickly becomes very clear what is supportive to your work style, what is inefficient and what could evolve. For instance, overstated filing requirements, poor workstation design and excessive corridor space will bloat office densities to over 20 square metres per person. A reasonable target could be as low as 15 square metres per person, or a potential savings of 25%, while maximizing the potential of your personal and collaborative work areas.

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Efficiency in the physical office environment is only half of the story; improvements in the effectiveness of the intelligent office are tantamount to overall success. These improvements can include: better support space; wider range of work settings; spaces that stimulate interaction; aesthetics that project the right corporate image. Responsive design in these areas allows intelligent office users with the necessary resources to keep up with evolving working demands.

Licensed professional designers are qualified by experience and education to assess your workspace and suggest planning changes to help your organization become more efficient and effective. We are also an excellent resource when you are looking for new office space, to assist you in making the best choices based on your needs, preparing concept plans to graphically compare different buildings and how your office might be organized within. We are in a new time, with a new economic outlook. It’s time for a fresh approach to all of your business resources, including your working environment.

Together, we can rethink work processes and skillfully find the best and most profitable ways of managing change; ensuring your office environment evolves with your work style.

“Good design is good business.”  Thomas Watson Jr., IBM

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Condo Renovations – Designsmith Planning Exercise #01

Small spaces really bring out the best design ideas and innovative planning techniques.  Creating a beautiful living space is no less significant in a smaller home than in a larger one.  Good design transcends scale!

The move towards smaller, more efficient space also enhances our drive towards sustainable living.  When beginning the design of a home, we like to  introduce our clients to the principles of the Slow Home, which we endorse as a wonderful way to move towards sustainable choices: http://www.theslowhome.com

Designsmith Planning Exercise #01 showcases how we are able to use the Slow Home three principles of Close, Simple and Light to renew and revitalize a client’s Kitsilano Condominium.

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CLOSE -living in a walkable neighborhood that is near where you work:
Situated just steps from Kits Beach and in the heart of one of Vancouver’s most beautiful walkable neighbourhoods, our client’s condominium is ideally located.  Excellent transit and bike route proximity makes travel options to and from the downtown core a simple 10-minute bus or bike ride away.  The condominium itself is a well-maintained, architecturally sound 1950’s four storey – a signature building with a sense of place and history of the neighbourhood.
•    Target – Bingo!  It’s perfect!

Kits Condo Plan - Before
Kits Condo Plan - Before

SIMPLE – living in a home that fits your life:
Although the 700SF One Bedroom condo is a generous size by current construction standards, a poor quality renovation in the 80’s, coupled with north facing street level windows made this large space seem small, dark and uninviting.  Walls are poorly placed and the plan does not suit the lifestyle and needs of our client.

Client Pros: Location and Size of Condo 

Client Cons: Wasted space in Kitchen and Bedroom, Inefficient appliance and fixtures, Poor quality construction, Exposed plumbing conduit in the living room.

•    Target – as a single urban professional, our client wants a more open, modern and bright space. The space needs to be great for entertaining, but comfortable enough for a quiet night in. Better space use and storage solutions are needed, without compromising daylighting throughout the space.

Kits Condo Plan - After
Kits Condo Plan - After

LIGHT -living in a home that has less impact on the environment:
Buying into an older building is one of the best choices one can make in reducing your living space environmental footprint.  As our client found the old plan of the condo dark and cramped, a new plan found more efficient ways to create flow and openness within the same square footage.

•    Target – Thoughtful planning averts major plumbing and electrical work or relocations. Energy efficient fixtures and appliances are used and lighting needs have been greatly reduced by dimmable halogen lighting. Open weave roller blinds for the windows preserve privacy but don’t block out the essential daylight, which now flows through the home.

Comprehensive planning turns this well located home into a beautiful living space with minimal impact on the environment, both in construction and its day-to-day lifecycle. Everything is chosen to enhance the architectural space and reflect the client’s individuality and lifestyle. In a city full of generic One Bedroom condo offerings, this unique, well-appointed space stands out and will return a good investment – even in a competitive market.

As our lives change and evolve, shouldn’t how we use our home?  Think about how your home is planned and compartmentalized.  By rethinking spaces and non-structural partitions with a design professional, you can revitalize your traditional home into one that truly improves the quality of how you live.  The size of space becomes less of a factor when well planned.  Think about your spaces, and don’t always always assume bigger is better!

