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The Lieutenant Colonel's Quarters
The Barrier Free Basement
"When we first said to the family, 'We're going to put Dad in the basement', it didn't sound very good," says Nancy. "But when you are down there, you truly don't feel as if you are in a basement."

When Nancy Bangsboll's father-in-law suddenly became ill during a family visit, she and her husband Chris were unexpectedly faced with a major decision - where would their elderly relative live after being discharges from the hospital?
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Leif Bangsboll needed ongoing nursing care, but a long-term care facility was not an option he cared to consider.
"Dad clearly did he didn't want to go into a nursing home," says Nancy. "He said he'd rather live with us."

That night, Nancy, an interior decorator and owner of Christopher Bradley Interior Decorating, sat down at her computer and designed a self-contained lower level apartment in the 1998 two-storey home in London, Ontario that she shares with Chris and their younger son Bradley.
"Dad needed more than a single room, since he was down-sizing from a house," Nancy says. "I wanted to include as many of his personal belongings as I could, so he could surround himself with the things he loved the most and also give the family comfort when they were visiting."

Nancy's first challenge was to create a barrier free living space without anyone recognizing the fact that it was designed for a semi-invalid. "we didn't want to give the impression of a hospital room," she says. In addition, it was important to make the apartment feel warm, spacious, and full of natural light. "When we first said to the family, 'We're going to put Dad in the basement', it didn't sound very good," says Nancy. "But when you are down there, you truly don't feel as if you are in a basement."

Open plan design with doorways three feet wide to accommodate a wheelchair.
Exterior grade entrance door at bottom of stairs leading from main floor provides soundproofing.
Enlarged window (35 x 5 ft) for increased natural light.
Bathroom has modified toilet, shower and vanity unit for physically challenged user.
Hospital bed and bedside tray table.
Power-operated easy chair, which adjusts 180 degrees and incorporates a device to assist rising from the chair.
Microwave and toaster oven housed in a mini-kitchenette.
Cupboard doors open by light pressure on the front of the door, eliminating the need for handles that may be difficult to grip.
Free-standing water cooler is easily accessible by wheelchair.
Furniture placement ensures sturdy surfaces available to grab when the occupant moves around the apartment.
Closets with fully retracting doors to easily access contents.
Sophisticated lighting system that can be operated by remote control.
Television and other appliances plug into sockets directly behind them so there are no trailing cables.
Separate phone line with cordless phone.
Emergency call button immediately connects to the main floor and automatically transfers to the local hospital if there is no reply.

"One of the first things we did was to put in a larger window to get natural light into the sitting area," says builder Arne Madsen of CCR Building and Remodelling. Using a hydraulically driven concrete saw, Madsen's crew cut through the foundation wall. The window well was deepened and enlarged, and a 3x5 foot window was installed. "It's a straightforward job that we do frequently with basement renovations," says Madsen. "One thing you must do, because the window is below ground level, is to run a drain through the weeping tile. Any water that collects will then drain away from the house."

To allow the increased natural light to flow into the bedroom and hallway, Madsen removed some walls in the apartment. He also angled bulkheads and ductwork in the ceiling to make the area as open and spacious as possible.
Resilient channels and soundproofing insulation were installed in the apartment ceiling to deaden noise from the main level of the home. To further reduce sound transfer between levels, the entry door has a solid core and tight seal. "Dad likes the television extremely loud," says Nancy. "If the main door isn't closed, I can hear the TV two floors up - it sounds as if you're in a movie theatre."

Although the apartment is well insulated against sound transfer, Leif can quickly get the family's attention in the event of a medical emergency. A call button immediately connects him to the upstairs phone and automatically transfers the call to the local hospital if there is no reply at home.

To provide a steady warmth in Leif's apartment, the heating was brought to floor level. "The only way to really make it comfortable downstairs is to supply warm air at floor level," says Madsen. An increasing number of new homes have in-floor heating in the bathrooms and lower level, he adds. Retrofits are possible, and hot water pipes or electric cables can be embedded in the floor or added on top of the existing concrete. Another option is to run heating ducts on interior walls close to exterior walls, or run them along the outside walls with extra insulation installed behind the ducts so the warm air isn't cooled as it travels toward the room.

