Needs change. People change. So how do you design a home that doesn't have to?
Architect Mark Siddall calls this a "forever home," one that can work at every stage of life. Mark works in the United Kingdom, where a lot of people do "self-builds," where they find their own lot and build their own dream home. He talked to Ben Adam-Smith, who runs a website called House Planning Help as a resource for self-builders, but it's also relevant to anyone interested in how to design with your future in mind. (It's worth noting that I've visited his self-build and he has interviewed me.)
A forever home isn't just about aging in place. It's about designing a home that works for all phases of your life.
A house isn't just a place for you and the kids. With the right care and attention, designed correctly, it's where you'll create great memories, enjoy a long meaningful retirement and maintain your independence well into old age.
Mark has a multi-point plan, which he outlined for Adam-Smith, and it doesn't start with the usual list of wide corridors and smart appliances. Instead, the terms mostly start with C. Let's start with contentment and character.
"The sense of wellbeing that comes from being content is incredibly important and it means different things in different contexts. It's an opening into a deeper level of conversation that will allow people to make a more robust appreciation of what they actually want."
There's also convenience, where he works out a layout and flow, control of noise and air and confidence that comes from building to the tough Passive House specification. (Passive House, or Passivhaus, is a tough standard that requires lots of insulation, high quality windows, tested air tightness and fresh air. Matt Hickman described the principles here.) Then, what's often overlooked, community and connection. Mark tells Adam-Smith:
We often talk about connection these days, about being on the internet and everything else, but really it's that one of how connected are we to the place where we live and thinking about the amenities. If you're thinking in twenty-five or fifty years' time, well, I wear glasses. I don't know how my eyes are going to be performing in fifty years' time. So, I want to know that I am living in an area where there are shops and amenities that can support me in my old age without having to worry about that.
This is a fundamental problem in North America, where there are so few properties that one can buy and build on that are close to decent transit or amenities, so everybody drives everywhere. But most of Mark's Cs also would work for forever renovations.
Then there are the Fs, which include futureproofing. Here again, the Passive House concept comes into play because the heating costs are negligible, and these houses don't require a lot of fancy, high-maintenance technology.
This process looks at getting the right kinds of spaces and also thinking about how things might change over time. It also ties in with low-energy housing and Passivhaus, where energy bills can be fairly inconsequential, thus offering a level of financial independence once a mortgage has been paid off.
That also can bring financial peace, the freedom from energy bills. Right now in the U.K., energy poverty is a big deal, with people having to decide whether to eat or turn the heat on.
Finally, he talks about how a homeowner also should be a faithful custodian.
"So, as a custodian, we're thinking about how we can address climate change, how we can reduce carbon emissions, how we can live more sustainably, how we can help repair and remediate damage to the ecology and biodiversity. And how we can then start to use the buildings that we design collaboratively; how they can then start to do something restorative to improve the quality of life and at least impact less than may have been the previous case."
Mark notes that there are many aspects to healthy, happy living in a forever home that go beyond architecture.
"There's been some interesting research that's been done looking at who lives the longest in the world and why do they live the longest. And it's that one of keeping your mind active, so having a purpose. Being a custodian is a purpose; it's a very clear mission that people can get hold of, for their family as much as anything else.Then also, thinking about your body. Simple things like exercises that keep your balance. In older age, you can start to lose that and that can start to make you more infirm. So, practicing balancing is an important process that's very simple to do. So doing Pilates, yoga or something like that, that can exercise. And then more cardiovascular work of course as well."
Building your own home is a daunting task, and if you're going to do it, it should be with forever in mind. Mark Siddall gives us some serious food for thought. You can learn more at Siddall's work-in-progress website, Forever Home Lifestyle.