Elevating the design of a wheelchair accessible kitchen

Outwardly this looks just like a regular spacious dream kitchen but there are many features that make this far much more. Making the space universally accessible for all five members of the family was of paramount importance. They have been back in their newly renovated and functional home for almost a year now and the space is working well for them all.

When this family were suddenly faced with the need for an accessible home there were an overwhelming number of changes that needed to be made to take their home into a place where they could all live independently, somewhere where there were no barriers and everyday life could resume in a new normal. I worked very closely with the family as a whole to ensure everyone’s needs were met, not just those to accommodate a wheelchair user. The key focus all along has been to design a house that feels like their home and for it not to appear outwardly institutional in any sense.

When people typically think of ADA and CSA approved fixtures and fittings they generally think of ugly and cumbersome designs, large levers and grab bars. None of those are going to be evident here and a considerable amount of time has been invested in sourcing things that are both functional and beautiful. Sinks and faucets that are sleek and modern. Appliances that offer accessible and space saving features, the overall design of the kitchen and all the elements that come together.  Additionally there were financial constraints due to the majority of the work being covered by insurance, this meant all these fixtures and fittings needed to also stick strictly to a very tight budget.

Note the dual height counter at the island allowing for meal prep both from a standard position and seated on the left. A wheel-under area at the end means family and friends can easily be sat around the island together. Working with the structural constraints of the 12′ addition, we have integrated the pillar into the overall design by painting it out the colours of the upper and lower cabinets and adding the same crown used on the cabinets.  Shallow depth cabinets added at the rear of the island (facing us in the image) maximize accessible storage space. To keep the visual feeling of space and openness I designed the bulkheads across the back of the house to conceal essential HVAC duct work that also carries down behind the full height pantry.

Shallow sink bowls provide essential wheel-under access. With one large single bowl rather than the typical double bowl configuration it leaves room for washing large roasting pans easily despite the shallow 6″ bowl depth. This sleek Blanco Quatrus sink hit all the marks with it’s shallow 5 1/2″ depth, rear drain hole and sharp zero radius corners. While the counter height is lower here, the shallow sink depth still enables a comfortable height also for standing while washing up.  The Fisher & Paykel pull out drawer style dishwasher makes for more accessible loading.  Floor space is optimized with the drawers rather than a pull down front. The clean profile pairs beautifully with the clean lines of the cabinetry and the angular styling of the sink. Whilst in this particular case the ADA requirement for faucets isn’t essential, these Moen Nori ADA approved plumbing fixtures still look stylish with single lever control and a pull down goose neck sprayer. The spot resist stainless finished is another added bonus. To keep counter space clear we also added a coordinated soap dispenser so soap is easily to hand. In so many public accessible spaces the undersink plumbing is visible and unsightly. I really wanted to keep the clean clutter free look so we added a removable painted panel set back under the sink to conceal the plumbing creating a neat finish while still allowing plenty of knee space.

Now showing the wheel-under island from a different angle. We installed an electrical outlet in one of the end support pillars so that small appliances such as food mixers can be used making baking an easier family activity. You can also see the small infill of quartz at the left of the sink to transition across the height difference and prevent water seepage to the wooden cabinet. A thicker waterfall edge here would have made the transition much heavier.

An integrated convection microwave and pull out waste disposal centre are also housed within the island. Sink, dishwasher and waste disposal are all kept within easy reach of each other. 

All lower level cabinets are fitted with pull out pantry drawers. No one has to fight to reach things stuck at the back of the cupboards.

The ADA & CSA approved convection wall oven from Bosch has a side opening door rather than the traditional drop down style. The height was determined for accessible reach and also knee clearance. In this instance, for the function and layout of the kitchen we opted for the hinge to be on the left side. We worked hard sourcing appliances to ensure we had the best available to meet the needs irrespective of whether the same brand was used throughout. Keeping to the same stainless steel and black details but combining manufacturers still works in the design by making sure handles and display panels all have a complementary appearance.

Two deep drawers under the oven provide ample space for storage of baking trays and roasting pans.

