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The Art of the Accessible Home

June 2 2009 | by


Jordan Guide is a Chicago-area independent interior designer and home-accessibility design expert. Her love of art and design began at an early age: She preferred blank paper and her grandfather’s art tools to Crayola crayons. After receiving her Interior Designer certification in 2007, she gained immediate attention for her design of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant specialty kitchen. She also owns, a website that sells removable wall decals, including hers, by artists around the world.

Q: Jordan, how did you get involved in universal and accessible design for the home?
I was first exposed during my studies at College of DuPage. Preparation for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam begins very early on in the Interior Design designation program. Accessibility is a large portion of the examination, so incorporating those guidelines into all of our portfolio projects was the base criteria for grading. Those guidelines continue to spill over into residential design because accessible living means more comfortable living for all.

Q: All these accolades, and you’re only 29 years old. Do you subscribe to a certain wisdom?
I suppose it’s as simple as always designing my best for clients. Regardless of how simple or challenging the project requirements are, I give my clients everything I have — from ideas and solutions to the latest technology innovations. I can visualize a client living and interacting in their space, which is essential for creating a successful project.

Guide designed this ADA-compliant kitchen.

Guide designed this ADA-compliant kitchen.

Q: One of your most notable projects – for which you won an award from the American Society of Interior Designers — was creating an accessible kitchen for Connie Wurtzel, a Chicago-area woman who uses a wheelchair. What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
Most challenging was how to make [her home] both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Accessible design tends to have a more institutional look. [The number of] available products and materials I found on the market were reduced to half once I had learned of Connie’s arm limitations. That realization led me to create custom products or modify existing ones.

Q: What are some of the “specialty” accommodations you added to her kitchen?
For starters, I widened the entryway into kitchen and designed the layout to allow for a centralized five-foot wheelchair-turning radius. I incorporated a roll-under prep station with an under-counter electrical outlet, and a roll-under cook top with a heat shield, which was a great addition because it allows her to cook comfortably. I also lowered the countertops, which makes it easy for her to access the microwave and dishwasher drawers. The refrigerator and freezer are now sized and stacked within her reach. The pullout spray faucet was installed at the front-side of the counter for convenience, as well as a push-button garbage disposal.

Q: Do you feel you made a difference in improving Connie’s home life?
Yes, she tells me this all the time! She’s finally able to use her kitchen independently from her caretaker, and she’s baking for the first time in 15 years.

Q: How much of a sub-specialty is accessible interior design? Can? anyone in the industry learn how to do it?
Any NCIDQ certified professional should be able to design for clients with accessibility needs. That’s what separates NCIDQ professionals from the rest. You can search NCIDQ’s QSearch database ?for certified Interior Designers, or contact your state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. There are also a number of independent Interior Designers and Interior Design firms that specialize in residential accessibility.

Q: Where do you see the market going for accessible design and age-in-place homes?
People today are more health conscious, environmentally friendly and concerned about their future. Baby Boomers now make up almost one-third of our nation’s population. Most of them are accustomed to a certain standard of living and are less likely to move into retirement communities. They would rather retrofit their existing home or custom-build a new home to meet their Universal Design needs, and this trend is here to stay.

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  • Chicago Furniture Man

    what do you think of the eco-friendly leatherette? they are plastic after all aint they?

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