I also encourage you to explore the Slow Home website and take the Slow Home Test.  It’s very simple to do and also the results will show you what elements of your living space and style are sustainable (in the true sense of the meaning) so you can emulate the Slow Home ideal and ”take more control of your home and improve the quality of how you live, while reducing your environmental impact and futureproofing the long term investment value of your home.”

Consider the ‘Slow Home Declaration’ – and leave a positive legacy for our future generations.

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Best Nine – Inspired Design Elements for 2009

Best Nine – Inspired Design Elements for 2009

Each New Year we review the past and predict changes for the upcoming months. As designers, we wonder in what direction what tastes will change, technologies will emerge and what new design trends will be pushed through media and other outlets.

As licensed professional designers, we must be aware of what is happening in our industry – which trend or element will be in the forefront? But we don’t simply adopt these verbatim within our design, but use them as a springboard to stretch our imaginations, developing unique and dynamic interiors.   My research for 2009 has uncovered many fantastic new elements.  I believe these Nine will be drivers of this year’s fresh and creative design solutions:

1.    Art Nouveau:

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Glamour is back!  This nature and organic-influenced style injects much-needed sophistication to our homage to the environment and the earth. From art, lighting, textiles to furnishings, there is a wealth of choices to integrate this beautiful style into homes and workplaces.

2.    Metallics:

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Gold is the freshest way to showcase metallic. Fine threads of gold in fabrics contrasted with heavy, showy metal pieces. There is no wrong way to do metallics right now – even at the office!

3.    Natural Woods:

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The natural beauty of wood elements has become the new touchstone of interior design. There is going to be shift to lighter finishes that is really going to keep this element popular. Dark wood is not over, but we’re evolving to more subtle gray toned stains and strong-grained species.

4.    Bold Patterns:

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Ethnic and Classical patterning is back in all formats.  Bold strong colours and weaves in textiles, carpets and wallcoverings (or murals) are a great way to inject some personality into a plain room without a lot of effort.  Look for Architectural or Ethnic patterns and palettes, modernized through unexpected colour combinations or large pattern scales.

5.    Comfort:

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Showcase or staged interiors are falling out of favour. Rather than creating a space to impress, more clients are interested in transforming their homes into a personal refuge that is chic, peaceful, inviting and easy to maintain where they can relax and unwind.  Workspace designs are simpler and softer, encouraging interaction and movement.

6.    Accessories:

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The easiest way to warm up a space and tell your story.  Look towards personal touches, such as books. Stacked high next to a reading chair they can create a casual and inviting area.  Indulge in the extraordinary, from old family treasures, your child’s art, to your grandmother’s tableware, always keeping in mind your overall style direction.

7.    White:

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White is above all associated with lightness and clarity, something we may need a lot of this year!  In design, White is timeless and very complementary in combination with all colours and even with itself, in it’s various tones.  It is a fantastic base for textures, such as wool or leather, matte or glossy.  A little bit of white can be very uplifting!

8.    Outdoor spaces:

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Whether it be a small yard or deck space, we are continuing their transformation into intimate and elegant living spaces as an extension of your home.  The high-quality design and innovative materials of today’s outdoor furniture opens completely new perspectives. Designed to survive our Canadian weather, there are now many choices to create a stylish and comfortable outdoor oasis for your home.

9.    Sustainability:

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Always the common denominator.  We’ve moved well beyond the warm and fuzzy ‘eco-friendly’ labels and have become much more savvy about what Sustainability truly means.  In 2009, we retain our enthusiasm for fresh and spontaneous ideas, creating designs that are truly innovative without losing our sense of the past.

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Be Good to your Heart (of your home)

I believe in the old adage, that the kitchen is the heart of a home.  Kitchens are the places where families come together the most, to enjoy a meal together or casually hang out.  And we know the kitchen is always the place to be at a party!

As the centre of the home, the kitchen needs to be functional for both cooking and gathering.  As cooks and families evolve, these functions evolve too, and the design has to keep up!  You’ve decided that it’s time to update your kitchen. So where do you start?  And how much is it going to cost?

With a primary focus on green design practice, I encourage renewal instead of demolition for existing parts of a space that still function well.  The more we are able to limit waste is better for both the earth and your budget. A remodel doesn’t have to break the bank if you make the right choices.

Your first step is to consider how well the space currently functions for you.  How does the natural light filter into the room?  Is the size and placement of the appliances and sink appropriate to your cooking style?  Do you have enough cabinet storage?  Knowing how your current kitchen responds to your needs is the first step.  If you are moving into a new home, I encourage a minimum 6-week trial of the current kitchen first, as it’s difficult to make the right decisions without experience.

