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Accessible Designbefore and afterInteriors

Before & After: A Hacienda-Style Makeover Focused on Accessibility

by Garrett Fleming

Before & After: A Hacienda-Style Makeover Focused on Accessibility, Design*Sponge
Six years ago, Mario Guzman came down with the common flu. After receiving the standard treatment, though, he didn’t get any better. Mario had been misdiagnosed. Because of the delay it caused in his healing process, he then slipped into septic shock, and his body quickly declined. “As a result of his illness,” his wife Ludmila tells us, “he became a multiple amputee, and thanks to the nerve damage that he suffered as a result of the infection, he is now a wheelchair user.”

The couple immediately felt the strain of Mario’s setback. Once a pair that loved to travel and exercise, their days were now filled with healing and trying to figure out how to make life easier for Mario.

In order to allow Mario to feel more comfortable at home, the family decided to move out of their stair-heavy condo in San Jose, CA. Finding a new space that was the right fit, however, was challenging. They toured 30 homes, none of which were even close to being accessible, before landing on a 1930s-era, Spanish-style bungalow. “Our home was the only one that we could actually manage to get him in using a portable ramp, and its beautiful looks and ample garden helped close the deal,” Ludmila explains.

Recently, the two took on a thoughtful renovation to make the new house’s kitchen and dining area more accessible. The four-month-long project involved, among other things, doubling down on lower cabinetry and widening doorways to accommodate Mario’s chair. The cleverness of their design is most prominently on display in the area around their sink. From the outside, the cabinet doors below the sink appear to hide run-of-the-mill storage, but Mario can actually open the doors and glide his chair up under the sink itself (where shelves should be) and use it without any problems.

Looking back, Ludmila says one of the greatest challenges she faced during the renovation was tracking down design inspiration that was equal parts accessible and attractive. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. I’ve heard the same thing from countless other families through my work here at Design*Sponge. What Ludmila and these families don’t realize is that their voices are making a difference. Right now, somewhere in the world, another family is searching online for accessible design ideas just as they did themselves. If they look hard enough, they’ll come across Ludmila and Mario’s hacienda or one of the other accessible homes we’ve covered over the last 15 years and (hopefully) feel a little less alone. 

Photography by Ludmila Guzman

Image above: In order to help their new kitchen’s look fit with the house’s original design and subsequent revamps, the couple focused on Spanish-style accents. “This [house has] been loved by all of its previous owners, so we felt that we needed to respect its history and architecture by making changes that would not look discordant nor too contemporary,” Ludmila explains.

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To save money and decrease the environmental impact of their renovation, the couple reused their sink, faucets and appliances.

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Ludmila says the most frustrating part about bringing the remodel to life was finding wheelchair-accessible design tips and inspiration online.

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Removing the cabinetry below the kitchen sink allows Mario to wheel right up to it.

People often think of accessible design as clinical and institutional, but it does not have to be that way.

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“Initially I wanted encaustic concrete tiles, but their thickness would have created a small step in the transition to the kitchen – something that would have been detrimental [to my husband] as a wheelchair user.” – Ludmila

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The majority of the room’s upper cabinetry – inaccessible by Mario – was removed and installed in the nearby laundry room. All the appliances now sit at counter height so he can reach them.

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The remodel taught Ludmila invaluable lessons in empathy: “I had to understand and put myself in my husband’s shoes and see how little things – such as the swing of a door, the existence of a floor rug or the pulls of a cabinet – [could mean] the difference between being independent or not. I realized how many common furniture items and fixtures would be inadequate for a person with severe mobility issues.”

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It took four months to bring the new dining room and kitchen to life.

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The wall connecting the dining room and kitchen was blown out to create a wider doorway so Mario can more-easily move between the two spaces.

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The new kitchen and dining room’s layout.

SOURCE LIST

Architect – Richard Hartman of Hometec Architecture
Builder – Prudhom Builders
Kitchen cabinetry – “Omega Cabinets” by Signature Kitchen and Design
Flooring –
Stove – Tecnogas
Paintings –

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Comments

  • Beautiful! Not a hint of “institutional” or “clinical” anywhere!

    As someone with mobility issues myself (there but by the Grace of God, I am not in a wheelchair. Yet…) I so appreciate D*S*’s attention to accessible design.

    I find “institutional” things very depressing — you focus on your problems, not on what you CAN do. Surrounding yourself in a home that both makes it possible to live more easily AND is also lovely actually contributes to your well-being.

    I am so impressed with you, Mario & Ludmilla, for what you have done!

  • A search for Prudhom Builders turns up nothing online. Can you double check that name, or perhaps point to their contact info somehow?

    • Hello Lindsey, the name is correct. Our builder does minimum advertisement – was referred by our kitchen cabinet maker- whom you can find at . Both did an amazing job and we are glad to recommend them!

  • I find it really interesting they chose to have 2 sinks, one he can access, the other for able bodied people. I love that the kitchen is largely useable by the disabled person but looks ‘ordinary’ in the sense it doesn’t look specially adapted.

  • A lovingly and absolutely beautifully remodel has come to life here. What a great and successful job you‘ve done. Such style, accssibility, great taste and colours – amazing. The doggies of course are the dot on the ‚i‘. Thank You for sharing your dream home. May you both live happily and forget the setbacks in your lovely nest.

  • Thank you for sharing this awesome remodel. As an architect, it is very encouraging to see people taking design into their own hands and making it work them!

  • Kudos for showing a fully accessible AND beautiful home. Not every disability is apparent, some are invisible. Vision and hearing, for instance, deteriorate over time, and brain injury can cause difficulties that are intermittent. Designers who think about features like lighting, doorways, space to park wheelchairs and seating that is not too deep are creating spaces that welcome all of us and adapt to our own changing needs.

  • I wonder about the use of “hacienda-style”. To my knowledge, it sounds very similar in meaning to “plantation style”, which is more than a little uncomfortable. I understand I am probably misinformed.

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