PegasusLife has hired award-winning architect Sarah Wrigglesworth to incorporate wellbeing in the designs of its over-50s developments. JANE SLADE went to meet her to discover her secret formula

Designing homes for older people is not just about bricks and mortar. As with other age groups, the over 50s are just as discerning about the kind of homes they want to live in, but they want something extra — attention to their wellbeing.

It was after award-winning architect Sarah Wrigglesworth witnessed the demise of her parents that she established herself as a later-life architect and set up Dwell: Designs for Wellbeing in the Environment in Later Life.

To achieve the right design one has to imagine how the home will be used she says. “We have to put ourselves in the user’s shoes looking at how people will use the property at different times of day and night, and in various weather conditions,” Sarah explains. “We have to take into considerations people’s health conditions; and whether they can they see and hear.

“Accessibility, open spaces and wellbeing are all important but it is also vital for the user to have autonomy and independence.”

Unusually perhaps, steps and stairs are an important element in Sarah’s designs. “They are good for keeping fit,” she asserts. Obviously lifts are included but it’s all about creating a balance and having, what she terms, ‘a rich mix.’

“We are not designing care homes but places that look no different from traditional properties. However we need to acknowledge issues such as isolation, which is a killer, and consider this in the design. PegasusLife really understands the importance of this focus on people’s wellbeing unlike a lot of other developers.

“We need to build places where people can socialize if they want to and not if they don’t want to. There are lots of models where people can live communally or not; and choosing sites within five minutes of friends and shops or in a more rural setting.

“We are about creating communities through co-housing. We focus on size, good lighting, heating, insulation, and energy efficiency.

“Lots of daylight is important especially if people have failing eyesight. The apartments also have to be big enough so a wheelchair can turn – there must also be room for kit and mobility aids and walk-in bathrooms. But you don’t want an  environment that looks medical.”

Technology is important too as Sarah acknowledges, but she argues that some schemes focus more in the IT capability than how easy it is to operate. “Remotes need to be designed for people who have arthritis, or Parkinson’s or can’t see what’s on the buttons. They are improving but a lot more needs to be done.”

Quality developers like PegasusLife are incorporating the concept of wellbeing into their design strategies. “They are enlightened about design and really care about people and are prepared to be innovative,” adds Sarah whose practice, Sarah Wrigglesworth Architects, is in North London.

“The 50 plus age group comprises a massive range of people with a variety of expectations but with one issue in common – they are looking for homes that are future proof and can be adapted to accommodate them and or their partner when they are less able.”

Shell Cove, PegasusLife’s project in South Devon will have everything in the right place Sarah argues.

“The space size will be right, there will be lots of daylight, interconnecting rooms, views; sliding doors so rooms become interlinked and if you fall or are ill you can still participate in a social function from your bed.”

Sarah cautions buyers to check on these elements as well as access and size of communal spaces when buying a retirement property.

“I went to see some apartments from another developer and they had an eight-inch step to access the garden – shocking. The apartments were also long and thin with double-loaded corridors – flats on both sides, so there was no daylight or outside air.

“Poor lighting means lights have to be kept on all day and night which can be expensive and long dark corridors also tend to overheat and don’t inspire residents to stop and chat to each other.

“Corridors need to be well lit with cross ventilation, and with a deck or balcony to create a social area. It’s about making wellbeing as important as bricks and mortar when it comes to design.”

Shell Cove is still in the planning stage at the moment but the plan is to break ground at the end of the summer. Apartments will incorporate shaded balconies with views of a crescent beach, which will be accessed directly from the residence.

“It really is a beautiful site,” adds Sarah, who is also focussed on the landscaping.

“We start with the landscape and look at what local conditions tell us,” she explains. “We found out what the geological and agrarian opportunities are?

“We work with the environment that is there. We examine what plants and flowers are growing, which will define the plants we will use.”

Even the history of the site is taken into consideration.

PegasusLife Shell Cove

Dawlish, South Devon

Shell Cove used to be a manor house with a lovely red brick walled garden with old apple trees.

So the plan is to retain the atmosphere and plant more apples trees local to the Devon area and create an event round them that can involve the residents such as cider making.

Unfortunately the original manor house is being replaced as it has become so altered, recently being converted into holiday cottages.

“We will house 16 apartments in the new scheme which will be just as lovely and have beautiful sea views,” Sarah insists.

For more information about Shell Cove and other developments from PegasusLife please visit www.pegasuslife.co.uk