Designed for One, a Home for All
A South Denver family builds a home that is designed to be accessible by wheelchair, only to discover the timeless appeal of universal design
Open floor plans, wide welcoming doors, and floor-to-ceiling windows–these are the dreams of many a homeowner, as a quick scroll through Pinterest or Instagram reveals.
Such attributes also happen to be the features employed by architects and designers who specialize in Universal design standards, which create homes that are inclusive to all–including the elderly and those who rely on wheelchairs for mobility.
Even so, the practice of designing a Universal home is rare, explains Interior Designer Beth Armijo, who has designed a number of such homes. This project is the second she designed for her clients, who previously lived in a decidedly not Universal three-floor, walkup in Washington Park.
After they discovered their daughter had a rare syndrome that would require she use a wheelchair to get around, the couple began the search for a ranch home, and tapped Armijo and Architect Pat Cashen for help.
When they saw the south Denver property, the couple knew they’d found the perfect spot: With a lake just steps from the back door, it was the idyllic place to raise their two children.
They immediately set to work visioning how to renovate the home, and it wasn’t long before they realized they would have to scrape the ranch and start from scratch. “There were attempts early on to redesign the existing home, but it didn’t seem to provide the required spaces,” remembers Cashen.
The couple needed a first-floor master bedroom with their daughter’s room nearby, and they wanted a big family room and a big play room, too. “These rooms’ requirements got to be so much bigger than a remodel of the original home would allow, and the first floor is 50 percent bigger than the original home’s first floor was.”
“We oriented the house and designed every room to optimize the backyard and for views of the lake.”
— Interior Designer Beth Armijo
The mission was to create a home with no obstacles that might hinder their daughter’s path, indoors or out. Designing such a home is complicated, because it requires anticipating what a child will need as she grows up. “The child has a custom-sized wheelchair that we needed to plan around, and that size could change in the coming years, so we knew we needed wider hallways,” says Armijo.
The team also had to think about finishes: In standard house design, one doesn’t think about a wheelchair bumping into walls, but in this case, the design team had to select materials carefully.
Now standing at 5,750 square feet, the modern farmhouse is spacious and provides plenty of play space for the children. More importantly, their daughter can easily roll from room to room and across thresholds to the outdoors.
Cashen says the couple worked tirelessly to ensure the home was tailored to their child’s needs, consulted with several groups, including Assist Utah, which provides checklists to help owners through the process of designing spaces that make wheelchair navigation seamless.
The design team says they are seeing a growing interest in accessible design, and caution homeowners that new builds are more affordable than trying to add the features into older homes. They also recommend thinking ahead, to the day when they want to sell the home, and building in “attractive amenities for a potential buyer down the road,” says Cashen.
Armijo adds that design concepts like walk-in showers are appealing to many clients. “They’ve seen it on social media and now, with the aging population of baby boomers, people want [accessible design] in their homes,” she says.
“You can be outdoors lots of the year in Colorado—even in the winter—and this is a great place to be outdoors.”
— Architect Pat Cashen
In addition, Universal design can have long-lasting and universal appeal. “How great is it for everybody? It applies to kids and people with special needs, but it’s great for everybody,” says Armijo.