Friday, September 25, 2009

Ohio couple makes their home a universal design living laboratory

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Rosemarie Rossetti and her husband, Mark Leder, broke ground yesterday on a new house and a new way of life. (Both are pictured.)

The 3,500-square-foot home outside Gahanna will serve not only as the couple's residence but also as a "universal design living laboratory," showcasing the latest features in handicapped-accessible homes.

"I want it to be a catalyst for change in the building industry," said Rossetti, a motivational speaker and writer.

Rossetti, 56, developed a need for such a home after being paralyzed from the waist down in 1998, when a tree fell on her while she was bicycling.

The couple soon realized that the two-story house they had built nearby after their marriage was no longer suitable for someone in a wheelchair: The counters are too high, the second floor is inaccessible, and the doorways and halls are difficult to navigate.

They looked at new homes but found the pickings slim.

"We went to model home after model home," Rossetti said. "We went to a lot of builders but found nothing. We were very discouraged."

Working with Columbus architect Patrick Manley, Rossetti and Leder came up with a single-story plan that includes more than 20 features of "universal design" as well as a host of environmentally friendly features.

Some were major, such as an elevator to the basement, extra-wide hallways, and heated sidewalks and patios. Others were small but important conveniences, including lever handles on doors and faucets, casement windows, a hand-held shower and a front-loading washer and dryer.

Otherwise, the home -- designed in a Frank Lloyd Wright "prairie" style -- is laid out largely like a conventional three-bedroom home (one bedroom doubling as a second office).

On the advice of a networking group, Rossetti and Leder decided in 2005 to seek sponsors for the house and open it to the public. Proceeds from the tours will benefit spinal cord injury research at Ohio State University.

To date, 121 companies have signed on for the estimated $1.1 million project -- including Marvin Windows and Doors, which donated the doors and windows.

"We see the potential of universal design and want to be part of this," Marvin representative Chick McBrien said at the groundbreaking.

Rossetti hopes the home will be finished by June, but she and her husband won't move in immediately.

For the first month, the home will be open for tours. Thereafter, the couple will host gatherings for architects, builders and others interested in universal design.

"Our intent is to have small groups for learning," Rossetti said. "I want builders to recognize a need for universal design -- that it is a design whose time has come for them to embrace it."

Several universities throughout the country have built demonstration homes showcasing universal design features, but this might be the only one to double as a residence, said Mary Yearns, a professor at Iowa State University who specializes in the technique.

The key to its success, she said, is to make it a hands-on lab.

Leder, 51, said he was nervous at first when his wife suggested that they live in a laboratory.

"I had some trepidation about it," he said. "But this will serve a valuable purpose."