Melanie Maher and her husband, David, understand firsthand how the built environment can pose challenges to a wheelchair user. Melanie, who has muscular dystrophy, had grown accustomed to encountering obstacles with her motorized chair both at home and in the community. As the couple began thinking about building a multigenerational house in Northern California’s Livermore Valley, their goal was clear. As David recalls: "We decided it would be nice to design a place that didn’t require us to make so many compromises." Enter Erick Mikiten. Raised in Texas, the Berkeley-based architect is a proponent of universally designed environments that are usable by all. That Mikiten is also a wheelchair user mattered less to the Mahers than his ability to understand and articulate their vision. Seeking to accommodate Melanie’s disability without resorting to what he calls "institutional products," Mikiten gave his clients an accessible kitchen, room for both extended family and a caregiver, and the ability to move between indoors and out without having to negotiate a single barrier. With a street facade that evokes a barn and contemporary standing-seam metal siding facing the surrounding vineyards, the 5,100-square-foot house was carefully sited and built using structural insulated panels, or SIPs, for maximum energy-efficiency. "They came to me thinking they’d get a solid, accessible home," Mikiten says. "They weren’t expecting an architectural expression."
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