Think of accessible or universal design, and you might envision the winding ramps and institutional, impersonal designs of public spaces that seem incongruous with residential design. At its core, accessibility is about catering to the needs of anyone who lives, visits, or uses a space—viewed under this light, universal design is just like any other design problem out there, and can indeed result in beautiful, creative, uplifting homes.
Here, we highlight nine of our favorite homes, both renovations and ground-up residences, that champion accessible design.
After a tragic motorcycle accident, Derek and LeAnne Lavender were on the search for a home that could be easily renovated to accommodate the couple's needs. LeAnne says,
"It's amazing what you don't notice until you have no choice but to notice it. We had no idea how many homes built in the ‘80s had sunken family rooms, or all the bedrooms upstairs, which just wouldn’t work for us." After looking at more than 50 potential homes, they settled on a 1952 ranch-style home that had a lot of potential.
Courtesy of The Home Aesthetic
Architect Neal Schwartz was tasked with designing a family guesthouse with both an aging relative and a wheelchair user in mind; at a maximum size of 775 square feet per the local zoning regulations, the home would need to be a single-level structure but also deal with the connection between the main house and the guest house. The solution was a new garage with a breezeway that connected to the guest house, all at the same level, and with a sculptural opening in the roof of the breezeway for light and air.
As an architect who specializes in universal access design and ADA compliance and as a wheelchair user herself, Karen Braitmayer was no stranger to the challenges of accessible design. Although she had been able to take advantage of her 1954 home's single-level, open layout, as her daughter (also a wheelchair user) grew up, the family's accessibility needs also shifted. The main living area includes a more formal sitting area near the entrance, the dining area, Braitmayer’s workspace, and the kitchen—you can see the couple’s daughter working at the island. In the foreground is a pair of midcentury chairs; at left is a Heywood-Wakefield that Braitmayer found at an antiques shop. Seattle-based designer Lucy Johnson completed the interiors. The windows are from Lindal, and the exterior doors are from Marvin.
A long-term vision of the future was the approach taken by Kuklinski + Rappe Architects of Chicago, Illinois when a family of five with two wheelchair-using daughters approached the firm. The focus on the family's lifestyle and health and how they would grow over the years prompted a non-traditional layout centered around courtyards. The children's bedrooms have access to their own shared courtyard.
Tom Harris Photography
Universal design and affordability were uppermost in the minds of TJ Hill and Jay Heiserman when they asked Jared Levy and Gordon Stott of Connect Homes to replace their cramped bungalow with a modern prefab. Since the firm’s modules are eight feet wide, the house could only be 16 feet wide, but the architects used the remaining space for a large deck, creating a flexible and seamless first-floor plan.
After a tragic accident left one of his sons unable to walk and in a wheelchair, Ed Slattery wanted to create a sustainable and accessible home that didn't feeling like a hospital. Universal design features like drop-down mechanisms for the kitchen counters, a cooktop from Freedom Lift Systems, and smooth, barrier-free polished concrete floor make the space accessible, while warm materials like wood keep it feeling homey.
Photo: Ike Edeani
As the only handicap-accessible building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House (so named for the couple that lived there from 1952 until 2012) was completed in 1952 as one of the so-called Usonian homes. The couple married shortly before World War II, and Ken Laurent underwent surgery during his service in the Navy that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Wright listened closely to his clients' needs, featuring accessible design that were decades ahead of his time, including a lack of thresholds and floors that are level with the exterior ground for easy transitions between inside and outside. Wright designed much of the furniture in the house, including the built-in seating shown here.
Photo courtesy of Wright Auction House.
Finding a wheelchair accessible home in New York City can be a challenge, but after a diving accident left David Carmel paralyzed from the waist down, Carmel knew he was looking for a home that was "accessible but not institutional." Working with Della Valle Bernheimer, they made an apartment that is both beautiful and accessible, with a lightweight sliding wall that closes off the bedroom from the living area.
At a loft-cum-farmhouse in Sebastopol, California for a family transplanted from Manhattan, the home needed to be open, rustic, and able to accommodate a son who gets around in a power wheelchair. From the moment you enter the home, wide, generously sizes spaces welcome you, from the wide front door to an open, central living space where the entire family—and a regular cast of visitors—spends much of their time.
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