The answer was a resounding no.
Salmen has a playful manner, and so does his house. Nothing in it says “a place I can live when I’m frail and 90 years old.” Instead, most visitors will find it to be a delightful renovation of a 1900’s bungalow with a newer addition on the back.
The exterior of the house conforms to Takoma Park’s historic district requirements and looks similar to the other modestly-sized, clapboard-sided, Craftsman-styled bungalows with front porches. The Craftsman-styled interior, however, is unique to the neighborhood. It features a color palette that is historically authentic but unusual in its hues and strong contrasts — cobalt blue, pumpkin orange and light-cream yellow.
The heart of the 3-bedroom, 2, 000- square-foot house is the eat-in kitchen/family room, which occupies the entire first-floor area of the new addition. In keeping with the Craftsman-styled interiors, the space features abundant amounts of clear-stained cherry trim around doors and windows, an exposed beamed ceiling, strategically placed cherry clad columns that hold it up, and multiple windows on three sides that flood the area with natural light.
Of greater interest to me, however, were the numerous, nearly invisible ways in which Salmen designed the main living area to be flexible, not in the sense of “multipurpose” but in “accommodating disabilities.” Cloaked in a Craftsman aesthetic, almost every detail has been masterfully designed to help this couple navigate the shoals of old age.
Although neither spouse is disabled, Salmen’s years of designing for disabled people have made him acutely aware of how to modify a space so that an older person can comfortably “age in place.”
Many of Salmen’s design subtleties address diminished vision, which begins to affect almost everyone in their 40s and 50s and becomes much more pronounced as we reach our 80s, said Mariana Figueiro, a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and an expert in lighting issues for the elderly.
In choosing the color scheme for his main living area, Salmen went for bold contrast — light yellow walls play off against the rich red oak flooring and the darker cherry trim. Today, this contrast creates a visually lively space, but 30 years from now it can help Salmen and Scher to maintain their balance and prevent falls. When walls and floors are the same color — as is commonly the case in traditional senior housing — an elderly person with poor vision may be unable to distinguish between floor and wall, “lose the horizon” and fall, Salmen said.