Cabin Design for a Flexible Future

Dear Jane, Thank you so much for responding to our last question (“Getting from the Cabin to the Lake,” Access […]

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Dear Jane,

Thank you so much for responding to our last question (“Getting from the Cabin to the Lake,” Access Press, July 10, 2006). This got us thinking further. We have always known that when we permanently move up to our lake property, we will need to remodel and update our cabin to provide the “comforts of home” versus “a cabin escape.” As we begin the planning process, how can we ensure that remodeling completed today will allow installation of accessibility features if needed in the future?

Tom and Judy, Stillwater, MN


Dear Tom and Judy,

I am so glad you found our response to your question enlightening. Recognizing that you are going to be remodeling anyway, now is the time to incorporate basic design concepts that allow future “fine tuning” to address mobility and/or aging issues.

Primary Entrance. Start by designating one entrance as a primary, future accessible entrance. If you have a stoop or deck, construct a level landing at the door so it is the same height as the threshold. The size of this platform should be a minimum five feet by five feet that would allow future installation of a ramp. Remember to also provide a minimum five feet by five feet on the interior side of the door so as to have ample floor space to enter and exit your home. Winter elements of Minnesota also make it a good idea to have this primary entrance covered by an exterior awning or roof.

One Level. Eliminate the need to rely on steps when planning the interior space. Having one bedroom and bathroom on the same level as the kitchen and living area is ideal. These rooms should be located on the same level as the accessible entrance. You may also want to consider having an accessible “egress route,” disguised as a deck off the bedroom.

Doors. Doors that are relocated or replaced should be widened to 36 inches (or install French doors that can both be opened to create a wider opening).

Bathroom. When reconfigur-ing bathroom (and kitchen) areas, provide a minimum 30″x48″ clear floor space centered in front of toilets, sinks, tub/showers and appliances. If you would rather wait on this access feature, at least install the floor material under the entire vanity so you don’t have to replace the flooring later when modifying the vanity. Installing a sink and countertop over a base cabinet which could be removed at a later date is also another option. Providing a large mirror that extends to the backsplash—allowing use when standing or sitting—can be done now with little additional expense.

Before installing drywall or wall tile in bathrooms, reinforce all walls surrounding the toilet, bathtub and/or shower to provide a proper surface for future installation of grab bars. The preferred method would be installing plywood over the wall studs extending the full height and width of walls surrounding these fixtures.

If you are considering replacing the toilet, install a toilet with a taller seat surface. All of the major plumbing manufacturers offer a residential model that provides a higher toilet seat but looks like a standard residential toilet.

Avoid luxury-sized whirlpool tubs; they are difficult to get in and out of. A standard bathtub is easier to get in and out of, and if needed it can accommodate a bench seat and hand-held shower sprayer (for use when getting into the tub becomes difficult and reach-ranges become limited). The most flexible solution is a shower unit without a “curb,” but we suggest installing them into a bathroom with a tile floor instead of vinyl. Avoid shower units with doors, as they are typically too narrow to get into easily if you have any mobility restrictions. Instead use a weighted shower curtain at the entrance. Install the curtain rod a few inches inside the shower to ensure that the curtain drips inside the shower.

Kitchen. If you can, incorporate a pantry. When ordering new kitchen cabinets, ask for pull-out shelves in base cabinets. Pull out cutting boards are also useful; they let you sit while preparing a meal. Otherwise, provide open knee space below one section of counter.

Select “D” shaped cabinet pulls for cabinet doors and drawers. Any new faucet or door hardware should allow lever operation, especially if you have limited strength or grasping ability.

Floors. Firm floor surfaces such as laminate, low-pile carpet, tile and hardwood are easier to maneuver over and more durable. The transition from one floor surface to another should be level with no abrupt rise. This will eliminate eliminate tripping issues.

These tips should give you a starting point in assessing your remodeling options. During your planning stage, visit a variety of manufacturer showrooms to see the assortment of choices that can help make your cabin “home sweet home.”

Do you have a question for Jane and Accessibility Design? We’ll cover all of your questions in future issues of Home Access Answers. Please contact us: 952-925-0301,, [email protected]

Jane Hampton, president of Accessibility Design, founded the company in 1992 to enhance lives through design and project management. The company provides design, consultation, project management, and product recommendation services, specializing in home access for individuals with disabilities at all stages of life.

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