Six tips for renovating your NYC apartment—with an eye toward aging in place

It should come as no surprise that Americans have a complicated relationship with aging. In a society that glamorizes youth and is mediated by a fraught healthcare industry, what we talk about when we talk about aging can often feel taboo–sometimes, unfortunately, even traumatic. Beyond the emotional and physical weight of what it means simply to get older, the journey in this country comes with a steep price tag. According to Fidelity, the price to live comfortably in your golden years is skyrocketing: the average couple will likely spend $275,000 on healthcare expenses alone.

It’s human nature to protect our family and loved ones–whether that means making space in your home to accommodate an aging parent or chipping in, financially, to ensure proper health care and services, we’re empaths at heart. For some families, maybe it means a weekly trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s for a lunch–to check in on their wellbeing and pitch in on some chores. For others, it might mean empowering their older loved ones to confidently age in place.

Over 1.1 million adults over the age of 65 call New York City home, according to a report from the Comptroller’s office. And like most things that happen in the five boroughs, things can unfold a little differently here. When you dig into the census data, it’s clear that most of us are renting–except for homeowners over the age of fifty. When New Yorkers get older, they’re more likely to own their properties than any other age group. And in a city as vibrant and accessible as ours, it’s no surprise that many choose to age in place–particularly in a market where many people want to keep their home in the family, passing it on for generations to come.

So what should New Yorkers consider when aging in place? Well, a lot. But when it comes to creating a functional and accessible home, or when designing a home that can easily adapt to fit future needs, our architect, Michael Fasulo, has some recommendations–ensuring you spend intelligently from the beginning, to help you invest more strategically in your future.

Going up?

Before you get into design, choose an elevator building to buy into. Many charming pre-war apartments come with steps in the entryway or in the lobby, making life with a walker or a wheelchair much more difficult. “Of course, this piece of advice presupposes that you’re buying with the intention of aging in place,” says Michael. “But for older homebuyers or families looking to move a relative nearby, this is a crucial consideration–if the choice is available to you.”

Design for future accessibility.

New York City building code requires renovated apartments to have a basic level of accessibility whenever you renovate. That means living spaces, hallways, doorways, and closets must be handicap accessible or adaptable. So if you’re working with an up-to-code baseline, life is certainly easier.

“If you know you’re living in a home that you don’t intend on leaving, careful thought about the design is key. Strategic pre-planning primes kitchens and bathrooms for future advancements in accessibility, without feeling messy or improvised,” says Michael.

For instance, it may make sense for you to plan ahead for fully accessible bathrooms. This means homeowners should consider including bathrooms in their renovation scope of work and pre-installing sturdier bathroom walls to support future grab bars in convenient locations.

Include a stall shower.

Sure, tubs can feel luxurious (just think of all those bubble baths), but if you have the option, plan for something a bit more practical as well. (Showers and tubs aren’t mutually exclusive!) If you have the ability and the budget during a bathroom renovation, install a stall shower: it’s easier to negotiate than a tub. “Be sure the shower is big enough to fit a seat within easy access to a handshower,” Michael notes.

Think in a tactical and tactile manner.

During a home renovation, you might not be paying as much detail to the little things such as cabinet and door hardware. (But you should!) “Give some thought to how you’d grab something with limited mobility or vision,” says Michael. “I’d recommend choosing lever hardware and cabinet pulls that are easy to grasp.”

Light sufficiently.

Of course we all like a bit of moodiness, but you should always err on the side of more light–what young eyes consider ambiance can be tough on eyes that have seen far more than most.

Be smart with appliances–but not too smart.

Choose appliances with tactile buttons that are easy to use if you have arthritis or if you’re vision impaired. We’re in an age of touch screens and smart surfaces, but they really don’t need to be so ubiquitous, as these technologies can be difficult to maneuver later in life.

Despite the realities of aging in America, there’s a lot to look forward to when we hit our golden years–your life is enriched by a decades of experiences, successes, and stories of perseverance. But, like most things in life, the road ahead isn’t straight and narrow. Some things we can control–and, well, some we can’t. So when it comes to your home, we hope you take control, ensuring your space is comfortable and, above all, safe. If you have ability to map your future under your own roof, it’s important, both financially and emotionally, to build with an eye toward tomorrow. helping you to invest in your future wellbeing.

About Us

Bolster is a data-driven team of experts on a mission to eliminate risk from major home renovations by being radically transparent across everything we do. We hire the industry’s best talent and use a continual improvement process to financially guarantee that your major home renovation is designed and built beautifully, on-time and on-budget. From the first sketch to the final handshake, our homeowners know the cost of every line item and have full visibility into project milestones.