Universal Design

A Seattle Remodel Offers Accessibility

Access for legs and wheels was the priority in this Washington state home’s renovation, but universal design doesn’t mean less style

Marsha Donaldson and Bill Ferris remodeled their house to look and function like any other contemporary home, but the real beauty of the new design lies in the subtle details. The couple’s space-efficient design choices also make the house fully accessible to Ferris, who has lived the past 38 years in a wheelchair.

The couple worked with designer and former rehabilitation nurse Susan Duncan of ABCs of Accessibility, Seattle interior designer Piper Lauri Salogga and Guy DiRe of Chieftain Construction. The team carefully considered space, height and more, and the result is a home layout that works comfortably for both Ferris and Donaldson.

Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Marsha Donaldson, Bill Ferris and their dog, Sadie
Location: Hawthorne Hills neighborhood of Seattle
Size: 1,350 square feet; 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

The first change they made was adding a wooden access ramp. They then replaced it with this concrete ramp that blends into the landscaping, resembling low terrace walls. The extra width of the upper leg allows for a small front porch.
A subtle detail provides convenience, ease, and efficiency in movement: A door pull located right above the mail slot allows Ferris to keep his momentum as he glides out the door, without his having to reach back awkwardly to pull the door closed.
The low concrete ramp wall blends into and is hidden by lush plantings. Mary Kay Swanson and Niko Stoll of Box of Rain Landscape designed the front landscaping.
Both Donaldson and Ferris admire the elegance and simplicity of artist Maya Lin‘s designs. Working with Salogga they achieved a home layout and color scheme with minimal furniture and a contemporary, uncluttered feel.The two enjoy entertaining and are currently brainstorming ideas on how to expand their dining room space.

The kitchen features practical pullout cutting boards. While useful, they can also get in the way when both of them are cooking and vying for space. The area under the sink is open so Ferris can do dishes facing forward instead of sideways. The windowsill was also lowered so he can enjoy the outside scenery.Donaldson is the primary chef, so the countertops were kept at standard height. The things usually found under a sink, like the recycling and trash bins, reside in a pullout cabinet next to the sink. The breakfast nook table is conveniently cantilevered to eliminate the cumbersome banging of knees and wheelchair on the table legs.

The upper cabinets are lower than usual so Ferris can reach the two lower shelves. The toe kicks are 9 inches high, allowing for a 60-inch turnaround clearance so Ferris can move freely around the kitchen without any backing in and out. Standard toe kicks are 4-5 inches high. DiRe came up with the innovative gate that slides behind the cabinetry when the couple’s dog, Sadie, has access to the kitchen. The floors are Marmoleum.
The bathrooms are spacious, and the sinks are cantilevered for full wheelchair access. The extra-wide space also features sliding doors for clearance and space efficiency.
The furniture layout is kept open in the living room, leaving plenty of room for Ferris to get around. A thoughtful decision was made to leave out a coffee table.
The original home was just under 900 square feet. The couple extended the home into the garden, creating a bedroom large enough to enable Ferris to have turnaround space on both sides of the bed.”Our-light filled, spacious master bedroom is my favorite spot in the house,” Donaldson says. “With easy access to the deck, the landscaping allows us to leave our windows open while still maintaining our privacy.” The expansive windows also them to enjoy a clear view of the garden.

The sink in the master bathroom is lower and cantilevered so Ferris can have full access. The bathroom cabinets (not shown) pull out for easy access from the sides.
The shower is curbless and fully accessible. The couple considered installing glass partition walls but decided that a curtain and rod would provide the most flexibility.
The former master bedroom is now the office and also functions as the guest room. The couple opted for a Murphy bed (pictured open) for optimized space efficiency. In the cabinet next to the bed, a table lamp is stored underneath a pullout side table. The closet (not shown) is divided between office storage and closet space for visiting guests.
Donaldson says, “We both believe in the maxim ‘Less is more’ and along with that, ‘Less is calming.’” In line with that, the pull-down bed neatly tucks away into the wall cabinet, and the couple share a cantilevered desk.
A golden chain tree in full bloom frames the Trex deck. DiRe sloped the deck for a smooth transition outside from the kitchen. The couple decided on steps down into the yard for better clearance within the garden, so Ferris accesses the space from around the side.
It was difficult for Ferris to use the garden with its original grass and planter beds. Box of Rain Landscaping designed and installed the rock pavers, sloping them appropriately so Ferris could access the yard. The pavers extend to both side gates, so he now has full use of their scenic yard.
Ferris, Donaldson and Sadie in their backyard garden.

Louise Lakier is a contributing photographer for Houzz. She is a designer, a construction manager, a photographer, traveler and storyteller. She is currently in Central America.