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A Stylish Mid-Century Home Made for Wheelchair Accessibility

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Hayden and Claire’s circa-1950 brick bungalow in Yarraville, Melbourne looks out over the local park’s sea of gum trees. Inside, it features well-preserved, mid-century fittings, and boasts an expansive layout. Before Megan Norgate, founding director and principal designer at Brave New Eco, put her stamp on the property in 2015, however, it was difficult for the couple’s son Owen to navigate in his wheelchair. “It needed to work harder,” Norgate says.

To tip the scales in Owen’s favor, the designer started small and focused on customizing his bathroom. Her solutions? A wider entry, a floating sink Owen’s chair can roll up under, and new pocket doors which take up zero space when opened—read: they provide his chair with more room to turn. “The curved edge of the hardwood vanity also eliminates hard corners in the small space, so carers can easily move around the bathtub,” Norgate adds.

The bathroom tap is accessible from outside the tub meaning caregivers can easily help Owen bathe.

Photo by Emma Byrnes

While highly functional, form was never far from the designer’s mind. Mosaic tiles in varying sizes nod to pools of the 1960s and wink to the home’s mid-century lean. Their barely-there hue also provides an attractive, yet recessive, backdrop to a collection of glassware and a brass shower tap that proudly wears five years worth of patina (It aged in storage before being installed.).

Hayden, Claire and their sons Ned (10) and Owen (12) outside their home in Melbourne. A ramp was added to compensate for the front yard’s unevenness and provide a smooth surface for Owen’s wheelchair to glide over.

Photo by Emma Byrnes

Encouraged by the project’s success, the couple decided to consolidate their long-term renovation plans for the rest of their house into one, nine-month-long overhaul—helmed by Brave New Eco, of course. Luckily, their home’s wide hallways and generous, open floor plan already played nicely with Owen’s chair, so structural interventions were kept to a minimum. Instead, Norgate and her team focused on other ways to slip wheelchair-friendly elements in under the radar.

The previous owners of the home were ballroom dancers. They purposefully designed this room to be barrier-free so they could practice their moves at home.

Photo by Emma Byrnes

In the living and dining room, Norgate opted for smaller-sized floor tiles laid in a herringbone pattern to increase the amount of grout lines and, in turn, provide ample traction for Owen’s chair. The choice was a win-win as her clients are huge fans of beautiful tile. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that a tiled fireplace accompanies the tiled floor. Its streamlined facade is only interrupted by built-in storage for Hayden and Claire’s ceramics and a petite succulent, all of which stand in thoughtful clusters.

Photo by Emma Byrnes

What appears to be your run-of-the-mill, built-in desk kisses the fireplace, but its strategic height sets it apart. Owen’s chair can glide up under it. Follow the built-in away from the living room and you arrive in the kitchen, where colors specific to the home’s 1950s roots like paprika and sage meet updated appliances. “Everybody who visits loves the colors, (and) we feel enveloped by warm earth tones,” the homeowners add. Pops of other fall hues come courtesy of the family’s collection of stoneware.

The kitchen tiles were imported from Japan, and the dining room pendant lamp is by Pop & Scott.

Photo by Emma Byrnes, Emma Byrnes

Throughout the project, Norgate did ample research into accessibility standards to make sure she was dotting her I’s and crossing her t’s, but she tells us her clients were actually the greatest resource of all: “We spent a lot of time with the family, including both boys, during the design process in order to create a nuanced outcome specific to their needs.” This collaborative process has resulted in an inviting home everyone can enjoy equally, no matter their ability.

What are some upgrades you made to make your home more inclusive? Tell us in the comments below.

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