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Sketch of a house

Aesthetic Access

By Jason Richards

I’m not sure if it’s my passion for rescuing and restoring vintage treasures or simply my need for an accessible house but when I saw my little 1950’s bungalow in 2012 I knew straight away that this beautifully designed dwelling could be made into something special and would become my home. 

My love of great design, in particular that which stems from the post-war era, meant it was impossible for me to simply settle for a typical uninspired bungalow and to put in a green baize covered portable ramp, white plastic mobility grab rails all over the bathroom and to remove a beautiful 50’s fitted kitchen and replace it with a typical laminate mobility kitchen. 

My preference is for aesthetics rather than access, but this can be a little tricky when you’re in a wheelchair. However, in January 2013 I sat down with architect Adam Clark to see if it was possible to combine accessibility with aesthetics and produce something which would not only ignite our passion for design but would also provide me with an functional home which would improve my day to day quality of life. I wanted light airy spaces that were flooded with natural light and would showcase my collection of mid-century furniture. 

I have worked with Halliday Clark architects on a number of projects and always been excited by their trueness to clean modernist lines and their ability to design new and exciting structures that seamlessly slot in to their surroundings. 

Over a double espresso Adam Clark and I discussed the aspirations for the bungalow, along with my mobility requirements, so that we could fuse these together, rather than bolting on the access which is so often the case. The original house was built in 1958 and has lovely modernist lines and large expanses of glazing which allow natural light to flood in from outside. It has remained unchanged since it was built and retained the original handmade wooden kitchen with its Formica work tops and the art deco style cast iron bath and black glass tiles to the bathroom walls. However, a somewhat unsightly porch had been added on in the 70s which not only leaked via the roof and the floor but also presented an issue in terms of access. There were steps up into the porch and then the original steps leading into the house. The other main issue with the house as it stood was the small toilet, separate from the bathroom, in which I was unable to turn my wheelchair. We were keen to retain some of the original mid-century feature such as the kitchen units and bathroom suite and glass tiles but bring the bungalow up to date in terms of insulation levels, wiring, heating and feel. We decided to remove the wall dividing the toilet and the bathroom but retain the original bathroom suite and glass tiles to create a larger accessible bathroom. The porch would be demolished and a new steel and glass structure created to provide a light and airy reception room with the floor running at the same level as the main house. Ramped access would then be formed, along with steps to give flexibility. The palette of materials was kept to a minimum with a reclaimed teak floor running throughout the house which would match the new off centre pivot front door, decking to the ramp and external cladding. White walls and external painted brick work were chosen to provide a minimalist feel whilst the yellow Formica work tops and bathroom suite would provide splashes of colour and interest. 

Halliday Clark gained planning approval for the scheme in April 2013 and we then set about finding the right contractor for the project. It was only when the tenders came back in that we realised the cost of the project had escalated beyond the initial budget. 

I had already applied for a Disabled Facilities Grant from Harrogate Borough Council to help with the costs of the adaptations to the property. Following an initial assessment from by the Occupational Therapist I was advised that I would be eligible for a grant and that the next step in the process was for me to be means tested to establish the extent of the financial support. The means test was an interesting process as it is done on a standard form and there was no way to take into account such things as Child Support payments or other outgoings. With me working as a Consulting Engineer this also seemed to hinder the application. Sure enough when the award came through my grant was “nil”. It seemed ironic that as a disabled person who makes the effort to get out of bed each day to go to work, and is not a burden on benefits system, that I was not eligible for any financial support to meet my housing needs. 

With the help of John Appleton at Applegreen Construction and by extending my mortgage to the hilt we were able to value engineer the project to an affordable level without compromising the original design. 

We are now 10 weeks into the project and I can’t deny that it hasn’t been an emotional roller coaster so far. However, that is partly due to my somewhat obsessive attention to detail and the exacting standards of Halliday Clark. Applegreen Construction has proved to be the ideal partner for the project and the building so far is testament to the quality of their work. 

What is emerging has signs of great architecture and a home that will not only improve my quality of life but that will be an iconic building for generations to come.

So it would seem that it is possible to combine access with aesthetics.