Architect Karen Braitmayer and David Erskine's Midcentury home on Magnolia was good enough. It came with a ramp in the garage and a wide front door, and that worked for Braitmayer and her daughter, who use wheelchairs. But it wasn't great. Until now.
FOR YEARS, Karen Braitmayer and David Erskine’s home was good enough. Jazzy little Midcentury modern on the north side of Magnolia. It came with a ramp in the garage and a wide front door, and that worked for Braitmayer and her daughter, who use wheelchairs.
But it wasn’t great.
“I was trying to teach Anita to cook on a standard-height gas cooktop and with two wheelchairs in there,” Braitmayer says of her now-teenage daughter.
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This is Braitmayer, homeowner and mom. But there is another Braitmayer, architect and accessibility consultant who works with businesses and homeowners on universal design through her firm, Studio Pacifica. She was recently appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Access Board, a federal agency that provides leadership in accessible design under the Americans With Disabilities Act and other laws.
Her own remodel, though, 13 years in the making, was personal. And Braitmayer was stuck.
“As Anita got older, it became apparent that the things my body could do, she couldn’t,” says Braitmayer, mom again. “We had three different distinct needs; for me, Anita and David.”
So Braitmayer turned to Carol Sundstrom of Röm Architecture, the architect she had shared office space with, and said, “Carol, can you look at this for me?”
“She came up with what seemed to be a sacrilegious idea. She wanted us to take out the fireplace. I kept saying, ‘All these Midcentury houses have fireplaces.’ But as we looked at it we realized it gave us what we needed.”
And when the brick monolith, splicing living room and master bedroom, tumbled, everything else fell into place. The living room and kitchen opened, and a family room was born, all without enlarging the 1,800-square-foot home with two bedrooms and two baths.
“I looove my garage.
“I looove my shower.
“I looove my kitchen.
“I looove my living room,” Braitmayer says, unsure what to show off first.
The house serves at every turn: curbless doors and shower, sinks at varying heights, open spaces beneath tables and counters, sliding doors with easy grips, pathways and doors wide and open.
But what you notice is a house that got its groove back. The home’s north wall is a glass frame for a view sweeping from Ballard to the University of Washington. Butter-yellow walls outlined in gray trim. Smart, low-slung “Dick Van Dyke Show” furniture to go with. A white-oak bookcase (avid readers dwell here) a shy divide between living room and kitchen. Black granite counters, appliance garages, a kitchen office.
“We spent a lot of time trying out options before we built anything,” Braitmayer says. “We bought an adjustable-height table from Ikea and an electric skillet. We spent months raising it and lowering it for Anita and me, to determine the right counter height.
“I’m not a fancy materials person. This house is drywall, oak, paint and Marmoleum, but with the granite counter I can cook and slide a pot right onto the counter.”
The appliance garages offer easy access to the toaster, Cuisinart, mixer. The Fagor oven opens from the side. The five-burner Fisher Paykel cooktop has interlocking grates. The washer and dryer front load. The shallow pantry is an easy reach. Cupboard doors slide. The refrigerator a side-by-side. The kitchen faucet handle set forward.
“We thought long and hard about the ergonomics and finding the item that’s useful,” Braitmayer says.
“I cook so much more than I used to. And for the first few weeks, every time we had a meal my daughter said, ‘Oh! I’ll do the dishes.’
“We have a gem of a house, and now it’s even more of a gem because it fits us.”
And that’s just how they roll.
Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.