Palm Springs Designer Helps Aging Stay in the Home

Michael A. Thomas melds beauty and function with 'aging in place' homes



Handles, rather than knobs on cabinetry and appliances, are easier to grip; glass-fronted cabinets offer an easy peek at contents.

Jim Robinette/Nothing Negative Photography

With nearly 76 million Baby Boomers at or near retirement age in the United States, the demand for accessible and sustainable homes is exploding. By 2030, older adults will represent more than 1 in 6 Californians, according to Pew Research Center.

“Sustainable environments should support the quality of life,” says Palm Springs designer Michael A. Thomas, of Design Pure + Simple and The Design Collective Group (pictured below). “I create spaces that help people maintain an independence.”

Thomas, a Certified Aging in Place Specialist and former president of the American Society of Interior Designers, has led the way in the trend, co-authoring the book, Residential Design for Aging in Place, in 2007; the book’s sales continue to rise.

The key, he says, is creating spaces that are fully functional but that also incorporate high-quality design — and it’s easier than it sounds.

“With the right kind of product, you can create wonderful design aesthetics. It is about making sure environments are safe,  secure, and healthy," he says. "It addresses indoor air quality and energy efficiency, but it’s also how you go about moving through space and making sure that there are no stumbling blocks, that there is sufficient lighting, and maintenance-free environments, so people don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning up.

"Nobody wants to admit that they’re getting old, and this is that reminder," he adds. " A good designer is going to try to blend all of those things into the background so they don’t show.”

Thomas uses sturdy but beautiful high-end handles, for example, rather than “grab bars”— a term he no longer uses because it evokes institutional living — and chairs with extended arms to make getting up easier.

His clients range in age from 35 to 85, and include Boomers, forward-thinking children of boomers who may become parental caregivers, and younger people with health conditions who want to stay independent. One of Thomas’ clients, a woman in her 30s with arthritis, struggled to open builder-installed doors and cabinets in her brand-new home—she couldn’t open her hands enough to grasp the knobs. So, Thomas replaced the knobs with levers.

“It isn’t a lot of things that have to be done to a living space or workspace to make it really acceptable, adaptable, and accessible. It’s just doing a few things repeatedly,” he says. “That’s what the success of universal design and aging in place is about.”

The impact of being able to maintain independence and stay in one’s home cannot be overstated, Thomas says: “It’s not about sustainable environments and it’s not just about green design. This is really about sustainable life.”

Design Pure + Simple, 301 N. Indian Canyon Drive, Suite 103, Palm Springs, (760) 322-3784. For more information, visit www.iageinplace.com, www.shopdesignpureandsimple.com, or www.thedesigncollectivegroup.com

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