BARRIER-FREE DESIGN FEASIBILITY STUDY
Design for barrier-free living is seldom a high priority for custom homebuyers in Toronto. Young owners rarely consider their future accessibility requirements, especially if they are healthy and still able to easily walk up stairs, out of tubs, over porches, and around typical household impediments. Other obstacles include the perceived downsides of accessible design, its effect on square footage, and possible limitations it may impose on their ideal home design.
In the hope of laying these apprehensions to rest and encouraging forward-thinking design choices, we recently designed a barrier-free home with these challenges in mind; to prove to the younger generation that planning for the future does not require bland design choices or a significant increase to their upfront costs. The contemporary home seen below boasts 3350 sqft of living space above grade, while gracefully accommodating the range of uses required by the owners, and achieving their ambitious barrier-free goals.
This home is arrayed around an interior courtyard to balance the clients’ desire for privacy with their love of vegetation and outdoor living space. The courtyard also acts as a division between the main living area at the front of the house and the private bedroom wing at the back. There are no steps on the ground floor, or any other physical barriers to direct movement through the home.
The more public living and entertainment space features a monumental stone fireplace, and is naturally lit through clerestory windows and a single prominent front-facing window. Ceiling height is used to accentuate the sense if space, and lend a feeling of grandiosity to the efficient room layout. By prioritizing the clients’ functional needs and rigorous design process, this custom home makes more effective use of the available building area than a typical one-size-fits-all home plan. The unique layout is designed to maximize connectivity, while minimizing wasteful use of the available floor space, and thereby gaining more functionality despite spatial limitations.
The bedrooms are arranged around the courtyard, which can be integrated into the living space during the summer months, and provides natural daylight year-round. The large-scale interior features that characterize the front of the home lead to the intimate private spaces further back. Wide doors and hallways serve as attractive indoor features, and can accommodate wheelchair movement as a convenient side-effect. The master bathroom is designed to be barrier-free, and the two other ensuites could be converted into a single barrier-free space in the future.
The minimalist exterior design of this contemporary home uses a clean, maintenance-free stone cladding on the predominant architectural masses, with a small amount of wood to accentuate key details. The landscaping is designed along similar minimalist principles, both visually and practically, making prudent use of low-maintenance vegetation. The driveways and porches are heated to avoid winter maintenance and reduce the risk of slipping. The at-grade ground floor allows for a smooth transition onto the porch and front path, instead of steps or an intrusive ramp.
Other features, not visible on the plans, can be used by any homeowner to create a dwelling that is conducive to later barrier-free conversion. These options cost very little at the time of construction, but allow significant savings later on. A simple example involves the installation of reinforced bathroom walls to support grab-bars. Although this consideration is now required in new homes, it is only mandatory in bathrooms, and it is often ignored - especially during renovations. Another simple consideration is to designate a space for a future elevator, and frame it accordingly. Although the space may never be used for that purpose, thinking ahead ensures that the installation process will be simple, and minimizes the potential disruption to the floor layout. This type of built-in versatility, though invisible, adds value to a custom home and guarantees that the owners can enjoy their investment indefinitely. Or, if they eventually choose to sell, Canada’s aging population will appreciate their keen foresight.