The standard requirement for turning space of a wheelchair is 60″, therefore we have allowed a minimum of 60″ between the island and the wall counter. There is a wide unobstructed wheel-under section incorporating a drawer for utensils, the gas stove with controls at the front and a prep sink. It proved challenging finding a smaller prep sink that was less than 6″ in depth, but this was key for both design and function. The depth of the sink needed to be concealed within the depth of front fascia while also keeping clearance for knee space to a maximum. Having the sink and faucet next to the stove enables pans to be filled with water for cooking without having to manoeuvre from the main sink. Without this a wheelchair user would have to carry a filled pot on their lap whilst trying to manoeuvre themselves from a sink to the stove. Saucepans of hot water can easily be drained minimizing risk of scalding and accidents. The extractor fan over the stove also has controls at the front for operation within comfortable reach. By incorporating these subtle design features a wheelchair user can move around the kitchen and prepare a meal independantly without assistance, things a typically abled person takes for granted.

Instead of ugly support panels and brackets, this whole lower length of counter is supported by a custom horizontal metal beam allowing for a continuous run of unobstructed knee space while also supporting the quartz counter. As with the island, the plumbing and the gas line are concealed from view with a removable painted panel giving a seamless flow to the colour of the base cabinets and continuity to the design. The panel sits approximately 6″ from the back wall to allow sufficient depth for knee space.

I really should also mention the lovely purple tiles just because they’re so pretty! Pops of colour are evident throughout this home reflecting the home owners personalities combined with some more subtly neutrals.

A few other things to note, a counter depth French door refrigerator helps to leave passage ways clear. Integrated water and ice dispensers in the door also gives one handed operation, there is no need to open the door and hold a glass leaving one hand free for manoeuvring a wheelchair.

Due to the reduced number of lower cabinets, all upper cabinets are 15″ deep an upgrade to the standard 12″ to maximize storage for less needed items or items more specific to the rest of the family.

An automated door onto the deck by way of remote control means independent hands free access to the garden although possibly also a rather elaborate dog door, no one needs to get up to let him out.

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Creating an accessible and inclusive home exterior

From the outset this has been a project about making a home accessible but not institutional. It’s an objective that might require greater research than others but it is possible. This home doesn’t just need to be considered accessible it needs to provide universal design and be liveable for the whole family.

There are so many factors in daily life that are challenging to anyone who is physically at a disadvantage. We need to incorporate as much as possible into the design to make the space work easily and giving everyone the freedom to be independent.

This project has really picked up momentum over the last few weeks following a long delay while some legal issues were resolved. The 12 week delay has been frustrating but the trades are all working at an amazing pace now and it is exciting to see so much happening, and an end in sight. The pretty things are all starting to fall into place and ideas that were planned well over a year ago are all coming together into reality at last.

At the very beginning of this process a specialist company were called in to assess the functionality of the current house and advise what needed to be done under the scope of the insurance to modify the house.  Anything above and beyond that scope is down to the family to fund themselves. With careful selections and the assistance and generosity of local suppliers we can take this house from not just functional and bland but to a home that reflects the personalities of the family, giving them a space to live in for many years to come as their lives evolve.

I’ll cover some of the considerations relating to designing the interior elements such as kitchen and bathrooms later but let’s start off with some of the basics and structural work relating to the exterior of the property.

Exterior Finishes


General accessibility upgrades, the not so pretty but essential things.

The biggest change is a full height 12’ addition added to the rear of house, that in itself has generated the need for various improvements. The roof line has changed, we have additional windows, new doors and a new side access to the garage, the removal of the existing deck and so on. We’ve taken that opportunity to change things up a little visually at the same time, updating the roof from a chocolate brown to a charcoal grey, black framed windows, coordinating new downspouts and eaves troughs. The rear of the house is south-facing and the original dark brick has always absorbed the heat of the sun. As it was proving difficult to find brick to match with the new addition, we have chosen to use a stucco finish in a lighter shade which will help confront the heat transfer.

Lower threshold doorways within minimal height differences at both the rear and front of the property for easier transition with a wheelchair.

A paved ramp to the front door of the property allowing direct easy access without having to always go via the garage and platform lift.

Door bell with intercom system operated by smart home technology.

The two existing individual garage doors are to be replaced with one wider door which enables the family’s main accessible vehicle easier access to the garage and more space to get in and out of the car. The garage door will be operable by both the regular remote and with smart home technology from any device.

Garage Transformation

The addition of a platform lift from the ground floor level of the garage to the interior access door to the house. With our harsh Canadian winters the ability to go from car to house undercover without having to negotiate snow and ice in a wheelchair is an added bonus.

Two automatic door openers are being installed, one on the interior door from the garage to the house and one from the rear of the house onto the deck. This enables easier access when carrying things and the ability to be more independent.

A new deck with ramp will provide access from the house to the garden level. The garden is being graded to meet code for accessibility, previously it was on quite a substantial slope.

