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Renovating for Love with
The Long Term in Mind

How universal design in a kitchen and a bath changed the lives of these contest winners.

About a year ago, Jamie Hammill, 47, of Richfield, N.C., was leafing through AARP The Magazine while on a flight to a business meeting. She came across an announcement for AARP’s Recession Remodel Room Makeover Contest. AARP would arrange donations of appliances, fixtures and other building products along with designer and contractor services to two winners. Entrants were asked to describe how remodeling a kitchen or a bath would help them or their families.

Jamie thought, “Why not enter?” Her father had recently died, and her mother, Judy, 67, was planning to retire from her job in Charleston, S.C., and move back into the house on the family farm where Judy had been born and raised — a house her father had built with his own hands in 1943. It was a good house, which they’d used on holidays and weekends for many years. But if Judy were going to live there full time, the kitchen would need updating.

Around the same time — but on the ground in Snohomish, Wash. — Mary Waggoner clipped the contest announcement from the AARP magazine, tacked it to the bulletin board above her desk and thought, “I hope I get around to entering this.”

Mary’s eightysomething parents had recently moved from their log house in the Montana wilderness into a one-room apartment in an adult community in Mary’s town. They’d had to. Mary’s mother, Louise, afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, is confined to a wheelchair. Her father, Clarence, who had had hip and knee replacements, uses a walker and a cane to get around. His eyesight was failing, too, as a result of macular degeneration.

Bath Design Issues

Mary knew that they were safe at the adult home during the week, while she worked at a demanding job; most weekends, she cared for her parents in her own home. But that routine was going to have to change unless she did something about one of her bathrooms. Her mother’s wheelchair wouldn’t fit through the bathroom door. More than once they’d had to call 911 to get help lifting Mary’s mother when she had fallen trying to get from the doorway to the toilet. Nor could  her parents bathe

I figured I had three choices—get a different house, spend a lot of money on the one I own or stop having Mom and Dad over.

at her house since neither could safely step over the side of the tub.

“I had called a couple of building contractors hoping they could suggest solutions,” Mary says, “but after having a look, nobody called back. I figured I had three choices — get a different house, spend a lot of money on the one I own or stop having Mom and Dad over.”

The AARP Room Makeover Contest gave Mary another choice. She shot some photos of her existing bath and mailed them off with her story just before the deadline. “When an overnight package from AARP arrived on the porch a few weeks later, I knew we had won,” she says.

What Is Universal Design?

As part of their awards, both winners worked with interior designers who specialize in universal design, which is a broad-spectrum architectural approach to creating environments that are comfortable and accessible for both the able-bodied and disabled. Universal design involves consideration of many factors, including aesthetics, engineering options, environmental issues, industry standards, safety concerns and cost.

“Before I met the universal design specialists,” says Mary, “I was familiar with the term ‘handicapped access.’ I thought all we could do with the bathroom would be to put in a wheel-in shower, a comfort-height toilet and lots of grab bars. But there’s been a paradigm shift from

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