Ingenuity & freedom

Designed for accessibility, this home has great ideas for everyone
Peter O. Whiteley

"We wanted something accessible that didn't look it," says Elizabeth Twaddell, as she prepares lunch for her 3-year-old daughter, Amrita. Elizabeth, who uses a wheelchair, is sitting at her favorite midday location: a table-height island that divides the kitchen from the adjacent family room. Its sleek, open design ― a black granite top over stainless steel legs ― allows her to roll under the counter so she can be close enough to work comfortably. Like so many other parts of the elongated, one-story, four-bedroom house, the island functions equally well for someone in, or out of, a wheelchair.

When the house was being designed, Twaddell, her husband, Amardeep Misha, and architect Jeffrey L. Day addressed the challenges of her disability head-on. The result shows in the simple, understated way the home utilizes universal ― or barrier-free ― design principles. In addition to roll-under counters like the kitchen island, there are wide hallways, no bumpy doorsteps, and convenient built-in seats.

The house proves that good design is about solving problems elegantly, and it offers lessons in space planning for everyone. Visitors immediately notice the crisp geometry of the house, the artfully framed panoramic views, the light-filled spaces, the graceful flow from the house to the surrounding decks and terraces, the built-in furniture that saves floor space, and the rich but muted color palette. Only on closer inspection does the underlying wheelchair accessibility reveal itself.

Little moments, big victory
This warm and vibrant house gives Twaddell freedom by making routine tasks as easy as possible. She can quietly enjoy the little things―the sounds of a little girl's giggles from the family room, the click-clack of Baxter, their friendly Bernese mountain dog, walking on the hardwood floors, and the shadows of Bradford pear trees on the kitchen floor. "This house succeeds because it makes my disability less apparent to me," she says.

DESIGN: Jeffrey L. Day, Min/Day, San Francisco (415/255-9464), in collaboration with Marc Toma and Lisa K. Trujillo, BurksToma Architects, Berkeley (510/534-4255)

INTERIOR: Marie Fisher and Alissa Lillie, Marie Fisher Interior Design, San Francisco (415/397-5515)