Hard landscaping has been installed around the property to improve access to the rear yard. To coincide with the landscaping work the family has also decided to add an in-ground swimming pool in the yard. Whilst this obviously provides physical therapeutic value to a paraplegic in the privacy of her own home it also gives the children a space they can safely play together with their friends without barriers.

The development of the rear addition, deck and hard landscaping
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Hello 2019!

The internet and social media seem full of ideas for renewing and refreshing everything as we head into January. Everything from food, self care and mindset through to home interiors and decluttering. The New Year is a time to re-evaluate so many things but it could easily become  an endless list that is overwhelming. How far do we actually get with any of these plans as the year goes on?

As I head into 2019 there are many things to look forward to, moving onto the interior of my accessibility project,  a few finishing touches on a ground floor renovation project along with various other projects I am collaborating on and new things in the pipeline. 

At the beginning of every year I start by telling myself I should do more creative drawing and painting and get back in tune with those abilities and practical artwork. Occasionally I pick up a paint brush but as always I should try and find time to do more,  focusing some time on the meditative properties of being practically artistic, rather than just when my daughter has elaborate ideas for Halloween costumes or Birthday parties.

I have been brightening up my home office workspace recently and need to finish that off, switching out a couple of darker feature walls I had with a new crisp white back drop to allow for new mood boards where I can pin fabric swatches, paint colours and finishes. My office is in our basement and whilst I do have some natural light I’ve also changed the majority of the bulbs to daylight LEDs and it makes such a difference to the space, especially in the dullness of January. 

Here on the blog I’ll be sharing my take on some of the emerging trends in interiors and styling as well as keeping you updated on some of my ongoing projects and how they are progressing.


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About Me

Having grown up in a household devoted to the manufacture of high end bespoke soft furnishings, Deborah has always had a love of fabrics and colour. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design & Design Management from the University of Manchester and spent the next 10 years working in Visual Merchandising & Design for John Lewis & Partners, a retail giant in the UK. Her eye for design, attention to detail and planning expertise was used to full effect creating engaging window displays and managing a team of Visual Merchandisers.

After moving to Canada in 2004 Deborah began working as part of the team at Robinson Interior Design in Oakville, collaborating on many high-end residential design projects in and around the Toronto area.

Deborah’s talent for visual merchandising in the retail world has easily transferred into residential design. Achieving a great interior is all about capturing the personalities and tastes of the homeowners and reflecting that in their home. It isn’t about imposing Deborah’s personal taste in design but rather finding the essence of the client and drawing on that to turn a potentially great space into a beautiful home.

As an independent designer Deborah offers a full service of interior design ranging from large scale renovations to smaller projects as well as the selection of furniture and accessories. She continues to work with Robinson Interior Design but has recently added a collaboration with Custom Home Decor, a drapery and window treatment workroom. In her capacity as a Technical Advisor and Design Consultant she imparts her in-depth knowledge in the field of soft furnishings helping to finish or transform a client’s space.

Recently Deborah has had the opportunity to expand her expertise in accessible design while working on a project which involves the total renovation of a family home to include an elevator and “wheel-under” kitchen among other features. This a project that allows for the blending of function and aesthetics and the results will be stunning.

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The Beginnings of an Accessible Home

Three weeks on and a lot has happened on our accessible design project. The house has been stripped down to the bare studs throughout and the brick has all been removed from the rear of the property. Walls are gone, ceilings gone, even garage doors gone. Quite the dramatic transformation in a short period of time.


As I had previously mentioned there has been a lot of legal red tape, more so than with most projects. This whole renovation is needed as a result of a catastrophic injury, so not only does this add a new set of parameters as far as design is concerned but the process is very different also.

The majority of the renovations are covered under insurance. However, it is not all cut and dry. Anything that is deemed an accessibly upgrade is covered by insurance, anything outside of that is covered by the family themselves. If you are about to have your whole house pulled apart to make way for a 12’ full height extension then there are clearly other upgrades that it makes sense to do at the same time but that can become quite costly. The whole project is therefore divided into two categories; insurance and family expenses, with a very fine wiggly line somewhere down the middle. Every single item on the project list has had to be costed, allocated and approved way ahead of time even before any work can begin.

