That was a different time in more than just the calendar. People lived differently, building products and furnishings were different, people had different needs and requirements, and they had different expectations from what they wanted and demanded from their homes.
Compared to today, people had fewer design choices in terms of the types of doors, cabinetry, countertops, hardware, lighting, flooring, finishes, appliances, and fixtures. The lever handle was non-existent. The barn door concept was not available although pocket doors were used.
The countertops were mostly laminate - not the granite, quartz, onyx, glass, copper, concrete, ceramic, and other choices available today. Clearly, LED lighting had not been created so ceiling fixtures were located in the middle of most rooms with incandescent bulbs as the norm. Fluorescent bulbs were used in some kitchens, closets, and bathrooms. In general, homes were not as well lit as they can be today, and it was much less energy-efficient to keep the lights on.
Older homes had narrower doorways and hallways because of the economy or space and because people just didn't require them to be any larger than they were. Walkers didn't exist as we know them today until the 1970s so mobility was different in that era. People generally weren't as large physically as we see today. Also, people didn't necessarily expect to remain in their homes as they aged as much as we do today although many aging parents moved in with their adult children and grandchildren.
Air conditioning was not original equipment in these homes. Window units or central air may have been added, but the homes did not come this way because the technology was not there. There are still homes of this vintage without central air conditioning.
Of course, electricity requirements were much different then also. In addition to air conditioning not being available in most homes, technology did not exist like today so there were no home computers, copiers, digital TVs, gaming stations, surround sound systems, security systems, and other low-voltage products. Obviously, there was no Wi-Fi although that easily could have been added.
Electrical service generally was 60 amp service as compared with 200-400 today. Portable hair dryers, microwaves, toaster ovens, pool or spa heaters or pumps, clothes dryers, ranges, and many other electrical appliances weren't available then so the electrical demand wasn't required either. Rather than the breaker panels that are commonplace today, fuse boxes with glass fuses were what was used.
There are so many opportunities to widen doorways and hallways, replace windows and inadequate lighting fixtures, redo kitchens and baths, and focus on other areas of the home, that we can make a huge difference in the way people live in and enjoy these older homes - before we even look at any specific physical needs or requirements they may have themselves.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.