Home & Garden

Finishes for Safe and Healthy Living


By Janet Armstrong, Accredited Interior Designer, CAPS

Linen is a popular upholstery choice due to its comfort and low maintenance. Photo: West Elm

Many of us want to remain in our homes and fortunately there is new research into the requirements for safety, support and comfort. There are also new products coming to market every year that support this goal in spite of the challenges of changing health. I previously wrote about some modifications that can be made to support changes to mobility, cognition, vision and auditory function.

In addition to modifications that improve the functions of daily living, there are easy-maintenance finishes available that will enhance your safety. They are also stylish, attractive and don’t look like “an old person lives here,” as one of my clients stated.


Non-slip flooring throughout your home is key, regardless of your health concerns. The rate of falls increases after age 65, with one in three seniors over age 65 falling. There are various reasons for this, but removing slippery flooring helps reduce the risk. The most popular non-slip flooring is luxury vinyl tile. LVT is now available in various sizes, colours and visual textures. The tile is waterproof, stain resistant, soft, warm to walk on and insulates sound. The waterproof property of this product makes it ideal for kitchens, bathrooms and entrances; the softness and warmth make it easy on the joints when standing at the counter preparing meals or cleaning up afterwards. The cost of this product is attractive, too, compared to other flooring options and it can be installed with or without grout.

Quartz is a durable counter material available in a wide range of colours. Photo: Simply Swank Decor

Counter Materials

When looking for counter finishes for your kitchen, bathroom or laundry room, there are a number of products available on the market. While most come in a range of colours that allow for contrast, key considerations in making your choice include durability and ease of maintenance. These are some of the most popular choices:

-Granite is available in a wide range of colours, including blues, browns, reds, mottled whites and black. Durable and heat resistant, tt has minimal to no visible seams. This product is expensive, though. It is also porous, so it will chip, pit and it must be sealed to resist stains and not allow bacteria to penetrate.

-Quartz is an engineered product that uses natural stone and resins to produce a surface in a wide range of colours. Similar in appearance to granite, quartz is a harder product. Low maintenance and very durable, it is not porous so you can keep your counters relatively bacteria-free. The downside of quartz is that scratches are visible and it is not heat resistant due to the resins in it.

-Solid surface counters are manufactured from dense acrylic, polyester or a blend of the two. Common brand names include Corian, Gibraltar, and Avonite. There is also a new, eco-friendly option called Paperstone that is manufactured from recycled paper and non-petroleum resins. The seams are fused to make undetectable joints, which works well if you require a large counter or a long section of countertop. Solid surface is low maintenance, non-porous and available in a wide variety of colours and patterns. It is also repairable. Like quartz, solid surface counters are not heat resistant and will show scratches.

Luxury Vinyl Tile is an ideal product for damp and wet areas of your home. Photo: Simply Swank Decor

Upholstery Fabrics

In terms of furniture, while durability, stain resistance and ease of maintenance are important considerations, you also want a fabric that is soft, comfortable and allows for ease of movement. Linen is a good choice, as it is durable, sustainable, breathable and antimicrobial. In addition, it is hypoallergenic, less prone to pilling and soft, making it comfortable.

Cotton is popular as well, due to its comfort, durability, ease of cleaning and the fact that it doesn’t retain odours.  While polyester is more prone to pilling than other materials, it can still be a good choice as it is water repellent, fade resistant and it dries quickly. Polyester upholstery is a very durable choice, standing up to regular use and still looking as good as new.

Another highly durable option is microfiber, a synthetic fabric that is stain and wear resistant and easy to clean and maintain. It is a soft fabric and because of its weave, it does not pill easily and it is very comfortable.

While selecting finishes for your home, assess who will use the various spaces, how often and what accommodation for health challenges may be needed. The availability of a wide range of surface options—in flooring, countertops and fabrics—will ensure you can prioritize comfort and safety while also creating a functional and stylish home.

Janet Armstrong (www.simplyswankdecor.ca) is a graduate of the Interior Design Institute of Canada, CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) and past chair of the Decorators and Designers Association of Canada (DDA Canada).