LIFE MADE EASIER
New Construction Utilizes ADA Standards With a Designer’s Aesthetic
By Natalie de la Garza
Photos by Texas Home Photo, LLC
For David Whiteley, the principal designer of Whiteley & Whiteley Design Group, the task at hand was clear: Design the Brackett family’s next home to be both aesthetically beautiful and 100 percent accessible for their 11-year-old daughter, Natalie, who is in a wheelchair.
Natalie’s mother, Julie Brackett, says they saw plenty of designs prior to meeting with Whiteley and, while functional, they shared the sterile feeling of a hospital which is not what they wanted.
“They wanted a beautiful home,” says Whiteley adding that, despite taking an “ADA plus” approach to his design — meaning he began with standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and expanded them to meet Natalie’s specific needs — only one percent of the house would have to be altered if you were to convert it back to a standard home.
In the kitchen the Bracketts chose not to lower the countertops to the ADA standard of 34 inches because Natalie will never be their primary cook. But she does like to help, so a wheelchair-accessible prep station was built at the end of one counter. It features a small sink, touch faucet on the side to accommodate Natalie’s difficulties with reach and grip, and an electrical outlet.
Whiteley also placed two 18-inch-wide doors instead of one 36-inch door on the pantry, and a barn door on the linen closet instead of a standard or pocket door, which allow Natalie easier access to both. The racks in Natalie’s closet were lowered so Natalie can dress herself and extra outlets were added to a large closet in the playroom to accommodate any additional equipment Natalie will require in the future.
Much needed space in the bathroom is one reason Brackett says they chose to build new and the large Hollywood bath Natalie shares with her sister boasts a dressing area, two accessible sinks (again with touch faucets on the side), a “walk-in” tub and a roll-in shower. The shower has a 36-inch opening and no door which allows Natalie to easily transition in, along with two shower heads: one handheld for Natalie and one standard for her sister. Moveable grab bars flank the toilet, with one doubling as a toilet paper holder, and a removable bidet sits on top of the seat.
A track system runs flush along the nine-foot ceiling from Natalie’s bed to the bathroom, where a turnstile allows easy access to the shower, tub or toilet. To keep the system inconspicuous, Whiteley used an eight-foot door and installed a casing high against the ceiling, leaving a 12-inch opening at the top that resembles a transom.
The two doors leading into the bathroom use magnetic door stops so they won’t accidentally close while the track is running, and every doorway in the home has ADA thresholds. The garage door has been extended to eight feet in height with an extra few feet on one side to welcome a future purchase: an accessible van with rear entry. Whiteley used a gable to mask the size difference.
And although all the floors appear to be wood — with the exception of the hard tile in the showers — the floors are actually continuous, seamless vinyl because uneven surfaces cause Natalie pain. The wood look gives a warm feel to the entire home, a far cry from hospital drab.
“That’s the whole idea,” says Whiteley, “to create a home that doesn’t look like it’s accessible.”
Natalie’s primary form of physical therapy is aquatic but the Bracketts didn’t want the bulky hydraulic or electric lifts commonly used in swimming pools, opting instead for a ramp system with an ADA-required 1:12 slope. Whiteley utilized the required length to create a curve that Brackett describes as “a little lazy river.”
“Everybody really likes the ramp and it is one of those things that when people look at it, they don’t really realize the function of it until they see it,” says Brackett.
Brackett admits she wasn’t sure the two years they spent planning would be worth it, but now believes it was, and getting a designer that understood their needs is a big reason why.
“We never had to explain why something was important,” says Brackett. “Here, things are easier for Natalie to access and she just has more control over her environment.
“It’s subtle, but it makes a big difference with Natalie’s independence.”
Allstate Brick & Stone
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16002 Tomball Parkway
Locations in Houston, Conroe, Sugar Land and Rosenberg
Builders FirstSource/ProBuild Lumber
15543 I-45 South, Conroe
Locations in Houston, The Woodlands, Katy, Manvel
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Factory Builder’s Direct
(Appliances, cabinets, tubs)
16590 I-45 South, Conroe
Locations in Houston, Bellaire, Spring, Katy
Final Touch Granite
12684 FM 149, Montgomery
Milstead Glass & Home Décor
710 Honea Egypt, Magnolia
Overhead Door Company
118 Commercial Circle, Conroe
Pella Window and Door Showroom of Houston
1200 North Frazier, Conroe
Quality Insulation & Roofing
2323 North Frazier, Conroe
Town & Country Pools
32403 FM 2978, Magnolia
Whiteley & Whiteley Design Group, Inc.
16955 Walden, Montgomery