Sun, Feb 22, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Let old age come: She’s all set

Cynthia Leibrock, a leading proponent of Aging in Place, shows how homes should be built so owners can continue to live in them despite age-related problems

By Joyce Walder  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LIVERMORE, COLORADO

(This, it turns out, is a bit of cheerleader hyperbole: It does not mean that 60 different designs of Leibrock’s have been published — in fact, her own house has never been published — but that images of details she has designed have appeared in print frequently.)

Agingbeautifully.org/ranch, Leibrock’s Web site, features the sort of portrait you’d expect of a plastic surgeon rather than a woman who has consulted on accessibility standards for the US Air Force. At 60, she is in admirable shape. Miss the turn for her house and she gets on her US$5,000 custom Dean titanium bike to round you up, already suited up in her cold-weather gear for her customary morning ride. The fact that a bike is unlikely to overtake the reporter’s Hummer is not a deterrent. Leibrock is one determined gal.

She also has great sound bites, which she points out, lest a reporter, lulled into soporific indifference by the music of the Spa channel and the Feng Shui Pure 2 fountain at her home, miss them.

“I’ve got a great one-liner for you,” Leibrock says. “The line is, ‘I want people to know no matter whether they have mental or physical disabilities’ — change that word to differences — ‘they are only disabled if they can’t do what they want to do. Architecture can eliminate disability by design.’ You see my point. If you are in a house where you can do what you want to do, you’re not disabled anymore.”

And a little later: “Could you mention agingbeautifully.org in the story?” she says.

Leibrock is aging awfully well herself. Has she had any work?

“I’m not telling you,” she says.

But after a little nudging: “I had a peel. And one Botox, about four shots a year. I wanted to look better, not younger,” she says.

And in a note, later: “I forgot one thing. When they did my peel, they took out a fat pocket below each lower lid,” she wrote.

But she has a spiritual side as well.

“I designed a kitchen with Julia Child for an exhibit at the Smithsonian,” Leibrock says. “I’ve been teaching at Harvard for 18 years. This doesn’t happen to an interior designer from Pocatello, Idaho, but it happened to me, because I’ve maintained a very tight sense of mission. It’s my faith that drives me, my prayer time. I’m a very organized pray-er. I journal, I write a letter to God every morning.”

The hillside home Leibrock shares with her husband, Frank, a retired engineer, is not wheelchair accessible, but it is wheelchair adaptable, Leibrock says.

Designing a home with an eye toward easy renovation is key to aging in place.

And while she used high-end appliances and furnishings, she says that universal design need not be expensive. Her Gaggenau induction cooktop would sell for US$5,600, but one could buy an induction cooktop by Hob for US$680, she says.

Nonetheless, she can’t help but point out the quartersawn maple woodwork in her husband’s den. With two Murphy beds and a barrier-free bathroom that has a wheelchair accessible toilet in the shower, it could easily be converted to a suite for someone who is wheelchair dependent.

There are no grab bars in the bathroom, but if the day comes when they’re needed, it will be easy enough to install them, because beneath the Ann Sachs tiles, the bathroom walls have been reinforced with 3/4-inch (1.9cm) plywood.

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