A Modest Home Renovation for a Disabled Client and Her Sister

This 1950s house in a modest neighborhood. It is not typical of the remodeling projects we typically work on. Many homeowners of similar properties are not willing to put the necessary amount of money into a house of this age and location to do a remodel as extensive as we completed. However this is not a typical situation. Our clients are two sisters who have lived together for a number of years. One of them is a veteran and has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Her ALS is rapidly progressing and it has made using a standard stairway or bathtub difficult, headed toward impossible. A grant was made available through Veterans’ Affairs to help pay for this home remodel. 

This aging-in-place remodeling project included a redesigned kitchen, a wheelchair accessible bathroom and ADA compliant bedroom and a new deck with wheelchair ramp. This project presented a handful of challenges in a house that doesn’t normally get the opportunity for a remodel. We are proud of the problem solving solutions the team was able to create, and look forward to the homeowners enjoying their new spaces independently and happily.

This is a NARI Madison CotY Award winning project for Universal Design.

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A New ADA Compliant Deck, Wheelchair Ramp and Stairway

We added a deck across the entire back of the home with a ramp leading to the driveway and built a roof over the deck, creating a covered back porch. The requirements for this project required the home become ADA accessible in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. This required installing a door from the bedroom out to the back deck and ramp. Additional doorways in the bedroom and bathroom were widened.

The porch, deck, and ramp actually provide a stunning new image of the back of the house. There are two exterior doors; One for the kitchen and a door for the bedroom. The door from the kitchen will become the door that is primarily used by both homeowners for entering the home on a daily basis. A set of stairs provides quick access to the deck. It is adjacent to a u-shaped wheelchair ramp. The ramp was required by the Veterans Administration. The 1 and 12 slope at an 8%  was necessary due to the change in elevation between the driveway and the main floor of the house.

Kitchen Redesign and Remodel

The kitchen was to rotated 90 degrees. This provided more usable floor space that allowed the build of a modern version of a galley kitchen. An exterior a door limited cabinetry to only one wall. The door was eliminated redirecting foot traffic to the back of the house, and allowed for the creation of two walls of cabinetry.  Pantry cabinets, the refrigerator, are placed on one wall while the range, sink and window occupy the other wall. The previous kitchen did not have enough storage space.  Many pantry items were placed in the basement requiring the use of stairs don't meet today's codes. The new pantry cabinet makes all of their kitchen items accessible where they need them.

While the kitchen itself is not a 100 percent accessible, certain provisions were made: microwave moved to the countertop, the location of certain electrical outlets, and use of rollouts and drawers in the lower cabinets. A new side-by-side refrigerator was also chosen by the clients. A clean modern slab door was also chosen, mimicking the original cabinets from the 1950s which had a flush slab door with an eased edge.

Accessible Bathroom Design

More space was needed to make the bathroom accessible and the bedroom doors wider. The bathtub was converted into a shower, using a different technique than we normally follow. Typically when building a new house or building an addition, we drop the floor to make it level allowing for a roll-in shower with no curb. In remodeling, we generally install a small curb that is approximately 3 inches high and is easy enough for the average person to step over. ADA requirements meant the bathroom needed to accommodate a 4x5 wheelchair-accessible area.

The wet area of the shower extends beyond the typical 30 inch-wide bathtub and out into the main floor area of the bathroom. The entire floor of the bathroom was waterproofed. In ordinary circumstances, only the 36 inch x 60 inch area of the shower would be used, with a shower curtain confining the water to that area.  A linear shower drain going across the length of the shower provides a beautiful detail in the floor. The shower slopes from back to front to provide as much slope as possible. Beyond the linear shower drain in the main floor area of the bathroom, water will need to be squeegeed or towel-dried. However it is waterproofed in a way that no damage will be done. This methodology was necessary to accommodate the 4x5 area requirement without breaking the budget by framing the floor under that area.

The bathroom was designed to accommodate a caretaker to assist her with activities of daily living if necessary. Space was taken from the bedroom and the hallway was reconfigured to accommodate larger 36" bathroom and bedroom doors. The hallway now allows for the turning radius of a wheelchair. A pedestal sink was chosen as allowed by the ADA rules for an accessible sink, appropriate to the size of the bathroom and allowing for the floor to get wet. The pedestal also allows a wheelchair to roll under it.

The shower was built using a new product called Choreograph by Kohler Co. In its basic form, it is less expensive than tile and provides the versatility of a built-in shelf system. However the more decorative the product, the more expensive, quickly matching the price of a tile shower. The textures available for the premium Choreograph are unique, and make a design statement different than tile showers. The handrails on the shower grab bars are also ADA compliant and are set at a height that also accommodates her abilities.

Award-Winning Project

We are honored that this home received a NARI Madison CotY award in the category of Universal Design.

While the house is very modest, it is truly a life-changing remodeling project. Being able to help a client who has changing needs due to to a progressive medical condition is something to be proud of. Thanks to the changes made in this home, our client can sit on her covered porch in comfort, enjoy the backyard, and do tasks of everyday living. Not every project is about glitz and glamour, and this is the type of project that makes life better. We are proud to present it in our portfolio.
— Abe Degnan