Location: Livermore, Colorado
Building Type: Single Family Residential
When Cynthia Liebrock, designer, consultant and Harvard instructor in the field of accessibility and Universal Design, undertook an extensive remodel of the house where she and her husband live, she was sure to incorporate elements that fostered visitability, adaptability, and healthy aging-in-place.
Perspectives and Goals
As Cynthia Leibrock explains on her website, www.agingbeautifully.org, “People are not disabled by their physical or mental differences; we all have physical and mental differences. We are only disabled when we can’t do what we want to do. Designers have the power to make this difference, the choice to empower or disable by design.” It was this design philosophy that guided Leibrock’s home remodeling project.
The Green Mountain Ranch had to be able to accommodate Leibrock and her husband, both of whom are quite tall, but also remain visitable for children, people of short stature, and wheelchair users. Additionally, the house had to be adaptable enough to become completely wheelchair accessible if needed in the future. In order to support aging-in-place, the house had to incorporate accessibility and safety features as well as actively encourage healthy lifestyle practices like healthful eating and exercising. Finally, all of these elements had to blend into a pleasant and peaceful visual environment.
- Exterior entrances are well lit, covered for weather protection, and use slip resistant slate flooring.
- The house includes a step-free entrance through the garage.
- An automatic door opener can be operated by remote.
- A fold-down seat at the back entry provides a place for changing shoes without reducing access.
- An accessible route connects the kitchen, garage, patio, two bedrooms, three baths, living room, and library. Routes to other areas of the house are adaptable so that they can become wheelchair accessible in the future if needed.
- The step down into the dining room is removable so that the space can be used to accommodate a wheelchair lift when necessary.
- Narrow level floor joints are provided throughout the house.
- Since rugs can create tripping hazards, the door mats are recessed into the floor.
- Stairs include LED strips for increased safety, and handrails include extensions at the top and bottom where possible.
Furniture and Appliances:
- The front loading washer and dryer have been raised off the floor to reduce the need for bending. While the washer and drier are not currently in a wheelchair accessible location, if needed, a closet on a different floor can be converted in order to house the machines.
- The dining room gas fireplace is remote controlled. For safety, CO2 detectors are located wherever gas is used in the house.
- The custom dining room table is wheelchair accessible and can expand to seat up to 14 guests.
- The living room’s wood-burning fireplace has been raised for easy access.
- High visual contrast is provided between the seating, flooring, and walls. High contrast rocker switches stand out against the walls.
- The Proliphix thermostat can be operated remotely, providing accessibility and allowing users to adjust the temperature even when they aren’t home.
- An Aiphone video intercom system allows for communication throughout the house and can be coordinated with the security system to record visitors who come to the door while the residents are out.
- The den includes a murphy bed, allowing it to be used as a guestroom when needed. Additionally the space is large enough for a hospital bed, so that the room can support someone who requires a caregiver.
- The kitchen flooring is a non-slip Quartzite tile.
- An induction cooktop remains cool to the touch, and a pot filler located nearby eliminates the need to carry heavy, water-filled pots.
- The refrigerator was chosen for its back lighting and shallow shelves, which make it easy to see and reach everything. Additionally, the refrigerator’s column design means that a portion of both the fridge and the freezer fall within accessible reach range.
- A steamer built in the counter makes it easy to cook healthful meals, and the planters located behind the steamer can be used to grow herbs. A hot water dispenser easily provides hot water for disinfecting dishes or making hot beverages.
- The oven has a side hinged door and the pullout shelf beneath provides a place to rest food when transferring into or out of the oven.
- The sink’s fascia-mounted drain controls allow all users to empty sinks with the push of an easy to reach button. Other controls, switches, and outlets are also located in accessible reach range.
- Kitchen storage includes a variety of pull-out solutions that bring objects out of cabinets for easy access. The interiors of drawers and cabinets are painted white to increase visibility.
- The kitchen counters are wall mounted at 42” above the floor in order to accommodate Leibrock and her husband’s tall stature. However, the counters can be modified at a later date by removing the lowest drawers and lowering the whole cabinet to a height of 32”.
- The bathroom adjacent to the den includes a dividing wall that can swing away to provide wider access to the bathroom.
- The bathroom’s wet room construction provides two roll-in shower areas. A hand held sprayer is included near the toilet, while the multiple heads of the body shower provide water at varying heights.
- The vanity cabinet’s floor has been removed and the doors have been mounted with piano hinges that allow them to fold back within the cabinet to provide knee clearance at the sink.
- The sink’s folded “j” trap lies flush against the wall and out of the way of seated users.
- Preset temperature valves with hot water surge control provide protection in all of the bathrooms.
- Another bathroom includes a steam shower with a low threshold, built-in bench, and vertical grab bar to assist in standing.
- The comfort height toilet can be outfitted with sheltering grab bars on either side. Tiles at either side of the toilet are held in place by magnets, and can be removed in order to expose the fixtures on which to attach the grab bars.
- A ceiling lift can provide access to the tub and toilet.
- The wall hung lavatory cabinets can be lowered in the future if needed.
- All bathrooms have reinforced walls so that grab bars can be added.
- Four greenhouses and a glassed-in patio provide natural lighting and passive solar heat.
- Active solar panels provide preheated water for the water heater, spa and radiant in floor heating.
Leibrock is currently using Green Mountain Ranch as a show home for Universal Design. She offers week-long seminars at the house that allow participants to see Universal Design in action while earning continuing education credits. Various media publications, including the New York Times, have reported on the home and its beneficial features. Leibrock has also written a book, “Design Details for Health,” that explores the many Universal Design elements that she included in the house.