Meeting the Home Today, Home Tomorrow Design Challenge


We are all aging, which is a beautiful thing. But more than adding numbers to our age, we are getting older, which means adding more years of experience in this beautiful world. Along with this experience should come a recognition that we will be at a disadvantage with only blind trust in an easy future. Aging and getting older have to be met with a sense of wonder and preparation, especially when we consider that more than 30 percent of all Americans will end up in a nursing home in the later years of life. Many could avoid this outcome by preparing their homes and their environments early, in anticipation of changes that may come with each passing year.

When we think of home, we think of the place we feel most nurtured and at peace. But when certain aspects of a house or apartment go unaddressed, even a small physical handicap or prolonged illness can turn into a deal-breaker, making it impossible to live in the place we want to live. Ninety percent of all Americans want to age at home – and fulfilling that wish is possible, but only when we prepare early and rethink architecture and neighborhoods at once. This is why the Home Today, Home Tomorrow Design Challenge is such a milestone. The competition invited architects and designers from around the country to redesign a typical suburban home in Memphis (one that was designed for the young and healthy only) into a home for all ages. As an architect and a longtime advocate of design for all ages and abilities, I have learned that a home that supports our physical and social well being will very naturally evolve for us over time. For example, if we cannot get out of bed, we should be able to see outdoors; if we cannot drive to see friends, they should be able to visit us easily.

The winning scheme, a blueprint for the home’s remodel, met these goals in several ways. It eliminated all stairs for safe and smooth transitions between levels indoors and outdoors, and expanded the bathroom to accommodate a wheelchair when needed. It also included all key details in terms of appropriate task heights for a person seated in a wheelchair, while taking into account accessibility and safe grab-bar placement to make cooking, eating, bathing, and relaxing possible for all ages. The design also positioned one flexible room at a strategic location: This multipurpose room can be connected with a large open door to the living room. It’s a simple move, but magical. That one flexible room can be used as an extension of the living room, as a separate home office, or as the ground-floor bedroom for a person who is in bed for an extended period of time. Proximity to the living room and views through the large doorway allow for the inclusion of a person in bedroom in the daily social activities in the house. The house itself opens up to the neighborhood with a large expanse of windows, visually connecting to the outdoors, and, even more important, creating an informal connection to the neighbors. We all know that we are stronger within a community, and such relationship needs to be facilitated and nurtured. This house design does exactly that. It breaks down walls and invites people to engage. Just imagine what a difference it will make when a neighbor swings by to say hello and help with errands without being asked. The house, an extension of its occupants, invites people inside.


The transformation of the house was not rocket science, but it makes all the difference between aging comfortably at home and the alternative of being forced to move into a senior facility that is impersonal, and away from family, neighbors, and the activity of a community. Accomplishing that it is so easy in many ways. Hopefully knowing these simple steps wakes up the masses, and urges people to take notice that they should and can remodel a house to be age-independent and supportive of its owner all life long.

But these remodels can’t happen overnight. The key is to do this kind of work in the home early, before any physical or social challenges occur, so we can live a worry-free life. An age-friendly home is a better home. Who does not want to have a home that encourages socializing with the neighbors? Who does not want to have a bigger and more comfortable bathroom? Who does not want to have a home that is safe and secure and protects us from falls. I want that – and I am 45 years old! I am honored that I was invited as a judge for this milestone competition, and my wish is that this one house opens the eyes of all 78 million Baby Boomers in this country and encourages them to review their homes and make key changes if needed. Today is the day. Start taking these steps one at a time or all at once so you can live the life you want, all life long.

Why We Need To “Cure” Housing



As a small child I remember having a fascination with houses. Maybe it was spurred by a curiosity about other people’s homes fostered from living in a mobile home, which best accommodated frequent moves required by my father’s job. Or, perhaps it came from visiting relatives whose diverse homes ranged from farm homes door to west coast ranchers in the California hills to what seemed to me at the time like stone mansions. Regardless of the origins of my curiosity, one thing I knew was that for me home was always a safe, secure and loving place.

As a child I spent hours on playgrounds sweeping gravel with my hands to build make-believe houses that fulfilled my dreams. Whenever I came in contact with a book on architecture or design, I poured over its pages capturing them in my memory. I was fortunate, in that much of my make believe became a reality for me. Unfortunately, for many others, it is still a dream today.

My passion for housing has kept me involved with housing, working with many non-profits that seek to resolve the housing issues we face in this country. While we have seen the rise of many organizations that work to meet the need for safe, secure housing, many families still face a severe need for affordable houses to rent or buy. In addition, we have put many non-profits in competition for the limited funding and donations available to move their cause forward. In the end, we have fragmented the housing issue in order to sustain small gains in our communities.

As we enter a new year and a new opportunity in our political environment, it is time to address the issue of housing, coalesce the multiple facets of the housing issue and work toward unifying what housing means to a community. Safe, secure housing is directly tied to better health, success in education, economic opportunities and enhanced community. An investment in providing better housing will deliver high returns across all aspects of our communities.

Like many societal issues, it is hard to convince many of the need for better housing. There are multiple responses that people use to dismiss the need, from not wanting low-income housing in their neighborhood (NIMBY-ISM) to telling families to move if they can’t afford to live in their community. Those families in need don’t have any interest in living in the communities that those crying “NIMBY” oppose. These families are seeking neighborhoods with access to better transportation, parks, schools and shopping that all of us aspire to acquire. It’s time to plan communities that provide housing for mixed-income housing that is attractive and affordable so that we continue to contribute to the diversity and stability in our communities.

If we believe that we can simply tell those that can’t afford to live in our cities to relocate, we are asking to replace the workforce that supports our retail, restaurant, hotel and service industries. It’s not possible to have it both ways. You either provide housing at a level that supports this workforce or you need to increase their wages. We are at an impasse that has been created through years of believing that low-income housing projects were sufficient in addressing this issue.

This is no longer solely an issue for city, state or federal governments to resolve.

It’s time to engage business, government and community leaders in the discussion. Having worked for years to establish strategic partnerships in marketing and communications, I may view the possibilities from a different view than most. If business and government combine their influence and interests for the issue, we can face the need and unify the efforts to finding answers that work. A major company talking about the need for mixed-income housing for its employees sends a different message than a single family’s story on the evening news. While we must continue to meet the needs of families on an individual need, we must engage communities, and our nation overall, in the discussion to understand why housing is vital to collective success.

One of the reasons I have chosen to support the work of Home Matters is its commitment to raising housing and community development needs to a national level, and as a true movement. We need to redefine the public thinking, the policies and the funding about housing to better position our communities for success.  Getting the public to understand and commit to an issue that they don’t believe impacts them will require action from policymakers, companies and residents to make the connections between housing, economic success, inclusion and safety.

We are no longer able to segregate the problem to individual cities, communities or socioeconomic classes. Unless we all start to view our communities holistically, we will continue to put a band-aid on injuries without treating the cause of our ailments. While it is not a single solution, safe and affordable housing in communities that attract and protect families has already shown the positive impacts it can bring to all aspects of the community.

Let’s work toward turning dreams into realities for more families. It may start with a home, but it will provide returns in more ways than simply providing affordable housing. It will enhance and improve our communities for all its residents for years to come.