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Easy Access: A Wheelchair-Accessible Timber Home in Ohio

An Ohio couple designs an attractive timber-frame barn home to accommodate handicap accessibility.

Deb Dick wanted their new home to capture the stately appeal of an old schoolhouse she saw that had been converted into a dwelling, a visual echo most apparent from the back of the house.

Everyone has his or her own needs when designing a house. But when Ed and Deb Dick designed and built their timber-frame barn home in northwest Ohio, their needs were more specific than most.

Deb has been in a wheelchair since losing her legs as a result of complications from a blood clot. The Dicks originally planned to remodel their old home to make it more accessible for Deb but decided to build a new house instead.

The front entrance features a wheelchair ramp flanked by low stone walls, which hide it from the drive. Steps on the right lead up to the custom front doors.

Although one goal was to have a more wheelchair-friendly home, they weren’t going to let her disability dictate the kind of house they built. “Everybody said, ‘You must be living in a ranch,’” Deb says. “No, I never lived in a ranch, and I was going to build my dream house — one we could be really happy with.” The Dicks’ ideal home wasn’t single level and didn’t announce its wheelchair accessibility with prominent ramps or a staircase elevator. It would be spacious, yet cozy, not overly large, but visually memorable, with plenty of nooks and crannies for Deb’s antiques collection.

A converted schoolhouse in upstate New York provided inspiration for the design of the three-level, 3,600-square-foot timber-frame barn-style home. Architect Kent V. Thompson of Columbus, Ohio, observes, “[The barn is] a style that’s really appropriate here in rural Ohio. It’s genuine. It has a lot of integrity.” He adds, “The other thing that’s good about the form is it’s essentially a box, which makes it cheap to build. It’s a form that’s cost-effective.”

The fireplace with a restored 18th-century French clock is a dramatic highlight of the soaring great room. The ceiling reaches 30 feet, 6 inches at its peak. The antique 1949 sign marks the year the Dicks were born.

The height of the great room, with its imposing double-sided fireplace and unfinished oak posts and beams, creates a sense of space and light for the moderate-sized four-bedroom home. The timber frame, richly colored reclaimed flooring and other carefully thought-out details come together to create a home that’s both eye-catching and inviting.

An elevator allows Deb Dick to move easily from one floor to another.

The home is also carefully designed to be comfortable for Deb. An unobtrusive elevator makes it easy for her to move from floor to floor. The architect covered the inside of the shaft with tongue-and-groove vertical wood siding. “The idea is that it would look like the shaft a lot of old barns had where you tossed hay down from the hay mow,” he explains. The long breezeway between the garage and the house provides plenty of room for a gentle ramp to make it easier to roll a wheelchair into the house.

The spacious kitchen, laid out to provide room for her chair to move, was particularly important to Deb. The raised toe kick beneath the cabinets allows the wheels of her chair to fit beneath so she can get closer to the countertops. “I have recessed drawers under my cooktop so the wheelchair can go under,” she adds, “and I have a farm sink that allows me the same access.” The dishwasher, microwave and oven are accessible to her, too. “The wall oven opens up on the side,” she says. “That was a really hard thing to find. I love it.”

Being able to cook comfortably was important to Deb Dick, and the kitchen was designed to be spacious, wheelchair-friendly and filled with light.

Bathrooms, passages and doors also have been designed for easier navigation. All the custom work raised the cost of the home, but the Dicks chose a timber-frame construction system that should save them money in the long run. The timber frame and the Insulspan structural insulated panels (SIPs) that constitute the shell of the home came from Riverbend Timber Framing, based in Blissfield, Michigan. Besides allowing faster, simpler construction, the Insulspan SIPs are highly energy efficient.

“You’re going to save anywhere from 40 to 70 percent on your heating and cooling costs in your typical Insulspan timber-frame home,” says Connie Seiser, the sales representative who worked with the Dicks. It’s the final sensible touch that proves you don’t have to accept the limitations anyone else would impose on your aspirations. “It’s just so livable. When extended family gets together, we usually do it here because I can’t get in their houses,” Deb laughs. “It’s turned out to be kind of a party house.”