Monday, December 16, 2013

The Search for Floors that can take a Beating

One of the first things I started thinking about with a remodel for accessibility was the flooring.  This is what our kitchen floor looked like around 9 years ago when the kitchen floor was first installed:

And this is what they look like today.

Nice, huh?  It's pretty sad really.

(Oscar's launch pad to his food bowl)

Abbey's spot when she comes in wet from the rain or snow and lays down (can you see her outline?)

What?  I can't help it if my fur holds a lot of water!

But 2 big dogs and a kid in a wheelchair plus parents who can't seem to remember that wood floors need to be screened and re-polyed every...  how many years is it??  Plus, I'm not entirely sure how reliable the guys were that installed them - sort of cheap, fly by the night with probably-not-legal workers - there's plenty of other low quality things about how they laid the floor.  Anyway, we only put down some more poly about a year ago wtihOUT screening, and by that time, it was definitely too late.

So what kind of floor would be durable enough for us?  I'm in love with the look of hardwoods - and nothing else seems to fit with this little folk Victorian house.  But in a search for durability, I've debated all sorts of floors.

First it was laminate - I found out that you could buy commercial grade laminate, with super high durability - And if that stuff can withstand mall traffic, surely it would be ok.  But then one excited Oscar (and he's always excited) would scratch right through it as he pounced for food putting all his weight into his doggy claw tips.  Or perhaps a little piece of gravel or glass shard gets stuck in the wheelchair wheel.  Then it would be obvious it was laminate and have ugly scratches in it.

Then I thought pre-finished hardwood would be the way to go - with an aluminum oxide UV coating.  That must be strong, right?  And it would be true to the house.  But then I couldn't stop being worried about the scratches on that too.

Then I thought pre-finished and pre-distressed floors would camouflage the crazy scratching.  Ugh - but then the floors would always look kinda worn or "rustic", and I'm not sure I like that.  Plus one of Jim's friends that's in the industry told us the floor companies love that product because they can use up all their crappy wood and sell it at a premium by calling it "distressed"

Then I found out about bamboo strand flooring.  It's a technique where they divide the bamboo into thin fibers and then glue it back together.  But then your floor is really just glue encapsulating the fibers.  And supposedly some of the bamboo floor glues have nasty stuff in them.

Then I thought maybe engineered hardwood would be good because you could just swap out the high traffic floors every few years.

In all this searching, I started coming across wood-look tile.  The first ones in the home centers that I saw were pretty interesting, but still looked pretty fake.  And I said to myself, in 10 years, everyone is going to be saying, what were we thinking with the fake wood?  But I continued looking into it.

While looking for inspiration on how to incorporate the giant farmhouse utility sink in our basement in a new kitchen, I came across this blog with a kitchen renovation.  I pinned it in Pinterest and then learned months later googling wood look tile that the floor was actually tile.  She talks about them here, here, and here.

It was pretty impressive, and I thought it would be the perfect solution - especially if we installed radiant heat in the floors - we have it in our bathroom, and I absolutely love it.  Then I told Jim and he considered it, but wasn't quite sold on the idea.  I told a contractor friend and a few other people, and everyone poo-poo-ed me and said to just get real wood.  OK, I thought.  Fine.  I'll continue searching for something that will be durable enough to withstand a 75 pound hyperactive dog balancing on 8 little claw tips just waiting to be released to eat his food.

Who me?

But I couldn't stop thinking about the tile option.  I brought it up with Jim again a couple of weeks ago - "I can't help thinking that the wood look tile would be the best for us - I want hardwood, but I just don't see how it would be practical"  He agreed and said he had been thinking the same thing.

So last week I stopped into a local tile store to take a look at their options.  They had a huge variety.  I selected a few oak look ones (I just like the lighter wood better) and took them home.

The one I like the best is called "Danae" Arborea - it had a lot of surface texture and variety, came in a 4" plank, which looks a lot more traditional than the 6" wide hardwood planks that seem to be popular right now, AND it was the more reasonably priced option.

Here's a marketing picture from BluStyle, the makers of the tile:

And this guy in Florida (where wood look tiles seem to be popular) blogged about an installation they did with this same tile here.

Jim looked more into the radiant floor heat option, decided he thought it would work, work well, and be relatively easy to install.  He even bought a high efficiency boiler off of Craigslist.  So that was my cue - we were off to return to the tile store, and over the weekend we laid down a deposit for 800 sqft of Danae Arborea tile.  Now we just have to finish the architectural plans and get the work started. Oh, and pay for construction. All of which will likely take quite a bit more time than my obsessive analysis paralysis.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

First Drafts of the New Floorplan

Back in October we got some first round floor plans from Michael Gelb.  Here is the first floor:

You'll notice first the front of the house stays as it currently exists.
Then you walk back into the kitchen/dining.  These plans also have only a half wall between the kitchen and the front living area.

Then you walk back into an area I will call the "back foyer".  Here on the left is a door out to the driveway.  And on the right is the elevator.

From there, you can either go down an interior ramp on the left, or head down a short, wide hallway to an accessible 1/2 bath on the right, and a play/therapy room at the end of the hallway.

If you go down the interior ramp, you end up in a mudroom with cubbies, storage, and a dog worthy shower.  The stairs to the basement are also located in the mudroom, as well as a door directly into the garage.

And here is the second floor:

On the second floor, the front bedroom (currently our master bedroom) stays the same, and Morty's current bedroom stays the same.  However, that's about all that's the same.

Where the bathroom is becomes a hallway that goes back and then turns to the right.  From there you can go through a door into the accessible "Morty bath" or make a left to go down the hallway with the elevator on the right.

If you continue through the door at the end of that hallway, you enter into the new master suite.  There on the left is a walk-in closet, and on the right is the master bath (notice this is the new home for our existing clawfoot tub)

Then past the bath and closet is the master bedroom.  At the back of the bedroom is a french door that leads out onto a deck.

We have a bunch of changes that we want to make to this plan including the following layout items:
- Kitchen - needs more room between the island and cabinets for accessibility - willing to take out the 1/2 wall and rearrange the island
- Kitchen - include an area with an open lowered counter, so that Morty has his own kitchen prep space.
- Kitchen - pantry can be moved to the understair hutch location (this is currently a poorly built hutch)
- Playroom - close off the back wall to meet with the front of the closet.  Then there is space for a stackable washer & dryer in the mudroom
- Morty's Bath - the shower is too small and needs to be bigger to accommodate a bath chair and a care attendant

We met with Michael and went over some of these things.  He has been working on round 2 draft, entering it into a CAD program, and doing elevations.  We also had to get a plot plan re-done to add in the garage (we had plans made before the garage was built, but didn't have the garage in there at the time, obviously)

Meanwhile, Jim and I have begun a lot of thought on more of the details.  Jim researches heating options and scours Craiglist to find windows and boilers.  I obsess over things like flooring and tile and other finishes.  More detail on these things to come...

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I've been trolling on Pinterest and thumbing through This Old House magazines that are piled up in our house, trying to find an ideal kitchen layout to fit our house.  The original plan that Michael Gelb drew up had the new kitchen in the new addition at the back of the house (same spot as the existing kitchen).

However, as I'm pretty sure I mentioned, we're thinking about moving the location to get more use out of our existing square footage (i.e. the dining room that is essentially a really big hallway from the family room to the kitchen)  Well, I think I found a perfect layout:

If you take out the wall between the sewing room and the dining room, the dimensions are just about the same.  Doorways are in a slightly different location, but if you flip it, it's essentially the same...  the kitchen would be in the existing sewing room and the eating nook would be in the existing dining room.  And the "to new family room" would be to the existing family room.

Of course, we'd have to get rid of the chimney.  But we don't have a real fireplace anyway... and the oil burner could be vented a different way.

Here's a couple other pictures:

Drool, drool, drool.  Excuse me while I wipe the drool off of my chin.

Here's the link to the gallery on This Old House.

Now, we're not sure exactly what we would do with the space between this and the mudroom, but there's got to be an elevator in there somewhere, and maybe it's a "Morty Suite" with a bedroom and big accessible bath... or maybe since there's an elevator, the Morty Suite can just be located upstairs and the downstairs is a therapy room/equipment garage and bathroom??  Maybe part of it is a hallway that is a big ramp from the mudroom to the existing house?  (there's about a 2-3 step difference in the design from the house to the garage - was supposed to be a step down to the kitchen and 2? steps down to the mudroom)  Still debating this one.  Anyway, we meet with Michael Gelb this weekend to go over our needed changes to the design.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Thinking About What's Next

We've been thinking a lot lately about what we want to do with the house.  We had some plans done up by MGZ when we built the garage - a "Phase 2" where we connected the house to the garage, added a mudroom, rebuilt the kitchen, and added a master suite above it.  We loved the design and have been working at paying down the mortgage so that we can start our project (a 5 to 10 year plan).

