Accessible Remodel

A contractor turns his own house into an accessible home and a remodeling showplace. It's a great home for the owners and their three teenagers; it provides easy living for Karen's resident parents; it's accessible for guests, including children and Karen's wheelchair-bound aunt; and it's an impressive showroom for the Shustars' Glen Ellyn, Ill. design build company.

November 30, 2007
Products List
The Financials
Company Snapshot
Budget History

Flamingo Landscaping raised part of the yard to reduce the swale and built a concrete walkway with mild incline that connects the house to the driveway and the sidewalk without any steps. Interlocking pavers form a smooth surface; 4-inch-high borders keep wheels and feet safely on the walk.  Photos by Shustar Construction

Brian and Karen Shustar's remodeled house is multitalented. It's a great home for the Shustars and their three teenagers; it provides easy living for Karen's resident parents; it's accessible for guests, including children and Karen's wheelchair-bound aunt; and it's an impressive showroom for the Shustars' Glen Ellyn, Ill., design build company. And the remodel accomplished all this at an unbeatable price.

After watching his elderly in-laws struggle with the stairs in the family's former tri-level house, Brian became a believer in residential universal design. As the name implies, universal design makes homes accessible and easy to use regardless of people's age, size or ability. Universal design also makes houses easy to maintain and adaptable to the changing needs of residents as they grow older, enabling them to "age in place" rather than move.

To create a safer, more comfortable living environment for his in-laws and to establish a universal design niche for his suburban Chicago company, Shustar Construction, Brian earned his Certified Aging-in-Place designation from the NAHB in 2006. Soon after, he and Karen bought a two-story, 1984 house that, with addition of a first-floor bedroom and bath suite, would incorporate all his in-laws' living needs on one floor. Even before breaking ground on the remodel, the Shustars signed up to display the house as a universal design model in the May 2007 Remodel Chicagoland weekend home tour sponsored by the local NAHB Remodelers chapter.


Originally a dim space with tall, sharp-cornered counters and a high, hard-to-reach microwave, the remodeled kitchen is organized into easy-access activity areas. A table height section doubles as an eating area or a food prep station for seated users.

Bumpy Start

Though the tour was almost a year away, there was no time to lose. Karen's parents needed to move into the remodeled house by Christmas and the house had to be ready for pre-tour photography by Feb. 1. "We bought the house on June 24, 2006," says Brian, "and a couple of days later had a building permit."

Architect David Kennedy of PPKS Architects in Glen Ellyn, had already drafted a design for the addition. He carefully positioned the 280-square-foot bedroom within the property setback line, reusing a 120-square-foot strip of existing kitchen and laundry room space to expand the bedroom and dressing area.

Excavation began mid-July. Just before the foundation pour, a village inspector examined the soil. He found what looked like unstable organic soil and halted the pour. Brian quickly called an engineer, who deemed the soil conditions safe but recommended adding rebar to the footings as a precaution.

Once the stem walls were poured, town rules required that the building site be resurveyed. Brian was shocked when the surveyor reported that the addition encroached one or two inches over the setback line. "I called my concrete contractor out and we remeasured over and over," he says, repeatedly finding the addition to be within the setback. Brian contacted the surveyor, who discovered that his equipment had been out of calibration that day. After a tense week of delay, the project moved forward.

The scope of the project expanded during production. The Shustars ultimately added a maintenance-free composite deck between addition and sunroom; updated most of the first-floor rooms; widened doorways; installed easy-to-operate casement windows; replaced warped cedar siding in the back with a maintenance-free cement composite; put in a step-free front walkway and low-maintenance plantings; and converted the living room to a company office that, along with the other remodeled spaces, doubles as a showroom.

Convenience, Safety and Style

In the best universal design tradition, the accessible features of the house blend in, adding safety and convenience without looking "different." Many of the products also were bargains found at deep discounts available to Remodel Chicagoland tour houses.

The new bedroom has plenty of clear circulation space. Its smooth, easy-to-negotiate hardwood flooring matches the flooring throughout the house. At 34 inches wide, the doorways can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. French doors fill the room with light and open wide to a landing; two steps lead down to the deck (necessary because the sunroom is lower than the rest of the house), but they have sturdy handrails on each side.

A wide-entry dressing area links bedroom and bath and provides a 5-foot diameter turning radius for wheelchair users to maneuver in and around the bath. Closets have bi-fold doors, which don't hog circulation space, plus adjustable shelving and rods at two heights.

The stylish shower in the addition features a flat threshold for easy entry and built-in bench seating. Both overhead and adjustable hand-held shower sprays offer flexibility. Legroom under the bathroom vanity will accommodate a seated user once the pipes are shielded.  Photos by Shustar Construction

The bright bathroom has a non-slip, radiant-heated tile floor. The luxurious shower features a wide doorway with flat threshold, built-in bench seating, and two sprays — one overhead and the other an adjustable handheld — for tall, short, seated or standing users.

Legroom under the sink suits a seated user; a 3-foot space between toilet and wall allows room for a walker or wheelchair; and the linen cabinet is wall-hung 36 inches above the floor to leave legroom for someone in a wheelchair to approach. Blocking behind the bathroom walls will make installing grab bars simple and inexpensive.

Kitchen specialist Ron Brands of Pearl Design Group in Bloomingdale, Ill., helped the Shustars design an accessible, affordable, classy kitchen. The granite-top island has two counter heights: a standard 36-inch-high section and a table height section that works as an eating area and a station for seated cooks. A single post supports the end of the table, leaving clear space for chairs.

Dishwasher drawers, a double oven, and a cooktop with front-mounted controls can be used without bending or stretching. The under-counter microwave is convenient for all. Pullout shelves and full-extension drawer glides bring kitchen supplies into easy reach. Overhead fixtures and under-cabinet lighting provide broad, shadow-free lighting.

The alder cabinets look much like cherry but cost less. Combining semi-custom cabinets with a few custom pieces from the same manufacturer saved money, as did ordering a generic oven cabinet and modifying it on site to accommodate the warming drawer. Cabinetry panels and moldings cover a soffit that hides pipes, and leftover cabinet pieces nicely trim the cook top hood.

Tod Stanton of Design Perspectives in Naperville, Ill., designed a smooth, wide front walkway that runs without steps, curbs or stoops from the driveway and street to the door. Flamingo Landscaping of Crystal Lake, Ill., built the walkway as a concrete platform with drain tiles below, a tiny slope to aid runoff, and non-skid, interlocking pavers on top. The walkway inclines only 2.5 percent, so handrails were unnecessary.

Lasting Impact

The Shustars crossed the finish line on their project the Thursday before Remodel Chicagoland weekend. Friday evening 100 neighbors, vendors, clients and prospects came to an invitation-only open house. Scores of visitors toured the house Saturday and Sunday, admiring the Shustars' work and learning about universal design.

Thousands of free Remodel Chicagoland promotional magazines have been distributed through a local grocery chain, product vendors, real-estate agents, bankers and other remodeling contacts as well as by the participating remodelers themselves. The Shustars have picked up numerous leads and have spread the word about the possibilities and benefits of universal design. When homeowners are ready for a universal design remodel, they'll know to call Shustar Construction. Says Brian, "It's by far the best marketing we've done."

2006 Stage of Project
June 21 Permit issued
July 17 Begin excavation for addition
July 25 Pour foundation
July 31 Spot survey
Aug. 10 Survey corrected
Aug. 17 Begin kitchen tear out
Aug. 23 Begin framing
Sept. 13 Begin kitchen drywall
Oct. 2 Install cabinets
Nov. 6 Begin addition drywall
Nov. 15 Begin painting family room and kitchen
Dec. 11 Tile bath in addition
2007 Stage of Project
Jan. 30 Final interior inspection
April 9 Begin grading for walkway
April 10 Begin deck
May 3 Complete landscaping
May 4 Remodel Chicagoland party
May 31 Final inspections


Products List

Bath fixtures: Kohler Cabinets: Omega Cooktop, oven, microwave, dishwasher drawers, warming drawer: DCS Decking: Evergrain Pavers: UniLock Refrigerator: KitchenAid Shower door: Basco Walkway lights: Kichler Washer and Dryer: Fisher & Paykel Windows: Marvin

Company Snapshot

Shustar Construction 
Owners: Brian and Karen Shustar
Location: Glen Ellyn, Ill.
2006 volume: $450,000
Projected 2007 volume: $575,000
Biggest challenge: Completing the project on time and on budget
Contact: 630/790-0571

The Financials and Budget History

For information on The Financials and Budget History, see the December issue of Professional Remodeler.

About the Author

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