A frequent query sent into Dwell Letters is about accessibility and universal design in modern houses. Here, we've gathered a few stories from past issues that show how architects and designers have approached the design challenge. For more on the subject, read our 101 guide to Universal Design.
Brod Hart’s home in London’s Finsbury Park neighborhood is hidden away on a quiet street filled with the typical Victorian houses that populate the area. But behind the large steel doors that shield it from view stands what once began as stables, later served as a piano factory, and finally was converted to a wheelchair-accessible private residence. Hart managed the renovation himself and lived on-site during the process, which was challenging. His clever DIY skills and design tricks paid off: The end result is an industrial-chic modern house, fully accessible to wheelchair users. Brod designed the pulley himself, essentially a personal elevator, using nothing but cantilevered body weight to hoist him up and down within seconds. Photo by: Andrea Bakcas
“The layout of mid-century houses are generally favorable for wheelchair users,” says architect Carol Sundstrom. Even so, she had to make difficult, but necessary decisions on renovating a 1950s house in Seattle, such as eliminating the dominant, original fireplace to make way for a family room and to better utilize the home’s 2,000 square feet, especially those areas that would be accommodating two wheelchairs. The kitchen, once a tight fit for even one person, was completely reworked to cater to any user, and now has four different counter heights, a side-opening oven, smart cabinets and extra room in front of the sink. Still, the general footprint was left intact.
Nestled in an apple grove in Sebastopol, California, the Orchard House is a rural idyll. First and foremost, the house had to be completely accessible to teenager Ian, who gets around in a power wheelchair. The house is wheelchair accessible both inside and out. Smooth pavement extends through a carport and covered walkway to a separate wing. “Ian can go from his bedroom all the way to mine in his wheelchair,” resident Vikki Kinmont, Ian's grandmother, says. “It’s phenomenal.”
A devastating accident could have made Murray Siple a bitter man. Instead, he decided to renovate a house. The result is a masterful achievement of modern design that has allowed the filmmaker to reclaim his life. Meal prep is simplified for Siple. All the cabinets are easy to open, there’s space under the cooktop for his wheelchair, and a faucet over the range removes the need to haul pots to the sink for filling. Photo by: Misha Gravenor
When David Carmel decided to propose to Kirsten Axelsen, he was at home in Manhattan and she was in Ethiopia, working to eliminate trachoma (the world’s leading cause of preventable blindness). No problem: David flew 7,000 miles to pop the question at a restaurant in Addis Ababa. A year and a trip to the altar later, the Carmels now live in a Chelsea apartment that’s designed in part to make it easy for David to get around in a wheelchair; a diving accident eight years ago left him paralyzed from the waist down. Photo by: Raimund Koch