Second, create a reasonable budget.  In my previous article on smart renovation, you need to have a good understanding of your homes’ value to determine the percentage appropriate for renovation.  You want to keep this number as low as possible.

Now you are ready to begin planning your renovation.  Keep in mind these 6 tips:
•    Use the existing footprint as a template for the new kitchen.  Look at walls that could be moved or removed, enclosed spaces that could be opened up and underutilized areas that could be repurposed.

•    Retain your existing plumbing or appliance locations if possible.  Rerouting these services is costly and the money could be better utilized in more tangible ways.

•    Don’t buy all new appliances if the existing ones still work effectively.  I’ve never supported purchasing matching appliance suites; you risk getting an average appliance simply because it’s the same make and model as the others.  Be patient and wait until you can afford the appliance that will best suit your needs, and simply co-ordinate the finish with the others.

•    Go for the cabinetry organizational gadgets.  I love Ikea kitchens for this; the rolling pantries, the articulating shelves etc.  Rubbermaid also make a lot of fantastic options, which can really multiply the usable space in ordinary cabinets.

•    Consider pre-engineered modular cabinetry.  Ideally, your existing cabinetry could be renewed, but if that is not an option, modular cabinetry, such as Ikea or Boffi could be an excellent choice to save on the cost of custom-fitted millwork.

•    Research different countertop materials which will perform to your expectations.  Granite and Marble can be expensive, so consider a quartzite material such as Silestone or CaesarStone, which have the look and feel of natural stone, but are naturally antibacterial and perform much better.

Any kind of remodel is a lot of time and hard work.  You may want to consider using the experience and skill of an educated and trained interior design professional.  We can save you countless headaches, delays and ultimately save you money. We can advise on your best choices, where to focus, how to get it done and where your money is most effectively spent. As your designer we consider your needs, lifestyle, preferences, schedule, budget and building codes in creating your dream kitchen; the heart of your home.

Architectural Preservation = Green Design

Last week, I was invited to attend the opening of the Vancouver Community Court, which is the site of an innovative, integrated approach to addressing property crime in Downtown Vancouver.  Located in the heart of the infamous “Downtown East Side”, I was intrigued by not only the vision of this new court process, but also of the amazing renewal of an existing structure to house this new court.

Walking through the front doors, the interior foyer gleams with new golden porcelain tile floors, maple-panelled walls and recycled/recyclable carpet tiles.  The impression from most of the guests at the opening was that this was an entirely new, purpose-built facility, and I heard many comments of surprise, when informed that the building was in fact the old downtown pre-trial centre.

Building renewal is currently not a popular concept with Vancouver urbanites.  Most tend toward newly built, modern offices and homes.  I find this interesting given that most of these same individuals are very concerned about environmental issues!

Let’s face it – the most responsible form of Green Design utilizes our existing building stock.  Preserving and re-using our aging buildings preserves the energy and materials embedded within their walls.  It also reduces the requirement for new and additional resource use for the construction of something new.  Green renovation also limits land consumption and ecosystem modification – not to mention additional infrastructure.  The preservation of our older buildings is of special significance to sustainability.

Renovation is not without it’s obstacles; there may be the presence of lead based paint and asbestos, systems have to be brought up to current code standards, and older windows and doors may not be energy efficient.  In the Vancouver Community Court building, the interior was completely brought back to its raw state, and new, efficient air handling, plumbing, lighting and data systems were set in place.  Together with a new interior plan and custom designed for the functionality of the occupants and community court process, the existing, sound building structure has been given a new, sustainable life.

As designers, we find that building renewal projects are especially ideal to sustainable design parameters: they are usually centrally located to mass transit, have operable windows, and are filled with old-growth timber and locally quarried stone – elements that can usually not be replaced in new construction.

Renovation also preserves a piece of history, symbolic of our culture and physical connection to our heritage, which can never be replaced. Can you imagine if Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water had been torn down, simply because the owner at one time wanted something new?  It’s hard to believe, but about 100 Frank Lloyd Wright structures were demolished within his lifetime, one even in 2003, and one nearly in 2004 to make way for a Chicago developers’ condo complex! You may not think that your mid 20th century home or building is of any historic value now, but that’s also how people felt about older Victorian era buildings in the 30’s and 40’s, which we now pause to preserve.  We can’t continue to be shortsighted.  Our older buildings are a non-renewable resource, which shouldn’t be discarded.