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Project of the Month: A Universal Design Lakefront Home

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We worked with a Skaneateles, NY couple to build their lakefront dream home that has many special Universal Design features. These features are so subtle that you may not recognize them, but would admire the home for its smart, efficient and practical design. The transitional design of the home is perfect for the owners and very accommodating when they get together with friends and family.

This lakefront home has many amenities including an open floor plan, a state-of-the-art kitchen, comfortable bathrooms, areas for entertaining, a dock and a gorgeous view of Skaneateles Lake from the interior and elevated deck.

universal design lakefront home

The architecture and design of the home blends well with its lakefront setting. The entry has a level threshold. Pathways from the driveway to the lake provide accessibility for a person who uses a wheelchair.

Homeowners’ Objectives

  1. One of the primary objectives of the owners was to design a comfortable, aesthetic, barrier-free home that would accommodate a person who uses a wheelchair and has a very active lifestyle. It was important that the home not look as though it was built for a person with a disability.
  2. The owners wanted to build a two-story home to optimize the space allotment on the lakefront. In Skaneateles there are building codes that specify the size and location of a home built on lakefront property. To preserve the pristine lake, a home cannot encroach on the permeable surface that is essential to the environment. The second story would need to be wheelchair accessible. The lower level should be accessible to the water and include a wood working shop.
  3. The owners enjoy cooking and the design of the kitchen would need to be functional to enable both of them to work in the room.
  4. Bathrooms would require a turning radius and fixtures for access, comfort and safety. The owners wanted the space to look stylish and be functional.
  5. The couple wanted the exterior of the home to be fully accessible and barrier free for yard work, use of the lake and entertaining.
  6. Optimizing lake views would be an important design element.

universal design lakefront home backyard view

The back of the home faces Skaneateles Lake and has a raised deck constructed with DuraLife decking and glass panels to optimize the view. Building code requires that deck rails be at eye level when a person is seated. Since solid rails would obstruct the view for a person seated in a wheelchair, a special impact resistant safety glass railing was used with the glass panels. There is a lower level exit from the home to a pathway that leads to the dock. Windows and glass doors were strategically installed to provide a view of the lake from the interior.

McClurg’s Solutions

1.  Design and Build a Home with Universal Design Features

The owners met with Scott McClurg, who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist, to work on the design of the home. A CAPS specialist understands “Universal Design” and how to create a barrier-free environment. Because of the level of detail required, the home was in the planning stage for over a year. The interior of the home is over 4,000 square feet including a partially finished lower level. It has 3½ baths and three bedrooms. The walkout lower level provides access to the lake and includes a full bath and workshop.

The exterior includes a deck and boat launch. The garage has a custom designed ramped exit.

universal design home exterior

The exterior of the home features fiber cement siding, custom trims and architectural shingles.

2.  Create a Fully Accessible Home

The two-story home has an open floor plan on the main level. By design, the second floor and lower level are fully accessible. Some of the features that make the house accessible include:

  • Wide doorways and halls
  • Uniform thresholds
  • An elevator
  • Special accommodations in the kitchen and bathrooms
  • Exterior accommodations
  • Interior features that address aesthetics and function

universal design home with elevator

An elevator provides access to the second story and lower level of the home. This elevator was designed to blend with the interior has wood paneled sides and a luxury vinyl stone-look floor. There is a phone in the elevator that allows the user to call for assistance if needed.

custom cherry staircase

One of the many architectural accents in the home is a staircase with custom cherry rails and spindles.

3.  Design a Barrier-Free Open Kitchen

The kitchen is the most used room in any home. The barrier-free kitchen has ample aisle space and the following features:

  • Multiple height counters
  • Toe kicks around work areas to allow users to work closer to counter surfaces, stovetops, sinks and appliances
  • Roll-out shelving
  • Rocker light switches and accessible outlets placed at a height for all users
  • Task lighting
  • Lever faucets

Products used in this kitchen include:

universal design kitchen

View of the kitchen. The variation of counter height is intentional and subtle. Toe kicks provide barrier-free access to storage drawers and cabinets. The island is the primary work area in the kitchen. It contains the cooktop, a prep sink, pullout drawers for storage of cookware and utensils and an ample counter for food prep and informal dining.

stovetop with front access controls

Note the recessed base cabinet, placement of the cooktop and front access controls. Toe kicks at the base of cabinets have two advantages. First, they allow you to work closer to a counter, sink or stovetop. Second, they help you to maintain your balance in a kitchen or bathroom when used for a vanity.

4.  Design the Bathrooms for Comfort and Safety

When designing a bathroom, comfort and safety are primary objectives. This home has three full bathrooms and a half bath on the first floor near the entry.

The second story master suite was designed to provide a comfortable space for the couple. The double sink vanity has a kneehole and a side with storage drawers for grooming supplies. There is a soaking tub with a custom built deck. Privacy and light in the room are provided by a glass block window. A doorless shower in the master bathroom is equipped with a handheld showerhead, lowered controls and a shower bench.

custom master bath

A comfortable master bath with amenities for two.

custom doorless walk-in shower

A doorless shower with accommodations and a custom base and wall tile.

On the main level of the home there is a barrier-free full bath and a half bath. Both bathrooms have comfort height toilets, accessible sinks and level thresholds.

low threshold walk-in shower

This smartly designed bath features an accessible custom-fabricated shower stall built on site with a hinged shower seat and grab bars.

custom half bath

A half bath can be a “jewel box” in a home and is often used by guests. This half bath will accommodate people who may use a wheelchair or walker. There is a turning radius factored into the space and an accessible toilet and stylish pedestal sink. A porthole window and a transom window bring light into the room in addition to the stylish downlight fixture.

5.  Create Full Access from the Home to the Lake

One of the major assets of this home is its lot and location. The homeowners enjoy grilling, gathering around an outdoor firepit and lake access including boating on the lake. There is a level threshold entrance to the deck and exit from the lower level.

Pathways were laid with special attention paid to elevations to provide full access to the yard and lakefront for a person using a wheelchair or walker. When pavers and thresholds were installed the owner used a “martini test” to assure that transitioning was acceptable. He held a glass filled with a martini in his lap and rolled his wheelchair over the surfaces. If the liquid did not spill the threshold was acceptable.

Exterior lighting also helps to expand the time the outdoor setting is enjoyed by the owners and guests.

lake access dock

Access to the dock and landscaped lakefront.

6.  Design the Home to Maximize Lake Views

The interior of the home capitalizes on the view of the lake from a dining area, family room, sunroom and bedrooms.

custom kitchen with lake view

View from the dining area and kitchen