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7 DIY Ideas for Your Forever Home

Home improvement stars reveal their favorite projects to help you age in place

home renovation personality ty pennington and a house front entraceway

Courtesy Ty Pennington / Lisa Romerein/OTTO (Photo retouching by Chris O’Riley; Jeff Elkins (2))

Ty Pennington, designer, carpenter, author and host of HGTV’s Battle on the Beach

En español | Yes, we were stuck at home for much of the past year and a half, but that doesn't mean we just couch-potatoed. At some points during the pandemic, nearly 80 percent of homeowners were braving a DIY home project — a replacement, maintenance job, repair or remodel — a Harvard University report revealed. There's no hard data on the results, but we're guessing it's somewhere between “Look what I built!” and “Maybe you should call a plumber.”

For older Americans, making improvements isn't merely a COVID-era trend. Being able to adapt your home to fit your changing needs and circumstances is essential to living safely and comfortably now and over a lifetime. After all, the best way to remain at home tomorrow is to plan ahead today. With that in mind, AARP turned to the foremost experts in the U.S. (and in AARP) on upgrades, build-outs, organizing and aging-at-home design for do-it-yourself advice on stylish, innovative solutions for your forever home, plus, if the job gets beyond you, tips for hiring a contractor.

Project 1: Front entrance makeover

open can of blue paint with dopped brush laying atop it as seen from above

Getty Images/Image Source

"We want our homes to adapt to our needs so we can stay as many years as possible,” says Ty Pennington, designer, carpenter, author and host of HGTV's Battle on the Beach. That includes entrances and exits that allow a smooth transition in and out of the property. But that “doesn't mean you need to take a hit on curb appeal,” he says, noting that bold design statements start at the front door.

Try it yourself

"Painting your door with a pop of color — yellow, aubergine, orange or black — can make your house the most stylish one on the block,” Pennington says, “modern, sophisticated and clean.” It's inexpensive, and the good news is, “if you hate it, you can repaint it.” Make the entry functional, too. For older visitors and first responders, “it's nice to add large address numbers” made of reflective or glow-in-the-dark material, he says. Consider a new doorknob, too. Lever-style door handles are easier on the hands than a round knob or thumb latch.

Call in a pro

"Hiring an electrician to add lighting to your entrance and front steps might cost a little, but it feels like a million-dollar fix up,” says Pennington.

For now and forever

Lori Bellport, founder of Live in Place Designs, which helps people stay in their homes as they age, recommends putting a bench or table next to your front door for setting down items or for arriving deliveries. Also, “remove screen doors or storm doors, since that's just another barrier to accessibility,” she says. And front doors should be a minimum of 34 inches wide, with “swing clear” hinges to maximize the entry width.


Project 2: Closet cleanup

tom silva general contractor and star of this old house

Wendell T. Webber for This Old House

Tom Silva, general contractor and costar of PBS’ 'This Old House'

"Too cramped, poorly lit and sometimes even dangerous” is how Tom Silva, general contractor and costar of PBS’ This Old House, describes most people's closets after a lifetime of collecting stuff. But a few improvements can turn your clothes and linen closets, storage spaces and pantries into something worth showing off.

Try it yourself

"Think about what's not right with your current closet,” Silva says. Too much clutter? Set a 30-minute timer and make piles to keep, donate and ditch. Have trouble finding or reaching things? “Adding a double rod gives you twice as much hanging area, and you can hang things at your level.” Silva also recommends adding adjustable shelving (you can buy tracks for pullout shelves and sliding bins from the big hardware and organizing stores) for shoes, laundry and other items that often pile up on the closet floor. Inexpensive battery-powered puck lights or LED light strips under shelves help you tell black socks from brown and find that belt you need. A sturdy folding stepladder with handgrips gives you safer top-shelf access.

example of an organized closet with multi level hangar bars and shelves

Courtesy of California Closets

Call in a pro

"Hardwiring a closet with a sensor light or one that illuminates when the door opens will make you go, ‘Why didn't I do this years ago?’ “ Silva says. A licensed electrician can add recessed lights outside the closet to brighten the entire space. A high-tech motorized closet system — “picture your local dry cleaner,” Silva says — keeps everything neat and accessible at the push of a button.

For now and forever

"Closet doors can be awkward and heavy for older homeowners,” says Bellport, who recommends removing doors for universal access. Or a premium solution: Swap out doors with motorized window blinds that open on command.


