Spacious house promises some a simpler life

Access: Homes designed and built for developmentally disabled residents may ease the challenge of semi-independent living.

January 11, 2004|By Matt Kasper | Matt Kasper,SUN STAFF

When construction at 718 Hookers Mill Road, Abingdon, comes to a close in April, few people will be happier than the Kramers.

After placing their mentally retarded adult son, Jim, in a home by himself for about a year, then bringing him back to live with them when complications arose, they know how difficult finding the ideal home can be.

"We've been through about four houses ourselves in the process," said Robert Kramer, Jim's stepfather. "This one is well-built."

Once Jim Kramer moves into his new home - built for developmentally disabled people in Abingdon - he might have the most accommodating home possible.

Besides being able to depend on a 24-hour, live-in support staff, Jim Kramer and two other disabled adults will be living in one of the first houses built incorporating Universal Design principles.

A somewhat revolutionary approach to home design, Universal Design caters to people who require or desire more space in their homes.

Developers David Coughlin, executive director of the Hunt Valley-based nonprofit Richcroft Inc., which specializes in providing housing for people with developmental disabilities, and Brian Flick, president and owner of Wenkat Design and Construction Co. in Glen Arm, credit the Universal Design layout as the most effective and pragmatic means of home construction.

"It's definitely the way to go in the future," Flick said. "As more people get older, the demand for building is only going to get greater."

So far, Coughlin said, the company has spent $299,873 constructing the house. When all is said and done, he said, he expects costs to reach about $390,000. The project was appraised for $400,000.

Coughlin said the house is spacious , and objects such as wheelchairs and grocery carts easily roll through the front door.

Flick said that with 9-foot ceilings, the house feels very large and that anyone standing in the kitchen gets an unobstructed view of about "78 percent of the first floor."

"The customer doesn't adapt to the design, the design adapts to the customer," Flick said.

Despite these amenities, Coughlin and Flick say the house will remain, at least ostensibly, as inconspicuous as possible.

Before the project began, both men agreed that the goal of building the home according to Universal Design principles was to offer a special house with no extra attention drawn toward the people who live there.

"People should know them for who they are and not what they are," Coughlin said. "It's important more people with disabilities live in the places they want to live" without facing problems, he said.

Historically, one of the biggest barriers people with developmental disabilities face, Coughlin said, besides finding suitable living space, is a high unemployment rate. Thus, finding affordable housing is always a problem.

Richcroft has filled that niche in Central Maryland. Coughlin said the architectural accommodations don't necessarily come at extra cost, and the construction process has had no major problems.

"It's been very smooth," Flick said.

The house on Hookers Mill Road is the first house Richcroft has helped build. Coughlin said his desire to build, as well as to expand the building of these houses across the state, emanated from an article he read in the Dec. 23, 2001, edition of The Sun. The article was about a woman with post-polio syndrome who decided to build her own home after spending 15 years in a house that did not meet her needs.

"As I read the article, I thought her home might benefit the people Richcroft serves," Coughlin said.

"Maybe Dave has spearheaded something here," Robert Kramer said.

His wife, Sybilla, said her son is fortunate to have the opportunity to live in the home. If things do not turn out as promised, the housing contract runs out in one year, and they can decide whether to renew.

"Hopefully, there won't be a problem," Sybilla Kramer said.

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