This project was a new one for us. We’ve done ADA compliant remodels before and have worked with people who had limited mobility. But this felt bigger and more important than just a remodel improving accessibility.
We were working with a super nice young family: 2 kids, a dog, mom, and dad. Great spot in east Boulder. The big new development for the family was that the father just got diagnosed with a terrible degenerative disease, meaning big lifestyle changes were afoot.
The most obvious problem with the house was that it was a trilevel with ½ flights of stairs to get between levels. Navigating stairs would shortly no longer be possible, so our clients’ options were to 1) get some kind of stair-lifter device (which wouldn’t solve the fact that the existing bathrooms were tiny and not ADA friendly), 2) move to a 1-story more accessible home, or 3) remodel and/or add on to the existing house to make it accessible.
They decided they didn’t want to leave their current home, which is where we come in - They wanted to remodel and add-on. The best part of the existing home was the main level. It had already been expanded and had a generous living/dining/great room that connected to the kitchen.
Central to our design was universal living with great accessibility for wheelchairs. The main level connected directly to the garage so the best plan was a 1-story main level addition that connected to the existing great room.
The addition would be an entire primary suite. It would have a big closet, a large ADA bathroom, and a nice bedroom with a zero-threshold door to their secluded backyard.
Function was priority #1. A second and also important goal of the project was to keep the addition warm and homey. They didn’t want it to feel like a hospital. In particular, ADA sinks and grab bars can feel cold and industrial. You can see from the photos that the finishes picked felt personal and warm, while still being considerate of the needs of a wheelchair user. Some included bathroom features are a roll under sink, space to maneuver around the toilet, a low shelf in the roll-in shower, handheld shower head, and numerous stylish grab bars.
Another functional detail we employed was using super wide (42”) pocket doors. We installed large handle pulls on the doors to make them easy to grab and push/pull for those that don’t have much finger strength or dexterity. The trick is that the doors recess 36” (which is still generous) and 6” of the door, including the handle, stick out even when the door is open. For reference, a standard interior door width is 30”.
One challenge with the primary suite addition is that it would be directly adjacent to the main hang out area of the house. We felt it was important to buffer the bedroom from the energy of the living/dining area. To help with this we created an ante room between these 2 very different spaces. We designed this space to be a little office/desk space or to house necessary equipment (eg-Hoyer Lift) if/when needed. It also provided a great acoustic buffer to keep the primary suite quiet.
Another consideration that was tricky to figure out was the heating and cooling for this space. Adding/extending ducting from the existing tri-level house’s central ducting system proved to be too convoluted. There’d be no way to control the temperature in the addition; you’d be at the mercy of the home’s one thermostat, way over at the front of the house. Another option was a wall mounted minisplit, but the addition had 3 good sized rooms (bedroom, closet, bathroom) plus the ante room. The minisplit would serve one room really well but couldn’t serve 4 rooms. In the end, we installed a ducted mini-split system. This was the best of all worlds: they got an efficient heating/cooling system for just the addition. The unit lives in the new crawl space and provides supply venting to each of the new rooms.
One mystical truism in our industry that we marvel at is how projects tend to take on the karmic energy of our clients. There is a strong pattern that’s hard to ignore. When clients worry, problems arise. When clients are trusting and relaxed, things tend to run smoothly and there’s little kerfuffle in the project. In this project, our clients were dealing with just about the scariest and most stressful thing any of us could imagine. But they were so gracious and calm and cool. Money was tight, tough decisions were made. They really trusted us and we worked together to make smart decisions.
We’ve done many primary suite additions; they make so much sense for so many existing houses, especially homes built in the 20th century that don’t have any sort of primary suite. This project had a heightened sense of purpose. This wasn’t about keeping up with the Joneses or having beautiful finishes. This project was about family being together and taking care of each other. The end result was just that, and beautiful.
All photography by Christina Kiffney Photography