Interim renovations were carried out on the house last year to allow for an accessible ground floor bathroom and bedroom. This meant the family lost their existing powder room, mudroom, living and dining room and limited them to a very small space that the five of them could actually be together in. A smaller kitchen table was needed to make the kitchen more wheelchair accessible, however that resulted in a table too small for five people to sit at. Whilst this all worked in the short term it wasn’t a good solution going forward if they are all to live comfortably in their home again. 

The back of the house is all being extended to allow for the installation of an elevator that will serve all three floors giving full access to the basement, main living floor and second floor where the bedroom and bathrooms are located. This involves a lot of reconfiguring of the existing layout and careful use of space to keep within accessibility codes and guidelines.


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Venturing into the World of Accessible Design

Over the coming months I am excited to be able to share with you a very special project I have been working on that is finally starting to move forward. After many months of planning, patient waiting (well mostly) and reams of legal red tape the renovations to turn my clients’ home from a typical suburban home into a fully accessible home is starting to take shape. The tree protection boards are all up, permits are all in place and this week brick will be coming off the back of the house all in preparation for a very large hole than needs to be dug.

Working alongside an Accessibility and Barrier Free construction company my role is to look after all of the aesthetics, making sure that whilst the home is accessible and meets their needs; it also serves them well as a family and reflects their tastes and personalities. We aren’t designing with resale in mind, we are designing for a family that has no intention of moving and love where they live, they are happy to play with colour and want nothing to look remotely institutional.


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Adventures with macarons

Well it’s almost a year to the day that I first attempted to make macarons, those pretty little things my then five year old had developed a fascination for along with all things Parisienne. You see them in the supermarket for ridiculous amounts of money in an array of amazing colours and think to yourself “surely they can’t be that hard to do?”

I was under the fire with a time frame to perfect these little tasty morsels with an upcoming Paris & American Girl Baking theme birthday party fast approaching. A swift search online for recipes gave me various options and thanks to The Bees Knees I found what seemed to be a good option.  Head over here for the recipe.


I’m always drawn to pretty packaging and on a recent visit to Anthropologie I couldn’t resist this gorgeous little book presented in a beautiful pale green box, folded within lilac tissue paper is the softest moleskin book with gold edged leaves. Of course inside there are then all the stunning photos of decadent desserts that are calling out to be tried.

Our first attempt went quite well, maybe they looked a little more like meringues and a quite a few cracked but they tasted good. We’d experimented with colours, the gel type work best and whipped up a strawberry jam and butter filling. For an easy option we gave Nutella a try too. Like Brittany over at the Bees Knees I’ve tweaked the original recipe she used from Ladurée and experimented with new flavours, added cocoa powder and adjusted baking times.

We’ve progressed through five mammoth baking sessions and fine tuned a conveyor system of parchment paper cut to baking sheet size with colourful blobs of batter all setting whilst one batch at a time is baking for 10 minutes. My friend and I had a mission in mind to create lavender and honey macarons, now trying to find lavender in Canada in the midst of Winter may not be as straightforward as you might initially think. Had we thought to collect and dry lavender back in the Summer when we first talked of it then the mission would have been much easier to complete. I turned to Facebook for help and posted a question in a local Moms forum and instantly someone responded with the location of a florist actually about 5 minutes from home. Who knew it was there so close all along? So, now I have 50g of dried lavender in a cardboard Chinese takeout box when all I needed was a couple of teaspoons.

From what I’d read online adding lavender to anything can be a little dodgy, too much and it’s over powering so we erred on the side of caution. I whizzed up a couple of teaspoons of it in the food processor and added a small amount at a time. It had a strange smell, not as you’d expect but created a delicate flavour. A few drops of violet gel colouring and the perfect lavender colour followed. I like proper traditional butter cream, you know, made with actual butter and not Crisco,  so made a small batch of that and added some Makuna Honey to taste. Somehow by fluke we came up with a pretty tasty little flavour explosion.

Pictured above are combinations of Lavendar, Chocolate and plain shells with fillings of vanilla or honey buttercream and Nutella.

My tried and trusted buttercream recipe is from The Cookery Year by Readers Digest © 1973


4 oz butter (at room temperature)
6-8 oz icing sugar
Vanilla extract (optional)
1-2 tablespoons milk

Beat the softened butter with an electric whisk until cream. Gradually mix in the sifted icing sugar a spoonful at a time along with a few drops of the flavouring and milk to form a smooth consistency. This will give you enough to typically cover a 7″ cake so adjust measurements according to your needs.

Share your own adventures in macarons with me on Instagram by using #colourfulnotionsmacarons. I’d love to hear what flavour combinations you’ve tried


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