Rosemarie Rossetti and her husband Mark Leder moved into a new home this past spring. Rossetti, who was paralyzed after a tree fell on top of her, has waited fourteen years to have the freedom to move about her home and yard. The new home is more than a home, however, as it doubles as the Universal Design Living Laboratory, showcasing state of the art features of home accessibility for those with disabilities.
The term “universal design” refers to a way of designing and producing products and environments that are equally accessible to people with disabilities and to those who are able-bodied. This form of design blends adaptive and assistive technology and barrier-free concepts with modern, flexible esthetics that appeal to everyone. The emergence of universal design has coincided with the rise in life expectancy and advances in modern medicine, allowing many more people to live longer than ever before after illness, injury, or advancing age have created a disability.
Rossetti and Leder had tried to modify their two-story home after the accident in 1998, and had also looked for a new home that would meet her needs. When they failed to find a suitable home, they enlisted the help of donors and broke ground on their new residence in September of 2009. The plan was to move in during the summer of 2010.
“For a nine-month project, this sure has taken a long time,” joked Rossetti.
In the end, the project took three full years, a million dollars, and 182 corporate donors to complete. Instead of simply a handicapped accessible home, the couple now has what may be the most technologically advanced home in Ohio.
The 3,500 square foot, single-story home includes many features that make Rossetti’s live easier: wide doorways and halls, sinks in both the kitchen and bathroom that allow her to wheel her chair under them instead of sitting sideways in front of a sink, an oven with a door that opens sideways, four-inch-deep pantry shelves, barrier-free showers, motion-sensor lights, pocket doors, level door handles, barrier-free access to outside, multiple-height kitchen counters, raised garden beds, an elevator (for the basement), and a large laundry room that is wheelchair friendly.
“I no longer have to ask Mark to help because I can’t get something or can’t do something,” Rosetti said.
“I won’t have the fatigue or the sore shoulders chopping something on high counters, or the fatigue at the sink because I can now roll up to it instead of sitting sideways, and I can take a bath on my own, and garden. I have not been able to go outside since my accident. I was always relegated to inside the house. Now I can grow vegetables and flowers. …It’s the whole idea of taking back my life.”
The home features include much more than just accessibility features. The structure is the first privately built home in Central Ohio to be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) home. It has also been designated a green building by the National Association of Home Builders. Unique features include: structural insulated exterior panels in place of wood studs, LED lights throughout the home, solar panels, permeable pavers that permit rain to pass through the patio, and a factory-made concrete and foam basement wall system.
The home is visually stunning, with a custom stained-glass ceiling over the library, a two-story great room for entertaining guests, a modern exterior design, and professionally landscaped gardens. What is most impressive is that the house does not look like a home designed for wheelchair accessibility.
“You don’t walk in there and say, ‘Oh, this house is meant for someone with a wheelchair,'” said the home’s architect, Patrick Manley, president of Manley Architecture Group in Columbus, Ohio. “We wanted to show that a home designed for someone with limitations doesn’t have to be limited.”
In an effort to raise funds for spinal cord research at Ohio State University, the couple will open the home to the public for a month. After that, they will continue to host special events and tours for architects, designs and others in the home building industry.
Soliciting donors for a private residence required some creativity. In exchange for their participation, donors have the ability to have access to the home. Rossetti and Leder hope that the home will be a catalyst for change in the home-building industry.
“I think it’s going to have one of the biggest impacts in residential design in many years,” Manley said. “What the Universal Design Living Laboratory will show is ‘OK, this is pretty much everything you can do to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.'”
This video is geared more to be a commercial for the wall structures, but also gives more of a view of the interior: