The challenge: Elaine Krob's 1950s rambler in North St. Paul still had its original galley kitchen, which was narrow with minimal counter space and storage. Her sister, Janet Sanchez, also lives there and loves to cook. But she has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair, making it difficult to prepare meals. "And the floor had a slope," said Krob. "Janet had to lock her brakes when she was in the kitchen."
Krob planned to remodel the kitchen to make it wide enough for Sanchez to turn the wheelchair, and add easily accessible countertops, appliances and cabinets. However, Krob didn't want to put a costly addition on the back of the home that would affect an existing large deck with a ramp system.
The contractor: Tom Schiebout, Tomco Co., Andover, www.tomcocompany.com, 763-434-1522.
The designer: Brian Lange, Birchhill Drafting and Home Design, www.birchhilldrafting.com.
The solution: Schiebout, a certified aging-in-place specialist, measured the amount of space needed to accommodate the turning radius of the wheelchair. His design expanded the kitchen 11 square feet into the adjacent garage to gain room for maneuverability, new appliances and cabinets. The extra space also made it easier for Sanchez to enter the garage.
"Just 11 square feet allowed this narrow galley kitchen to become an accessible kitchen," said Schiebout. "The bump-out was more cost-effective than doing an addition with footings on the back of the home."
Multi-height counters: For better functionality, Schiebout designed the granite countertops at three different heights. The induction cooktop counter is 2 inches lower than standard height, and a food-prep area in front of a window can double as a desk. Even Krob found the lower cooktop easier to use, she said.
Hidden accessibility: When she wants to use the induction cooktop, Sanchez can roll out a storage cabinet tucked under the cooktop, and slide in her wheelchair. The butcher-block-topped rolling cabinet holds pots and pans, and also functions as a drop spot.
"She can roll the cabinet to the double oven and take out a hot casserole," said Schiebout. "It adds to the kitchen aesthetic and fills in the space when the cooktop isn't being used." Under the sink, Schiebout put in pivot doors, typically used in media cabinets, to accommodate the wheelchair.
Smart details: The kitchen has a touch-control faucet, handy light switches on the front of the sink and rounded cabinet pulls that don't hook onto clothing. Cabinets are outfitted with soft-close doors and rollout drawers for ease in finding kitchen tools.
Let there be light: Schiebout increased task and ambient lighting with ceiling-recessed can lights and under-cabinet lights.
The result: The design maximizes countertop and storage space and makes it easier for Sanchez to prepare meals from her wheelchair. "Now there's enough room for two cooks and for a wheelchair to turn," said Schiebout. "And it doesn't look like an accessible kitchen."
Good value: The revamped and modernized kitchen, which includes the bump-out, cost $58,000. Its universal design features could make the home more attractive to future buyers, according to Schiebout. "Aging baby boomers and people caring for their parents want a safe living environment," he said. "There aren't enough universally designed kitchens to meet the needs of all ages and abilities."
Best part: "The new kitchen allows Janet to be independent," said Krob. "It was worth the effort and customization."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619