Designing for needs: Crafting an accessible home

Marvin Windows and Doors - Designing an accessible home

The Courtyard Residence in Downers Grove, Illinois, designed by Kuklinski + Rappe Architects to suit a family with children who have special needs.

From outdoor spaces that offer serene views to products from AIA partner Marvin Windows and Doors that provide accessibility and healthy natural light, this residence was designed with flexibility in mind

When envisioning the perfect home for their family, Kiley and Jim agreed that accessibility was paramount—access to the outdoors, and access for their daughters, Langley and Boelyn, who have special needs and rely on their wheelchairs to get around. After purchasing a narrow lot in Downers Grove, Illinois, the couple reached out to Chicago-based firm Kuklinski + Rappe Architects to design a residence that would serve their daughters, their son Huck, and their own various needs. Crafted to adapt to the family’s lifestyle over the years, the home will provide lifelong health and happiness.

It just so happened that the parameters that Kiley and Jim presented resonated with Scott Rappe, AIA. “They spoke about the future and the uncertainty around how their daughters would develop. So that, right away, keyed into an interest [at our practice] in looking at how homes are used over the long term,” he says. They approached the challenge of the site first: long and compressed, it suggested a floor plan that placed rooms on either side of a corridor to create accessible spaces. Rappe, however, discarded this idea: “This conventional approach, while pragmatic, would have produced a dull, lifeless house.”

Instead, Rappe chose to lengthen the plan and carve out outdoor spaces from the home’s footprint, allowing interior spaces to look out onto serene, landscaped areas—hence the name Courtyard Residence. The solution provides privacy and natural light, and facilitates a better relationship with the dwelling. As Rappe explains, “The long, dark corridor of the conventional approach was instead transformed into a ‘cloister’ running along the main courtyard, which offers a contemplative experience, rather than just a distance to be traversed.”

In a home so permeable to the outdoors, the choice of windows and doors carried significant weight. For Rappe, selecting Marvin Windows and Doors was a no-brainer. “They have very high-performing products,” he explains, “and they offered us thin sightlines, high insulation values, and a high degree of predictability and reliability.”

Also crucial was the ability to accommodate Langley and Boelyn. “It was really important for us that all of our entrances were accessible,” says Jim. “The low-profile [sills] allowed us to both have great, open windows with terrific views, and wheel the girls in and out very easily across them.”

The placement of the windows takes Langley and Boelyn into account as well. “The girls spend a lot of time on their backs because they can’t sit up naturally,” says Kiley, “so they’ll play on the floor and look up.” Thoughtfully positioned openings ensure that wherever they are, the girls have a view of the outdoors.

While the Courtyard Residence offers communal spaces for the family to gather, it also caters specifically to each member in other moments. An office sequestered near the front entry allows Jim to work without interruption. A centrally placed, professional-grade kitchen avails itself to Kiley, a chef and culinary educator. Huck, who is 13 years old, enjoys a private bedroom that connects to the family room, children’s courtyard, and backyard, and he can invite friends over to shoot hoops in the lower-level game room. Finally, aside from the accessible design of the house overall, Langley and Boelyn have dedicated rooms that facilitate around-the-clock care.

“Having a home that was designed for our needs was a big relief,” says Jim. “It’s not until you’re in an environment that has been designed around all of those needs that you just appreciate every little bit.”

This story was originally published on Dwell.com.

AIA does not sponsor or endorse any enterprise, whether public or private, operated for profit. Further, no AIA officer, director, committee member, or employee, or any of its component organizations in his or her official capacity, is permitted to approve, sponsor, endorse, or do anything that may be deemed or construed to be an approval, sponsorship, or endorsement of any material of construction or any method or manner of handling, using, distributing, or dealing in any material or product.

Image credits

Marvin Windows and Doors - Designing an accessible home

Kuklinski + Rappe Architects and Tom Harris Photography

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