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Universal Design Remodeling for Independent Living

Universal Design | Accessible Design

Universal design and remodeling can empower you and your loved ones to live freely and independently. We use universal design principles for remodeling to create a barrier-free living space that enables more independence than you ever thought possible.

For example, in the remodel of an Adams Morgan row home in Northwest Washington, D.C. we focused on accessibility. It was built around 1890 and four generations of homeowners had tinkered with mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, on top of many repairs and improvements.

The homeowners, Carl and Oscar, were both in their 70’s. Carl uses a wheelchair, and Oscar’s leg was amputated due to a childhood illness. To improve their lifestyle and increase their freedom, they wanted a Universal design build remodel of the entire home.
Signature Kitchens, Additions & Baths, and our sister company, Signature Elevator & Accessible Design, set about a tall task: to design and install a four-story residential elevator; a handicap bathroom on the second floor; a powder room on the first floor; and an accessible wheelchair lift from street level to the first floor.

Universal Design Handicap Kitchen and Bathroom Remodel

Line up the Layout

Our first step was to assure the room layout they wanted fit with the intended elevator placement. Fortunately, the kitchen, as well as the bath on the first and second floors, was adjacent to the planned location for the elevator.

Custom Cabinetry

After collaborating with us, Carl and Oscar chose Medallion Cabinetry’s “Designer” line, with the Brookhill door-style in a Pecan stain, for their accessible kitchen because it makes a wide variety of modifications possible. These include:

• 32″ high cabinets, a suitable height because wheelchair armrests are usually 29″ high;
• Modified 8″ toe kicks which enable Carl to approach the counter in his wheelchair.
• Pullout shelving accessible from wheelchair height that empowers Carl to reach the entire contents of a 48″ deep cabinet!

Universal Design Appliances

Selecting appliances is a critical step in all kitchen design, but there’s even more to consider when remodeling a kitchen for accessibility. With our guidance, Carl and Oscar opted for:
• An American Blue Star convection oven. Its French-oven doors swing open to the side, providing effortless access from a wheelchair.
• A General Electric induction cooktop that has controls up front, accessible without reaching across burners.
• A Vent-A-Hood® 600 cubic feet/minute exhaust fan that we could enclose in the Medallion cabinets.
• General Electric’s Profile line refrigerator with an accessible French door design.
• MAAX’s 220-amp radiant heating system that we installed underneath a beautiful stone tile, laid in a classic Versailles pattern. It provides comfort, efficiency and offers health benefits versus forced hot air heating.

Handicap Bathroom

We also designed and remodeled the second floor accessible bathroom. We installed the SureHands® lift, enabling Carl to move independently from the bathroom to the bedroom. The accessible bath design also included a Toto bidet toilet and a handicap bathtub that’s easy to slide into. For a touch of luxuriant, toe-warming comfort, we installed the same radiant heating system used in the kitchen.

Home Elevator

Our sister company, Signature Elevator & Accessible Design, started the job by making room for an elevator shaft from the house’s basement to its roof. We chose Federal Elevator System’s “Renaissance” model. During the design process we created a mock-up of the elevator cabin to determine dimensions necessary for the wheelchair’s turning radius. As a result, we modified the elevators standard inside measurements, 36″ by 48″ to 42″ by 54″, making it simple for Carl to turn around in his wheelchair. To add a sense of elegance and tradition to the custom cabin, we used recessed oak walls and hardwood flooring.
Our final challenge was building a small addition on the third floor to allow space for the elevator shaft


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The next step in the accessible design project took us outside. Carl had recently passed a driver’s test and wanted to be able to easily get from his front door to his car. This was a problem because the first floor was 6 ft. above ground level and the basement was 3 ft. below. Our solution was to install an outdoor residential wheelchair lift (sometimes called a porch lift). With this lift Carl can not only go from ground level to his front door, but also to sun deck on top of the garage!

In all our years working in the real estate, building and remodeling industries, this project was undoubtedly the most gratifying one we had worked on. It was a pleasure designing an accessible kitchen and bathroom for Carl and Oscar and helping to improve their qualities of life.

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