Project 3: Simple bathroom

home decor expert nikki boyd

Courtesy Abby Murphy Stewart

Nikki Boyd, home decor expert, best-selling author of 'Beautifully Organized' and host of YouTube’s 'At Home With Nikki'

Bathroom safety grows ever more important as you age. But you also want your bathroom to “look great and be a true escape for me-me-me time,” says Nikki Boyd, home decor expert, best-selling author of Beautifully Organized and host of YouTube's At Home With Nikki. Major overhauls get pricey fast, but Boyd and her husband used their quarantine hiatus to upgrade their bathroom for just over $600.

Try it yourself

Rule number one with bathrooms: “Keep things minimal and bright,” Boyd says. White paint, white surfaces on different levels, and full-spectrum lighting along with large tiltable mirrors “make a bath seem bigger” and create a clean, safe environment for people of all heights and physical abilities. Instead of removing an old tub, Boyd updated theirs with white refinishing paint — kits online cost around $50 — that futurized the tub's throwback almond hue. They also painted a drab brown vanity white ("prime it first so the old color doesn't bleed through") and swapped out nubby knobs for chrome pull handles that are both chic and easier to grip. Even a new shower curtain can feel like a renovation. And handheld showers with adjustable height add splash and function if you ever need to sit while showering. Some come with a grab-bar rail system that mounts to the wall for safety. The final touch? Plants. “They create an oasis feeling that makes you go ‘Ah,’ “ she says.

product shot of a moen  grab bar with toilet paper holder for the bathroom

Courtesy Moen

Moen 8” Grab Bar with Paper Holder - Visit moen.com for where to buy.

Call in a pro

Talk to a contractor about a doorless no-step shower that turns the bathroom into a resort-like retreat that will always be accessible regardless of future mobility needs. “A rain showerhead installed in the ceiling — or, better yet, multiple showerheads — makes you feel like you're on vacation,” Boyd says. Built-in shower seating is luxurious today and practical for tomorrow. Still feeling flush? “Next upgrade, I'd spring for a fancy bidet toilet."

For now and forever

"A licensed contractor can install a toilet paper holder that's also a secret assist bar, and a towel bar that won't detach if you really grab it,” says Steve Cunningham, an aging-in-place specialist with the National Association of Home Builders, who also recommends a taller “comfort height” toilet that's easier to sit down on and get up from than standard commodes.


Project 4: Grownup fun zone

t v host tamara day

Courtesy Tamara Day

Tamara Day, designer and host of HGTV and DIY Network’s 'Bargain Mansions'

"Being stuck at home has been challenging in so many ways,” says Tamara Day, designer and host of HGTV and DIY Network's Bargain Mansions, “so why not focus on the joy?” A dedicated game area, she says, is “an instant happiness upgrade, no matter how old you are.” Whether it's for mah-jongg with friends, Connect 4 with the grandkids or solo puzzle making, “creating an inviting, beautiful space for games and playful competition adds the best kind of value to your home.”

Try it yourself

Most of us went months without pulling out fancy things for entertaining. Day took that as a cue to rethink the china cabinet. “Precious plates and crystal are nice, but where's the fun if they're gathering dust?” Instead, she says, clear part of a hutch or buffet for board games and cards. “Get rid of the ugly cardboard boxes, and put the game pieces in a beautiful storage bin made of bamboo or woven seagrass.” Or make the game the centerpiece. “For a puzzle or a big game like Monopoly or Scrabble, displaying it on a big gold tray on a table is aesthetically pleasing and an invitation to enjoy yourself.” Inflatable nonskid roll-up puzzle mats (around $10 on Amazon) let you save and are “true art pieces worth putting a frame around.” Day likes the wooden Palapeli jigsaw series from Curiosi, which are laser-cut with no straight edges.

grown up fun room with low bean bag chairs

Courtesy Paul Versluis

Call in a pro

With the help of a contractor, you can turn an awkward spot under, say, a bay window into “a sunny banquette with hinged padded seats that lift up to store games around a gaming table,” says Day, who also likes flip-top octagonal poker tables. “They're great for either a casual dinner or casino night, depending on how things roll,” she says.

For now and forever

"A lazy Susan in the center of a game table can help people with range-of-motion issues” — or buy deluxe edition game boards with built-in turntables, says aging-in-place expert Bellport. “Task lighting pointed directly on your playing area is a must for aging eyes, and it improves the look and feel of a space,” she says.


steve and leanne ford stand in a garden yard they designed

Courtesy ERIN KELLY

Leanne and Steve Ford, hosts of HGTV’s 'Home Again With the Fords'

Project 5: Anyone can garden

Older adults who gardened for two months during the COVID-19 lockdown reported much better health than those who did not, according to a study. Keep things growing by sprucing up your planting areas for many seasons of delicious returns. “Nothing feels better than slowing down, getting outside for sunshine and watching those vegetables grow,” says Leanne Ford, who with her brother, Steve, hosts HGTV's Home Again With the Fords.

