Newton, Massachusetts-based architect Deborah Pierce approaches design work in a way that she believes separates her from many others in her field. Her recently published book, The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages & Abilities, offers groundbreaking insights into creating a home environment that is tailored to the inhabitants' needs and how those needs change over time.
Pierce specifically focuses on making homes accessible for all people. The core of her philosophy comes down to her belief that everyone deserves to live in an environment that complements their abilities and compensates for any disabilities. Take environmental obstacles out of the equation, and you match the environment with the inhabitants and their capabilities, wants, and needs.
"Disabilities can be physical, cognitive, sensory, or mobility-based" says Pierce. "But when we remove the barriers we, in effect, remove the disability. For example, if a person can't enter the house because she uses a wheelchair or has trouble with stairs, we widen the door, raise the porch, and re-grade the pathway. These interventions transform a disability into an ability."
It's a pretty admirable approach but it is not new to Pierce, rather it comes out of more than thiry years of design work. Over that time, Pierce's work has spanned both the private and public spheres, and she observes that even buildings designed with the best of intentions can miss the mark in terms of usability because individual abilities vary so greatly.
Her research for The Accessible Home began a couple of years ago, in conversations with homeowners and designers from around the country.
What exact specifications does she recommend? This list is vast; it includes open-plan living, wide doorways, lowered countertops, cabinets with drawers, level non-slip floors, and safety handles (grab-bars) in tubs and showers. And that's just a start!
"Bathrooms are an area where falls occur most frequently; make them safer, maybe a little bigger, and particularly beautiful, for this is a room where people with disabilities can spend a lot of time....Older people tend to fall more often around the toilet, and for teens and young adults it's the tub area that is most hazardous. Thoughtful design makes it easy for people to function more safely and independently."
The book's first half is a room-by-room look at the ways accessible design can enhance daily activities. The second half applies these principles with a closer look at real homes for real people living with real disabilities.
"My work has long been about public architecture, and the building industry saw a a real focus on accessibility issues after the passage of the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)," says Pierce. "There hasn't been the same attention given to the home environment."
Pierce's philosophy of what makes up a house is nontraditional. The Accessible Home is organized around activitiy centers rather rooms. Piece underlines this notion, "I think the idea of having a living room, dining rooom, and a kitchen is no longer useful. Our homes need to serve our personalities and lifestyles. Instead of having a formal dining room, more families sit down together in an eat-in kitchen or TV room."
What is most remarkable in these images is the seamless way that accessibility is integrated into the home, from the layout to the details. Comfort, efficiency, and functionality--these are the hallmarks of an acessible home, as well as of the places where we all want to live!
To learn more, check out our video an "Interview with Deborah Pierce."
The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages & Abilities is available at bookstores near you, online, and from the Taunton Press Store.