What makes a home truly work for people of all ages and abilities?

Draws instead of cupboards are one of the many design elements that makes this home accessible for people of all ages and abilities.  See more photos of the home here .

Draws instead of cupboards are one of the many design elements that makes this home accessible for people of all ages and abilities. See more photos of the home here.

FastCo Design recently shared a story about “A House Built for Aging in Place.” Essentially, it’s a home that was built to be wheelchair accessible, but with modern design in mind, rather than pure hospital-style functionality:

Perhaps nowhere is universal design more relevant than in a house, where our needs shift dramatically as we age—but the design rarely follows suit. 

At the Port Townsend Residence, details large and small, obvious and incognito, help the Cornises have a highly usable house now and in the future.

Built by a pre-fab home company called FabCab, the house is full of small design elements and space adjustments that make maneuvering the home in a wheelchair easy and seamless, plus it's only 1300 square feet. It’s also built to accommodate vision and hearing impairments: 

As we age, our vision and hearing deteriorate. Recognizing this, Argus installed plenty of can lights in the ceiling and even under cabinet lights in the kitchen to ensure that countertops are adequately bright for tasks like slicing and dicing. Moreover, there are big windows in the main living space to let daylight in. The angled shed roof creates asymmetry in the overall space, which helps those with extremely low vision orient themselves more. Muffling outside noise helps make it easier for those with hearing loss to follow conversations and the prefabricated structurally insulated panels that comprise the exterior shell help insulate the interior.

As the dream of homeownership has become increasingly out of reach for so many Americans, the idea of a home that you could plan to live in for your whole life is appealing. The model could also enable seniors and individuals with disabilities to be able to live independently for much longer than they might otherwise have been able to do.

What’s particularly intriguing from a Strong Towns standpoint, though, is what’s outside the house. From what I can gather about the home’s location, it’s on a suburban-style lot, part of a small circle of homes at the end of a road on the edge of town. Articles about the home suggest that the couple who lives there regularly use a wheelchair-accessible van to get around; the home was built with the ability to directly drive up to the front door under a carport. So perhaps for this couple, walkability and wheelability are not big priorities.

But for others interested in the option to live in a home built for “aging in place” a location closer to the town center would be a much more financially sound investment. What happens when members of the family can no longer drive (or could never drive in the first place)? If the home is truly meant to facilitate decades of life, its location should enable a parent to safely walk with a toddler to the park. Its location should ensure that older children can freely visit their friends in the neighborhood without needing to be driven. The home should be located so that, if the family falls on hard times, adults could commute to work via bike, bus or walking to save money. The home’s location should allow people with wheelchairs, walkers or canes, to safely travel to the grocery store, church, hospital and other important locations. Furthermore, the home should not be reliant on a road network built upon a Growth Ponzi Scheme, for which the maintenance bills are soon coming due...

This inventive, attractive and accessible home should be applauded and I hope to see the model replicated elsewhere. But it would stand a better chance of being truly intergenerational and financially prudent if it were located in a more walkable, accessible place. 

(All photos from FabCab)

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