Building homes for returning wounded soldiers who want to remain in the military – what could be better? The folks heading the Wounded Warrior Home Project at Fort Belvoir, VA made it their mission to answer that question. The Project began in May 2010 by studying the needs of returning Wounded Warriors and their families, specifically the role housing could play to make their lives more enjoyable, livable and accessible.

Susan Cross, brand and communications manager for Merillat Cabinetry, one of the private companies enlisted to participate in the project for the Army, explained a major goal was to improve the quality of life for an increasing number of wounded service men and women returning to active duty.

"We are so proud and honored to be invited to be part of the project headed by Clark Realty Capital, Michael Graves and Associates, and IDEO, a global design firm," said Cross. Clark Realty and its partners recently unveiled two concept homes featuring accessible design and products. The homes will house returning soldiers and serve as a prototype for 19 accessible homes at Fort Belvoir.

What makes a home accessible? Cross said it might begin with an entryway featuring level thresholds, larger than normal doorways providing ease of movement, low windows that help bring the outside in, doors that open with keypads and entry door intercom. Solid surface flooring is used throughout the open floor plan along with wide hallways and sliding doors.

Cabinetry, designed and supplied by Merillat for the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room, offers ease of use along with accessibility. Large cabinet drawers and door handles are easy to grasp. Drawers are self-closing. The kitchen features a stove and sink with removable base cabinetry offering universal accessibility. The countertop, stovetop and sink area are adjustable and move up and down on a motorized system.

"We wanted to make cabinetry more accessible and functional so we added pull out shelves and roll out trays and an in-drawer cutting board. Storage solutions include a deep drawer for bowls. It might be difficult for someone to reach to the back of the counter but a pullout drawer with ample storage or pull-down racks attached under wall cabinets brings typical kitchen items into reach,” said Cross.

The science of Universal Design can be applied to living better across all stages of life, said Cross. "Other design features that can be introduced include induction cook tops, mobile countertops, raised toe kicks and changes in molding to allow wheel chair accessibility, roll-out drawers and shelves and appliance cabinetry that can be raised or lowered. A dishwasher in a drawer might be more user friendly and offer greater access than a traditional appliance. Smart storage, ergonomic design and innovative approaches are hallmarks of what was done throughout the homes,” said Cross.

Cross said the Wounded Warrior Home Project team brought together a wide range of experts. "It was an honor and privilege to work with Michael Graves,” said Cross. Graves, an accomplished architect, has been using a wheelchair for a decade following a devastating illness.

“We know that many of the design principles used have applications beyond this project.” Cross cited the U.S. Census Bureau report that by 2030 there will be 70 million baby boomers over the age of 75. “According to the GenShift 2011 Study conducted for Masco Cabinetry by Harris Interactive, 24 percent of homeowners ages 18 to 65 report they live in a multi-generational house.”

Photos by Jim Kirby Photography

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