However, things have changed significantly in the past 3 years.  As it turned out, our son has cerebral palsy - which, if you're not familiar with CP, basically is a non degenerative condition where his brain has difficulty sending messages to his muscles.  The effects of CP can be on a broad spectrum, from mildly affected, where you might not even be able to tell, to severely affected, where the person has very little control of any muscles and must be assisted in a wheelchair.  Our son falls somewhere in that spectrum closer to the severely affected.  He is 3 and cannot independently walk.  He does use a gait trainer (a walker for young children) for short periods of time, and has started to learn how to use a power chair at his new preschool, where they specialize in children with physical disabilities.

So where does this put us?  Well, the design is now impractical for our situation.  Most of the house now as it exists, is impractical for the situation.  All the charm of a folk Victorian, with it's chopped up floorplan with doorway divided rooms (all with thresholds), multi stories, and narrow hallways just creates barrier after barrier for our son.  We've lived with it so far, mostly carrying him from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor and back again, and wheeling him around the house ourselves, bumping into (and dinging up) all the door casings.  And that's not even getting into how all the spare space in the house stores one piece of durable medical equipment or another (2 different chair/strollers, a gait trainer, a stander, various tri-wall cardboard seating & table setups)

But... we can't imagine moving.  We've invested so much time in this house.  And we love so many of our neighbors and friends here.  And we're walking distance to all the things that our little town center offers, from the library to summer concerts on the Common.  And we're halfway between Jim's work and my work.  And there's a whole complicated school situation with our son that we have just recently settled, and a new town would mean going through that process all over again.  And of course, the brand new garage.

So our little Plain Jane will have to change.  It needs to be opened up.  It needs to have a smooth floors with no transitions between rooms.  It needs an accessible bathroom.  And yes, I want a residential elevator.  I've started looking around and trying to find ideas.  "Universal Design" really appeals to me.  I don't want our house to look medical, but I want it accessible.

Here's some things from AARP and NAHB that help explain what it means to have a Universal Design

  • No-step entry. No one needs to use stairs to get into a universal home or into the home's main rooms.
  • One-story living. Places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep are all located on one level, which is barrier-free.
  • Wide doorways. Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through. They also make it easy to move big things in and out of the house.
  • Wide hallways. Hallways should be 36-42 inches wide. That way, everyone and everything moves more easily from room to room.
  • Extra floor space. Everyone feel less cramped. And people in wheelchairs have more space to turn.
  • Reachable controls and switches: Anyone — even a person in a wheelchair — can reach light switches that are from 42-48 inches above the floor, thermostats no higher than 48 inches off the floor, andelectrical outlets 18-24 inches off the floor.
  • Easy-to-use handles and switches: Lever-style door handles andfaucets, and rocker light switches, make opening doors, turning on water, and lighting a room easier for people of every age and ability.
  • Low or no-threshold stall showers with built-in benches or seats
  • Non-slip floors, bathtubs, and showers 
  • Raised, comfort-level toilets 
  • covered entryway to protect you and your visitors from rain and snow
The list could go on, but that's the idea.  With the aging baby boom population, it's often also called "Age In Place" design.

How do we translate this to our house?  I'm not entirely sure yet, but I'm searching for ideas, we have MGZ coming over in a couple months to review our current needs, and we have a contact for a friend of a friend that will give us a tour of their home that was recently remodeled for their son in a wheelchair.

Here's an architect that specializes in Universal Design.  He set out to show that a 2 story urban house could be universal, and that this design is not destined only for a sprawling ranch.

And here's a home plan that is designed to be accessible.  It's a lot bigger than our house, but I feel like some of this design could be applied to our house's layout.  If you just look at the left side of the house, it's not *too* much different than ours (if you busted out all our walls)

Anyway, those are my first thoughts.  I'll add more of my current ideas later...