Try it yourself

The Fords recently built garden boxes from scrap wood they salvaged from an old kitchen. “It's a very simple build with beautiful results,” Leanne reports. She and Steve installed four 6-by-9-foot boxes. After drilling in 3-inch deck screws to join the four sides, they treated the finished rectangular frames with water sealer, “to give the boxes a couple extra years.” The Fords dug up the grass, graded the surface and put down a weed barrier, to avoid growth where they didn't want shoots. “We staked the boxes into the ground at the four corners, filled them with dirt and put pea gravel around the outside of the boxes to create walkways that gave it a European feeling.”

Call in a pro

A landscaping company or handyperson can install an irrigation drip system to keep your plants watered on a timer. Or let a professional hang canopy shade sails overhead to keep you protected and cool in the midday sun. A fountain or other garden water feature creates a Zen ambience.

For now and forever

Bellport likes vertical and raised planters that enable greens keepers of all ages and heights to comfortably work. And benches in the garden give you places to rest and smell the roses.


Project 6: Pegs and hooks

liz marie galvan author of the book cozy white cottage

Courtesy Liz Marie Galvan

Liz Marie Galvan, author of the book 'Cozy White Cottage' and the upcoming 'Cozy White Cottage Seasons'

"Organizing any room is simple and elegant with attractive hooks or pegs,” says Liz Marie Galvan, author of the book Cozy White Cottage and the upcoming Cozy White Cottage Seasons. For older homeowners in particular, “it's a way to keep your things neat, at hand and safe."

Try it yourself

Start with a 1-by-4-inch board drilled with holes where you want the pegs, Galvan says, then anchor the board into studs. “To glam it up, paint it to complement your walls and add a 1-by-8-inch shelf on a pair of wooden corbels,” available at big-box stores. Depending on the location, “you can hang kitchen or bath items, like colanders or towels, copper pots, mudroom items or basically anything.”

Call in a pro

"A carpenter can help with trickier corner installation if you want to create attractive, usable space in a tight spot,” Galvan says, or need help securing, say, a large, heavy pegboard to the wall for flexible hook options.

a set of hanging hooks for bags hats and coats

Courtesy Liz Marie Galvan

For now and forever

For anyone with mobility or cognitive issues, Bellport recommends “caddies,” lidded containers or baskets that can be hung on a wall or moved as needed. “You can label them by task and can close them up and carry them."


Project 7: Firepits for all

ahmed hassan landscape designer and host of yard crashers

Taylor McMahon

Ahmed Hassan, landscape designer, builder and original host of the DIY Network’s 'Yard Crashers'

Even as COVID restrictions ease, we'll continue spending time outdoors. “Especially for older folks, gathering safely and comfortably with neighbors and friends in yards and outdoor spaces has been a true lifeline during the pandemic,” says Ahmed Hassan, landscape designer, builder and original host of the DIY Network's Yard Crashers, who suggests keeping the party going by installing a firepit.

Try it yourself

"They are easy to install and doable at any budget — literally from $6 to $6,000,” Hassan says. For $6, arrange 35 to 40 old bricks in a circle in your yard away from trees or brush, with bricks around the perimeter standing vertical and those in the center lying flat. Outline the circle with spray paint, dig a hole deep enough to contain your brick pattern, and place your bricks in the hole with landscaping pebbles to fill the gaps. For $60, put three layers of large firesafe stones or semi-round pavers in a circle and fill with lava rock. “Inspect for safety, call your friends, add wood and light a match,” Hassan says. For $600, order a chic freestanding Solo Stove or Breeo that uses air venting and double-wall convection for long, nearly smokeless burns.

beautifully appointed firepit surrounded by benches and chairs in a back yard covered patio area

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Call in a pro

With help, you can bring heat and style to any outdoor patio or backyard with a reinforced concrete “fire table” that matches the color and design of your house. “Connect it to a natural gas source so you never have to lift a match,” says Hassan.

For now and forever

Make sure people can safely get to and from the firepit. “Motion-sensing lights on a walkway turn off after a minute so you can enjoy the fire,” Bellport says. Instead of camping-type chairs, “use solid seating with armrests.” Weighted drink holders help secure drinks for grandparents and kids alike.


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This story, originally published Aug. 10, 2021, was corrected to say that Leanne and Steve Ford are siblings.

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