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Designing Homes to Help Prevent Injuries : Architecture, Interior Design That Focus on Special Needs of the Very Young and Elderly

September 17, 1989|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

Teo Van Runkle is a pint-sized explorer who is curious about everything.

Like other 1-year-olds, he is acquiring new physical, social and mental skills and is entering the most accident-prone stage of his life.

"Teo is a climber. He's fascinated with electrical cords and with the process of plugging them into walls," said his mother, architect Lise Matthews. "He's absolutely fearless."

At the opposite end of the life cycle, Stephanie Siems, 83, while physically and mentally fit, admits she's begun to "taper down" on some activities.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 24, 1989 Home Edition Real Estate Part 8 Page 4 Column 2 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Designing safe homes--A story Sept. 17 on houses that meet the safety needs of children and seniors incorrectly stated the name of Janet Witkin, the director of Alternative Living for the Aging.

"I don't use a cane or suffer from dizzy spells like some of my friends, but I don't see as well as I used to," said Siems, who lives in a co-op house managed as a pilot project by Alternative Living for the Aging.

"As we grow older, we need to feel secure about where we live," Siems said.

National Safety Council statistics show that among Americans 65 and older preventable injuries are the sixth leading cause of death.

"And they account for nearly half of all deaths of children," Nina Moroz said in a telephone interview from NSC headquarters in Chicago. "The old and the very young are always the most vulnerable."

Increasingly aware of these statistics, more homeowners are beginning to make improvements that can reduce the number of accident deaths and injuries in the home.

Similarly, more and more architects and interior designers are creating home environments that focus on the special needs of seniors and children.

The National Institute of Children's Environments (NICE), a chapter of the National Child Safety Council, recently selected three architects to design child-safe model homes for California Showcase '89 at Calabasas Park Estates, a project by Saddletree Development Co. scheduled to open today.

Architects Matthews, Bahram Nashat and Barry Robles have paid particular attention to the design of staircases, electrical outlets, swimming pools, fireplaces, landscaping and safe furniture.

The primary safety objective of these homes, a NICE spokesman said, is to demonstrate injury prevention in major risk areas, such as burns, drownings, falls, poisonings and chokings.

The 4,500- to 6,500-square-foot, $1.5-million model homes are equipped with about 200 child-proof features and products designed to help prevent child injuries, such as rounded wall corners, high windows on upper floors, drawer stops, oven doors placed out of a child's reach and fire retardant window treatments.

Child-safe exterior improvements include low-toxicity trees and shrubs, non-protruding sprinkler heads and gas shut-off valves that are also out of the reach of children.

Matthews, who heads her own Venice-based architectural firm, noted that falls are the leading cause of children's accidents in the home.

"If a child topples down a straight run of stairs, that fall could do a lot of damage. A safe home would incorporate intermediate landings, a second handrail at child's height and steps that are covered with low-pile carpeting to help soften a fall."

Drowning is another common home accident.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 236 children under age 5 drowned in back-yard swimming pools in 1986. And in the same year, 3,000 children under 5 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for submersion accidents.

"Studies we conducted in Arizona, California and Florida for that year showed that 75% of the victims of drowning or submersion accidents were between the ages of 12 and 35 months of age," said Rosario Quintanilla, public affairs spokesperson for the commission, adding that 65% of the accidents occurred in the pool owned by the child's family.

Quintanilla cautions parents never to leave a child in a tub unattended, not even to answer a phone or grab a towel, and warns that young children have frequently fallen into toilet bowls and drowned.

The California Showcase units demonstrate three separate safety pool options, where security is provided either at the windows and doors of a house, with a fence surrounding a pool or a cover on the pool surface that can be locked.

Nashat, a Woodland Hills architect, said most features in the child-safety model homes are mandatory under current building codes. "What I have done is to emphasize and define some of these requirements," he said.

Nashat's preference is for parapet walls on galleries and balconies instead of railings where a child might get caught. He has also created a greenhouse balcony as a interior/exterior environment where a child can play more safely.

Robles, a Westlake Village-based architect, believes less attention has been paid to the safety needs of children than to the needs of the elderly and handicapped.

'Needs of Children'

"In my work I tend to focus on the needs of children," Robles said. "Sometimes the precautions are fairly simple to follow. Some electrical safeguards include using polarized plugs for all lamps and appliances, and providing GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) for interior as well as exterior use."

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