Design & DIY

Essential upgrades for cottagers heading into their golden years

Retired couple

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Are some of the cottagers in your clan heading into their golden years? Easy, inexpensive upgrades can help prolong their time at the lake.


Illuminate pathways with solar lights or line them with bark-on birch logs. Use white paint or glow-in-the-dark markers to highlight protruding rocks and roots. Paint the edges of steps with a contrasting colour. Inside the cottage, change small, toggle-style light switches to wide “rocker” ones. Motion-sensing light switches are ideal for entrances and routes to the bathroom.


Area rugs and mats are tripping hazards, especially for seniors. Randy Burke of Gilbert + Burke Design/Build/Remodel recommends wood floors with a “not too glossy” finish. “There are also non-slip products, like sheet vinyl or porcelain tiles, for entryways, bathrooms, and mud rooms.”

Hand grips

Install railings and grab bars at entrances (especially beside steps), dockside to improve access to watercraft, beside toilets and inside showers, and even beside beds. Remember, though, “a grab bar is only as good as its anchor point. If it’s not installed into solid wood blocking that’s behind the wall, it’s more of a hazard than a help,” cautions Burke. If you can’t attach a grab bar to studs, you’ll have to open up the wall to install wood blocking.

Kitchen and bath

Boost kitchen safety by lowering cupboards so they’re easier to reach. In the bathroom, install a raised “comfort height” toilet. A stool or bath seat in the shower, plus a hand-held shower head, can make bathing easier. Throughout the cottage, replace knob-style taps and round doorknobs with levers.


People often don’t consider what life may be like in 15 or 20 years, says Burke. Start planning for cottage accessibility when you’re doing maintenance, a remodel, or repairs: widen doorways and hallways, aim for a five-foot turning radius in the bathroom and the kitchen, and keep floors step-free.