SANTA CRUZ -- Jeanne Martin's daughter had been encouraging her to move into a more comfortable home for years. She worried about there being too many stairs, dark rooms and safety hazards in her mom's little rented duplex on East Cliff Drive. The unit was too small for company.
"Her quality of life seemed to be going down quickly," said Jennifer Van Natta, who has also watched her friends' parents struggle to stay comfortable in their own homes as their needs and health challenges evolve. "Change gets more and more difficult."
In a move reflecting a growing national trend to help seniors stay in the homes as they age, Van Natta and her husband Owen bought Martin, 69, a small house near the beach last year and with her mother's changing needs in mind. They then proceeded with an eight-week whirlwind overhaul that transformed the once-neglected rental into a vibrant, senior-friendly home that put her mother's needs first.
They enlisted the interior decorating savvy of Nancy Van Natta, her mother-in-law who specializes in "aging in place" design and has offices in Soquel and San Francisco, and David Beres, a Palo Alto contractor whom they have worked with before.
The result is a vibrant remodel featuring an outside to the front porch, stylish grab bars in the bathroom and additional lighting and heating to brighten and warm each room.
"Just because we're aging doesn't mean we're going to stop living," Nancy Van Natta said. "It should have great style."
An overwhelming majority of older Americans want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, according to the National Aging in Place Council, a senior support network advocating policies, regulations, and business practices that promote independent living.
Aging in Place amenities included adding skylights to brighten the natural lighting in the main rooms and the bathrooms as well as full spectrum paint to add color and light to each room. The shower floor in Martin's home has no lip to trip over and the area rugs are flush and anchored to the textured floor. The kitchen counter is at a good level for her and a porch lift makes the entryway easily accessible. The bathroom was gutted so extra blocking could be added to stabilize grab bars.
"As we get older, nature is very soothing," said Nancy Van Natta who used natural fabrics, light, locally bought furniture (that is easy to get in and out of) and a branchelier for lighting. "There's almost a stronger and stronger need to connect with nature."
A locally inspired bright beach cliff painting by Soquel painter John Crawford hangs in the living room and bright block photographs of grandchildren copied on to canvas line the hallway.
The National Association of Home Builders has a long checklist of considerations for Aging in Place projects posted on its website. [http://www.nahb.org/genericaspx?genericContentID=89801]
"Notice the curtains; they slide open light as feathers," Jennifer Van Natta said. "The garbage cans are a little taller. You wouldn't think this is a house for a senior citizen. This is just a fabulous house. We were just so blown away that she gets to have this quality of life. She's easing into a life of retirement."
Martin, who after 31 years as a waitress at Tampico Kitchen & Lounge, is still tending to the weekend shift, was initially reticent to make the move, but she says she's settled easily in to her new home.
"I just thought it was comfy. From the day I moved in, it felt like home," she said.