StoryText by Sharon Niederman
Photo by Jack Parsons
Ordinarily, the idea of a home equipped for a person with a disability might conjure visions of utilitarian grip bars, poorly integrated ramps, and other accommodations that add to a home’s livability but often subtract from its aesthetic appeal.
But the times they are a-changing. Whether a person is fragile, elderly or a youngster, uses a wheelchair or is limited in mobility, anyone can now enjoy a home of unrestricted beauty that allows maximum comfort, safety, and freedom of movement. With the implementation of the principles of universal design, and the common-sense adaptations it offers, life in that “dream home” is available to everyone. And with the approaching tidal wave of aging baby boomers, as well as those who are caring for aging parents and young grandchildren, more and more homeowners are demanding the features of universal design.
“I can now, for the first time, enjoy doing everything in my kitchen. To be able to set the table, pick up dishes, wash dishes, and put everything away is such a blessing,” says Debbie Faculjak, a retired Sandia Lab computer scientist who, with her husband, Paul, lives in a one-year-old North Albuquerque Acres home built by Casas de Oro. “Just to be able to entertain, be independent, and have a kitchen that works is so wonderful,” she says. Having been using a wheelchair for 20 years, Debbie says it was more difficult and costly to retrofit their former home than to “build a home we could grow old in together. It has made a huge difference in our lives.”
AnaMari Henke, vice president of Casas de Oro, says she and her husband, company president Mike Henke, are sold on the idea of universal design because of this project. “It’s just a house that met everyone’s needs for transition, convenience, and navigation,” says AnaMari. The Henkes were already using concepts such as wide hallways, an oversized master bedroom with double doors, and an open floor plan with kitchen, dining room, and great room concentrated in a single area for living and entertaining. With lowered light switches and raised electrical outlets, “even a child can turn on the lights,” she says.
Special features such as Debbie’s arm-level pullout cutting board, pullout cupboard shelving, generous Lazy Susan storage, and conveniently located counter all add up to a real working kitchen. Cabinets were meticulously custom-built by Debbie’s brother, Anthony Romero, of Southwest Woodcrafters in Santa Fe. In no way does the kitchen or the home compromise on standards of beauty. In fact, if the special adaptations of the spacious, light-filled home were not pointed out, they would be unnoticeable.
“People say the house is very functional and easy to be in,” says Debbie.
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This excerpt was first published as a feature length story in the
Summer 2005 issue of Su Casa Magazine
Story and photos copyright 2005 Su Casa magazine