Text by: Tiffany Carboni
There are few compliments an architect likes better than having a client who loves his or her work. For Carol Sundstrom, AIA, that praise is even sweeter when it comes from a fellow architect, in this case Karen Braitmayer of Studio Pacifica.
While Sundstrom’s specialty is residential architecture, Braitmayer’s is accessibility consulting. The two frequently partner on residential projects, though this remodel was especially close to their hearts. Both Braitmayer and her teenage daughter require the use of wheelchairs, and since they both love to cook together, their kitchen needed to accommodate their lifestyle, in addition to Braitmayer’s husband who doesn’t use a wheelchair.
The 1954 Eichler-style house in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood was stretched thin on space. Determined to adhere to the house’s original footprint, Sundstrom found square footage by removing “an enormous fire place mass,” as she calls it, which extended awkwardly from the living room into the master bedroom. With it gone and the house’s mechanical equipment moved to an outdoor closet, Sundstrom was free to create an open, multi-cook-friendly kitchen appropriate for eight wheels, two feet, and loads of guests.
The clear-stained red oak floor leads the eye to the clear-stained white oak cabinets by Contour Woodworks topped with honed Cambrian black granite. The custom stainless steel sink by Kollmar Sheet Metal has an integral drainage board and garbage disposal concealed by shallow cabinetry that allows plenty of knee clearance.
To the right of the sink, an appliance garage and pullout baking station, with electrical outlets and cleanable bamboo veneer, makes baking easy for all family members. “What I love most about designing wheelchair accessible kitchens is that it’s less about the traditional work triangle that isn’t always convenient and more about proper ergonomics that address how we really use our space—with or without a wheelchair,” explains Sundstrom. “No matter what mode one is in, be it cleaning or cooking, everything needed to complete those series of tasks is in arm’s reach from a single spot.”
The microwave and oven further prove that point. The side-opening wall oven is mounted at just the right height so a hot dish can be pulled out and placed on the adjacent heat-resistant countertops. The island’s eating counter allows any kind of chair to be pulled up for a family dinner. The supporting pedestal leg offers maximum knee space.
“I didn’t design a special needs kitchen. I designed a kitchen that makes sense to the human body. I’ve been telling Karen for years since we completed the kitchen that I want first refusal rights if they ever decide to sell this house. The good and bad news for me,” jokes Sundstrom, “is they really love it.”