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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest
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Northwest Living Robin Avni

Inviting To All

An open plan and special touches welcome family, friends and wheelchairs, too

FOR DESIGNER AND builder Sanjay Soli, the experience of remodeling the 1,600-square-foot house discovered on an afternoon drive through Cedar Park was truly a family affair.

He found the house, in desperate need of architectural touches, with his mother, Namita. His twin brother, Sandip, handled all the legal work. Then Sanjay Soli set about creating a space for his parents — specifically a place where his father, Bharat, could take back control of his life.

"This house helped me out of the depression and the denial," says the senior Soli, referring to how the onset of multiple sclerosis had compromised his day-to-day living. Soli, chairman and CEO of ABKJ, a Seattle civil- and structural-engineering firm, and his wife were living in a Mill Creek home that lacked the needed features to ease his physical challenges.

"He was already having difficulty trying to get up the stairs," notes Sanjay. "The Mill Creek house wasn't going to meet his needs. I just kept remembering when my grandfather had fallen down those stairs one night, and I didn't want that to happen to him."

So Sanjay, who helps his mother with his father's care, spent six months considering the best way to modify the Cedar Park property. He brought a unique perspective as both a caregiver and a designer with experience working for San Francisco-based KMD Architects on a variety of hospitals, including the Harborview Medical Center West additions and the Pediatric Care Clinic at Swedish Hospital in Seattle.

Achieving accessibility

In creating a stylish yet functional environment for his parents, Sanjay Soli integrated a number of fundamental Universal Design principles into the architectural design of the home. Things to consider:

• Create a minimum of 4- to 5-foot corridors or pathways throughout an open floor plan; all doorways should be at least 3 feet wide.

• Use the ground floor for necessary amenities such as the master bedroom and bath, utility room and kitchen.

• Design under-the-counter space in the kitchen and bathrooms for wheelchair access; use under-counter appliances such as a refrigerator or microwave when appropriate.

• Place motion-sensor night lights in bedrooms and key areas throughout the house.

• Install an intercom system so people in the household can communicate more easily.

• Use sliding/pocket doors that require minimal movement to open or close.

• Create storage for equipment like wheelchairs and walkers.

• Add grab bars in all bathrooms and shower areas.

"We originally thought we were just going to do minor modifications, but after looking at his future needs and my mother's and our family's — the house was obsolete. We just decided to go for it," Sanjay says about the three-year project. Eventually, he designed a 4,600-square-foot, three-bedroom, 3 ½-bath contemporary home with accessibility features that enable his father to be independent in his movement, yet allow family members to keep a watchful eye. The remodel also managed to capture breathtaking views of Lake Washington, resulting in a peaceful retreat for the mind as well as the body.

"He has the acute aesthetic sensibility about addressing disabilities and their limitations," notes the father of his son. "He has a gift for creating something which I thought was impossible."

The layout, particularly the location of the master bedroom and bath, was reached through a process of discovery and heated discussions. "We argued and fought every night, and mother was the referee," Soli says with a chuckle. "Sanjay always has good, convincing arguments, and then I give up."

One thing, however, was not disputed: Namita got to pick the appliances, granite and color in the kitchen. She quickly rejected Sanjay's idea of concrete countertops.

The kitchen is key as the gathering place for family and friends. Once again, the Solis can entertain as they'd always loved to do.

The great room, with the adjacent kitchen and open loft, is designed to enhance conversation and connection.

"The way he has done this has given me a great sense of security and safety, knowing that someone can watch from every corner or level of the house," says Soli.

"He's never alone," says Sanjay. "We're all in it together."

Robin Avni is a freelance writer who focuses on lifestyle topics and trends. She can be reached at robinavni@msn.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

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