Accessibility Makes a House a Home

Architects have long debated how important a building’s design is. Some have come to the conclusion that the appearance of a building is just as important as its purpose, or perhaps even more so. Others hold the opinion that form must follow function- a drafty and leaky building will fail to adequately protect its occupants, regardless of its visual beauty. A related principle stands out either way: if the intended occupants of the building can’t access it easily, then the building has clearly outlived its usefulness. This is as true for individual houses as for grand civic structures.

All buildings are a means to an end- that of shelter from the elements- but there’s something special about a home. Most of us spend the majority of our time in our homes, and frankly, we’d rather be there than in the office, because home is where the heart is. It’s where family is, and where many of our best memories are made. It’s a place that we want to associate with rest and enjoyment.

Of course, we don’t remain the same during our entire lives. People grow and change, and adapt to new circumstances. Often our homes start to represent something different in the context of those changes. Buildings don’t simply adjust themselves in the way their occupants need. Many buildings that were once of great use to thousands of people are for this reason abandoned to the elements, but who wants such a fate for their beloved home? Anyone who has invested so much time and effort in the beautification of their home would hardly feel satisfied with such an end, even if the staircase has lately become more of a burden than a help.

Fortunately, human ingenuity has now made it easier than ever before to adapt a home to the changing requirements of life. Technologies like motorized chair lifts can bypass the steps of any staircase, regardless of shape. That key feature of a multistory home no longer need imply the wearing down of its user’s knees, or demanding the assistance of another resident. A more attractive but more design-intensive technology like a home elevator can accomplish the same useful purpose of improved accessibility, while adding a customized touch of architectural sophistication. Above all, they provide a home’s occupants with that cherished feeling of independence. Having outdoor steps turned into a ramp, installing swing away doors, widening doorways, lowering thresholds, and installing grab bars are also important and simple ways to adapt the home.

Our houses are, as one architect put it, “machines for living.” They should serve us, rather than wear us out. Even so, we feel attached to them, and we want them to be places where we can be happy and comfortable for many years. A proud and independent homeowner would therefore do well to consider the value of these adaptations that can help a house remain a home.

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