“In no way were the family’s aesthetics compromised by the accessible features.”
AGING IN PLACE
The above image shows the front of the three-story FAID home facing west toward the street.
Empty-nesters Peter and Alison Faid commissioned me to design their home in 2006, when they purchased a 33 ft. by 140 ft. lot in the same neighborhood they had lived in for 25 years. They wanted their new home to allow them to age in place. Experience had taught them the importance of an accessible home, making the principles of visitability important. Besides, Peter had a heart condition, which could make stairs a problem in the future. Not only did they want their home to be accessible but they wanted its beauty to reflect their style and taste. The three-level home sits on a narrow lot, and comes with an attached car garage in front and a walkout basement.
In keeping with the principles of visitability, they have no stairs at the front entrance of their home and minimal thresholds for all exterior doors, with level entry to the garage. The home is located in an inner-city community affording them better access to a greater host of neighborhood amenities. Inner-city development promotes a safer and a more positive and efficiently run city. One of the biggest myths about accessible design is that such structures will be ugly and costly utilitarian. This simply is not true.
The three key accessible design strategies in the Faid home was to incorporate a no-step entrance at the front door, an elevator to make vertical access accessible, and wet room designs for the bathroom areas.
This photograph represents the back perspective of the house, including a level deck and a walkout basement.
“We planned this house as an empty nester / retirement home – the trend these days is called aging in place. That’s why we have wide halls, an entrance at grade, lever handles, better lighting – and an elevator! We feel really lucky to be living in such a great place.”
–Alison & Peter Faid
The image beside shows the elevator, which provides easy access to all three levels of the house, with its door open, stopped on the main floor.
At least five feet of space in front of the elevator enables maneuverability for users in wheelchairs. The home’s stairway wraps around the elevator. Designed as short runs of five to six steps each, with sturdy handrails and step lights, the stairway provides for safe vertical travel by foot. The elevator as part of all of the accessible design features integrated into the house design made moving into the home simpler. To satisfy users with varying disabilities in the best way possible, the house features wider doorways (at least 36 inches wide) and decorative rocker-style light switches which can be operated with a wrist or elbow. Extra insulation in all walls provides better acoustics; color and textural contrast is provided to assist in wayfinding for persons with visual and cognitive difficulties.
“Although neither of us need the elevator to date, the elevator is great for moving things like groceries up to the second level or the basement. It was also extremely helpful when moving into the home because the movers were able to put all the appliances in the elevator, rather than carrying them up the stairs.”
The above floor plan illustrates the main living area, found on the top level and accessible to people of varying disabilities via the elevator.
In keeping with the principles of visitability, the hallway is at least 42 inches wide with a high brick red curved ceiling connecting the living / dining room and the kitchen. Red accents including pillows gathered in the Faids travels to Cambodia and Turkey integrate the space and provide punch. A bank of bright windows faces east and frames the gas fireplace. The living / dining room and kitchen are painted a soft sage green.
The above floor plan lays out the grade-level first floor of the house into which all guests enter through the front door. The broad entranceway incorporates a vestibule containing a bench on which visitors can sit while donning or doffing shoes. This level also contains Alison’s office (painted a pale mauve) and the master bedroom. Off the master bedroom is a bathroom (one of two full baths and one half bath) that serves as a symbol of the home’s combination of form and function. The clear box shower of glass and ceramic tiles the color of mottled concrete is large. On one wall of the shower is a stylish grab bar. A low stool, made out of Asian teak, sits outside the shower. Because its wood can be exposed to water without damage, it can be pulled inside if anybody wants or needs to sit down while bathing.
The above floor plan illustrates the lower level of the home containing Peter’s office, a suite with a bathroom and bedroom and the laundry room. As part of their strategy to age in place, the Faids wanted a lower-level suite, which could accommodate a live-in caregiver, with a separate entrance that opens out to the backyard. A counter with a sink, microwave, and small fridge, with space to accommodate a cooktop, provides independence for guests, visiting family or live-in caregivers. Triple glazed windows and high R-value insulation incorporate energy efficiency. An on-demand hot water system saves money and energy, as does the high efficiency furnace.
This image shows the third floor living room looking out onto Edmonton’s beautiful river valley facing east.
many people as possible. As architects, we are trained to find creative solutions to design problems. Making universal design beautiful is our challenge. Architects and designers have no reason to fear their design options will be limited by accessibility. Instead, inclusive design contributes value and meaning to any design methodology.
We have been talking about accessible housing for almost fifty years, but I think our aging population will be what finally pushes us to get it done. Baby Boomers, like the Faids, actually have the money and the influence to make things happen. They will not just accept that nursing homes are part of their future. They will demand something different.
Accessible design need not compromise a designer’s approach to design but rather becomes an element in every designer’s approach. The Faids home was guided by principles of site, light, and views. Equally important was visitability, adaptability, and accessibility. Nor is sustainability and energy efficiency left out of consideration. With flexible spaces and accessible designed details, the Faids home is a good fit over the family’s lifecycle, which can later appeal to a wider range of potential buyers, when the time is right to sell. Even the second floor deck, overlooking the leafy Mill Creek Ravine has proven accessible by users in wheelchairs.