Bernice Baron has a multi-award-winning home ready and waiting for her. She’s just not ready to move in yet.

The 94-year-old is still hanging onto the house she’s inhabited for 60 years, but will eventually migrate to the “bungalow in a basement” that her son Gordon Baron, founder and president of Lifestyles By Barons custom home renovation company, built for her in his own home.

Baron shows how the suite's stove activates the ovehead exhaust vent to automatically turn on and off.

“Many of our clients are seniors, so we’re doing a lot of renovations that will allow them to avoid institutional living. This requires creative thinking and the right features that offer the same safety precautions of a long-term care home. This was an opportunity to do this for my own mother,” said Gordon.

The renovation received the award for most unique personalization of space, recognizing the most creative and innovative adaptation of existing space to suit the lifestyle and demands of the homeowners, at this year’s BILD Renovation and Custom Home Awards. It also won awards for best basement renovation over $125,000 and best innovative renovation.

The show-stopping results serve as an ideal sanctuary for a senior citizen to age in place.

The pantry's shelves are accessible and illuminated, and a freezer drawer is hidden behind cabinet doors at the bottom.

Gordon and his team dug out the 1,300-sq.-ft. basement of his Georgetown home to transform it from a drab, dark space into a light-filled, two-bedroom home with seven-foot windows, 10-foot ceilings, radiant heating throughout and a barrier-free entry at the back and front of the house. Then he tricked it out with virtually every aging-in-place innovation imaginable.

When Bernice moves in, her risk of falling in the bathroom will be minimal thanks to functional design details that include LED floor lighting along the perimeter of the room. All she has to do is touch the countertop to turn on or dim the lighting. And if she touches the cabinet above the toilet, it will trigger light there, too.

The chromatherapy tub, complete with body jets and spray arms, doubles as a bench that allows her to be seated while she showers, and the reinforced stone on the wall is designed to serve as grab bars to get in and out. She can also use the shelving within the tub area as a seat. The floor is inlaid with soft pebbles that don’t get slippery when wet. A frosted window above the door allows natural light to spill into the bathroom and the adjacent laundry room.

Floor-to-ceiling windows lend natural light to the suite. "The goal of the whole space was to make everyone forget it is, technically, a basement and to provide a safe, barrier-free home for my mom," says Gordon Baron with his mom Bernice.

“We looked at all the ways we could make the bathroom safe without feeling institutional,” said Gordon.

Even cleaning is easy. Gordon recessed central vacuum into the frame of the house. Rather than drag the hose around, Bernice can pull it out of the wall. It automatically coils back in with the push of a button.

“This is something that has to be done when you’re gutting a place. It’s not possible to do when retrofitting,” said Gordon.

Kitchen utensils are close at hand in a pull-out organizer.

He had his mom’s interests in mind as he designed the kitchen, including a pantry with 11-inch-deep, floor-to-ceiling shelving that provides easy viewing of Bernice’s inventory.

“My mom is a Costco fanatic but it’s miserable finding things in a small closet. We took a small space and designed it like a grocery store so she can easily access all the dry goods. Every shelf is lit up. In the bottom, we added a hidden freezer drawer.”

Built-in cabinetry beside the kitchen showcases two wine fridges and stores all the glassware and dinnerware typically found in a cumbersome china hutch.

Baron demonstrates how hidden lights turn on by touching the wooden mantle over the fireplace.

The kitchen serves multiple functions as a place to cook, entertain and dine. Just like the bathroom, it has kick lighting along the floor. All cabinetry and even the fridge and freezer can be opened with just a push of the finger — no need to grip hardware. The appliances have been strategically lifted so Bernice doesn’t have to bend down.

“She’s got a steamer, fryer, microwave and full-size convection oven all easily accessible. The gas Dacor stove is connected to the exhaust system by Bluetooth so when she uses it, the exhaust is immediately turned on. When she turns off the burners, the exhaust is automatically turned off. It makes cooking foolproof,” said Gordon.

Behind the seamless marble backsplash is a custom LED light panel that can glow in a variety of colours. The glass shelves also feature light channels for a more diffused lighting effect.

Lights in the bathroom turn on with a touch to the countertop or cabinet over the toilet. The tub doubles as a bench for seated showers and the tub floor is inlaid with soft pebbles that don't get slippery when wet.

A smooth wooden column conceals more pantry space while anchoring the peninsula, which is a workspace, seats six and serves as a transition to the living area where a natural stone fireplace takes centre stage. Bernice can turn on hidden lights by touching the mantle.

Floor-to-ceiling windows that usher the sunshine into the seating area and dining room are a marked improvement over the basement’s original turret windows.

“The goal of the whole space was to make everyone forget it is, technically, a basement and to provide a safe, barrier-free home for my mom. When she gets in bed, she can close all the blinds and turn off all lights with the touch of a button.”

A touch of button closes all blinds and turns off lights in the bedroom.

While Bernice gradually transitions to her new home, Gordon and his team are using the space as a showcase to demonstrate to clients what an aging-in-place home can look like.

“I wanted to create a space for my mother where she could maintain her dignity and independence while still living with the safety of family around her. I didn’t want her living in a basement, so we made every effort to make it feel like she’s in a high-end condo at ground level. I think we accomplished that,” said Gordon.


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