Designing a home to match the needs of the family who will inhabit it is at the core of a designer’s responsibility. This home designed for a family of five has many of the requests designer Christie Leu commonly addresses – opening up the flow of an older home to fit modern life, keeping to a reasonable budget, replacing a dated kitchen – but also had some very specific requirements. She explains, “The youngest child is an activist for physically handicapped children. He was born with spina bifida and energetically maneuvers everywhere in his wheelchair. At three-years-old this big personality went to DC to lobby for access to wheelchairs for young children like him. Stop in at any time and you will find this open house filled with children and friends.” We talked with Christie to learn more.

What was the space like when you started the project?
The family recognized that this house was perfect for their goal of an entirely wheelchair-friendly house. Katherine said, “It had a very horizontal floor plan, main-floor bedrooms and a fairly flat lot. And there was not a steep incline into the house.” This was a typical 50’s house and hadn’t been updated since it was built, and not a “Mad Men” stylishly maintained version! It is still a modest size in a neighborhood where houses are being replaced by large, lot-maximizing dwellings. The kitchen was dated and felt tight. It had a large foyer and well-placed fireplace and stairwell which attracted the homeowners to the house. This allowed for an elevator without changing the floor plan too drastically or expensively. By maintaining the footprint, we also kept a lovely backyard which acts like an extension to the living and sunroom with expansive floor-to-ceiling picture windows.

How did designing for accessibility affect your process?
The architects at Hamilton Snowber did everything so that every member of the family could use the whole house. Johnny can use the kitchen with a lower sink and workspace next to a standard height countertop for mom and dad. When his sisters invite him for a sleepover on the second floor, he will be there! He can roll into all three showers and can reach the basement via the walnut-paneled elevator to watch movies with friends or play shuffleboard.

What was your inspiration for the space? Where did you begin the project?
The inspiration for the project came from the good bones of this fifties home. Opening the wall between the kitchen and dining room created a great room feel. Without walls, it is easy for a wheelchair to move easily and adds to a wonderful flow within the house.

See how Christie transformed this home in the slideshow!