Nurse Adjusts To Aging
Counselor Moves, Renovates To Confront Impaired Mobility
March 1, 2007
by CHERYL CRABB, Special To The Hartford Courant
Karen Martin counsels people for a living about aging
and leaving the family home. When the Farmington-based moving
consultant for older clients confronted her own loss of mobility
and its consequences, it was with some trepidation.
At 53, Martin thought she was still too young to be
facing the prospect of full knee replacement.
However, with difficulty getting up and down stairs in
her multilevel home, increasing pain and the prospect of
surgery, she knew it was time to get practical.
"Most people don't want to think about the changes
that occur as part of the natural aging process," said Martin, a
certified nurse and the owner of Life Moves. "But I needed
something to meet my changing physical needs."
She found what she was looking for about 18 months ago
during a stroll through her neighborhood, tucked away off busy
Route 4. She recalls the excitement of realizing that the
sprawling contemporary for sale up the street could be modified
for one-story living.
The only problem was that the nearly 2,800-square-foot
home hadn't been updated in decades and required a full-scale
renovation, Martin said. However, she loved the neighborhood's
quiet, wooded cul-de-sac setting, which affords a panoramic view
of the Farmington Valley in the winter, and thought it would be
worth rehabbing the $625,000 property.
With a background in home health care, Martin was well
aware of the challenges that renovating for this purpose posed.
Her decreasing mobility meant she would need to keep safety and
ease of living at the top of the agenda. At the same time,
Martin didn't want to sacrifice her personal style, including a
preference for neutral colors and clean lines.
She set out to create a comfortable living environment
within a $300,000 budget.
The primary goals:
Eliminate steep steps and level floors
Create an open floor plan
Raise countertop height
Build a functional master bathroom
Select easy-to-use appliances
Create a low-maintenance yard
The job also would entail replacing the roof and
windows, eliminating a bedroom and bathroom to create a
first-floor master suite, and giving the three guest bedrooms
upstairs a basic makeover. Updating the heating and
air-conditioning system and installing a high-tech sound system
that could hook up to satellite radio were part of the makeover,
"It's really to live on the first floor," said Martin,
who often works out of her home office next to the kitchen, and
this month will self-publish "Gaining Control Over Home
Downsizing," a book she wrote about her clients' experiences
during the past five years.
Raising the height of the floor in the screened-in,
A-frame porch to eliminate a step down from the main floor of
the home was among the biggest projects on the roster for
Martin, who has problems bending her knees on steps.
Knocking out an interior doorway between the kitchen
and dining room to create an open eating area and living space
connected to her home office and the porch was another major
"An open design allows whoever is with you to see you,
and interact," said Martin, who has two grown daughters.
Martin also asked the contractor, Brown and Michaud
Builders of West Hartford, to create 3-foot wide doorways
throughout the house to improve accessibility. Many feature
pocket doors, which are easy to open and close, and enable areas
to be closed off, if desired.
"When you're aging and negotiating doors, you don't
want narrow, small doorways," she said. "Wide doors make the
house accessible if you need a wheelchair, crutches or a
Improving lighting, especially in hallways, was
another safety feature incorporated into the design to help
avoid trips and falls. Short pile carpet was installed in many
areas because it provides cushioning, yet does not pose a
tripping hazard, as rugs can.
Martin also raised the height of the kitchen
countertops to 36 inches where possible to reduce the amount of
strain from lifting and lowering herself onto her chair. She
purchased stools that are 24 inches high to enable her to sit
comfortably while doing prep work.
She also chose wood floors, as opposed to tile, to
create a softer walking surface in the kitchen. The light oak
coloring complements her neutral color scheme, as well.
For appliances, Martin purchased a wall oven and a
side-by-side freezer and refrigerator to avoid having to bend to
pull out a roast or reach items on the bottom of the freezer.
In the master bedroom, which is on the main floor,
Martin decided to knock out a wall between two rooms to create
one large open area. She also converted former closet space into
a golden taupe Italian tile bathroom. The shower is designed
without a door to provide easy access. It also has a ledge to
sit on, and a wand-style showerhead, which can be reached while
seated. The toilet seat, too, is raised to reduce knee strain.
Although Martin achieved many of her goals in the
master bath, she was not able to remove a small barrier at the
entrance to the shower, which she must step over before getting
in or out.
"You can't do everything when you retrofit," she said.
"It's not like building new."
Martin does not know exactly when she will need
knee-replacement surgery. In the meantime, she's exploring
possible alternatives and managing her chronic pain with various
regimens, including hot tub therapy every morning. The
four-bedroom, 2-bath house has a hot tub outside the master
bedroom, and Martin added a door and deck to provide easy
"I'm trying to postpone it as long as I can," she
said. "But I'm also trying to be practical."