Sometimes, you’re just gonna need a bigger boat, or perhaps just a different house. Built in 1911, Britt Piehler and Beck Weinhold’s Craftsman-style home in Ballard began to present too many barriers for their growing 5-year-old daughter, Lola.
Lola has cerebral palsy and utilizes a wheelchair, walker, and assistive communication device. Rather than investing time and money into updating the old layout, they purchased a more flexible, 3,000-square-foot, ranch-style foreclosure in Seattle’s View Ridge neighborhood and began a yearlong renovation.
Most of the work was originally intended to allow easy passage of Lola’s wheelchair and walker — no passageway was left narrower than 48 inches wide, no doorway narrower than 36 inches — but the entire family has embraced the benefits of the open hallways and corners. The wide angles around the kitchen island make for easy cooking without bumping elbows, and the open floor plan facilitates family togetherness, even when each person is working on their own activities.
PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON
Owen, Britt, Beck and Lola enjoy the extra space in their barrier-free kitchen.
Lola now has a clear view and pathway to whatever she might need, which has fostered greater independence. “Lola loves her spot at our dining room table, which faces the kitchen,” says Britt. “From there she can do activities while keeping an eye on Beck and I in the kitchen. She’s queen of her domain.”
Lola’s 7-year-old brother, Owen, is also a fan of the renovations, especially the wide French doors. “It's like having another room,” says Britt. “He always insists that we eat outside in the summer.”
In addition to opening up the space, the architect designed low-threshold exterior doors, replaced knobs with levers on all interior doors, and installed cubbyholes and hooks in the entryway to keep the floor clear. Much of the home’s aesthetic modifications were necessary to fix up the shoddy state of the foreclosure. Fresh paint, refinished floors and a complete kitchen remodel, including new cabinets, counters, appliances and lights, gave the home a new lease on life. The family is currently planning a “Phase 2” renovation, which will convert Britt and Beck’s master closet into an elevator shaft so Lola can access the basement.
The couple is now fully informed on how to best create a space for a child with Lola’s capabilities.
“Because it's hard to predict the future, our best advice is to keep things flexible,” says Britt. “Kids grow, abilities evolve, conditions progress. Using furniture that can be moved later instead of built-ins, or adding more outlets than might seem sane; you just never know!”