Basement living raises the issue of access. Currently, Leif is able to manage the stairs to his apartment, but the family has discussed installing an elevator or stairlift if required in the future. Both options are possible in the Bangsb6lls' home.
With the exception of the staircase, the apartment is fully equipped for a physically challenged resident. In the sitting room, Leif's day chair is easily adjusted to provide support for his upper body and legs, and can raise him to a standing position.

Furniture has been strategically placed in order to provide sturdy surfaces to grab for support when moving around the room. In a recess in the hallway, a small kitchenette complete with microwave and toaster oven allows Leif to prepare light meals and snacks. A battery of hand?held gadgets includes a cordless phone, remote control for TV and VCR, and remote controls to adjust the lighting.

"The light and airy bathroom has been designed to provide plenty of space for a caregiver to assist the occupant."

"We installed a system that controls the main lights," says electrician Gary Hooper. "There's one remote for the sitting room and one for the bedroom. They work on different frequencies and have been hooked up to specific lights that he uses routinely."

In order to highlight the many photographs, artifacts and memorabilia from Leif's long military career that are displayed in the apartment, Hooper installed a series of five inch recessed pot lights around the perimeter of the two main rooms. Positioned one foot out from the wall, the pot lights wash the walls with a crisp white halogen glow. The light intensity can be adjusted with Leif's remote control.
"My motto is to put more light in than you think you want," says Hooper "You can always dim it down but you can't dim it up."

Hooper installed electrical sockets directly behind appliances to eliminate trailing cords. Most sockets have been sited 18 inches from the floor, with a few at table and counter height. Light switches are three feet up the wall, a comfortable reach for a wheelchair user.

Leif's bedroom is furnished with a fully functional hospital bed. An adjustable tray table on castors is on hand for meals and snacks. For times when his health prevents him from getting out of bed, a second TV sits on a wall-mounted platform. The contents of the storage closet are easily accessible, thanks to a little tinkering by Madsen. The hinges on the pair of bi-fold closet doors allow them
to fold flush against the wall.

"Usually this type of door steals about six inches on each side because it doesn't fully retract," says Madsen. "Modifying the hinges was one way to create a larger closet and make it easier to reach the contents."

The light and airy bathroom has been designed to provide plenty of space for a caregiver to assist the occupant. The large shower base is flush with the floor to allow the user to be rolled in. Towels can be pulled out quickly from a stack of open cubbies. The toilet has a higher seat, grab bars nearby and extra clearance at the front and sides. The vanity can accommodate a wheelchair but could just as easily have an elegant stool perched in front of it. The doorway is a generous three feet wide.

Nancy designed the bathroom storage meticulously. "Before Dad was discharged from hospital, I told the nurse I wanted to see his daily medical supplies because I was sizing the drawers and cabinets," she says. "The bathroom has a nice decorative feel to it and doesn't appear to provide for special needs. But as soon as you open a drawer, you know you're in a hospital zone."

"Dad is absolutely thrilled with this and it's worked out incredibly well for everyone concerned."

There's a growing need for barrier free accommodation as the population ages, says Nancy, but many people are unaware that existing homes can be renovated to such an extent. By consulting with nursing staff at the design stage to work out the medical and physical needs of the patient, a safe, comfortable and well-equipped living space can be created for a loved one.

"Having gone through the difficult process of caring for other ill family members at home, it would have been a dream to have a set-up like Dad's with everything custom built for his needs," says Nancy. "Dad is absolutely thrilled with this and it's worked out incredibly well for everyone concerned."

The difference in the cost of the project, including furnishings and equipment, compared to a quote of $3,500 was significantly lower, says Nancy.  "Visitors come to see the apartment and say he's lucky he could afford to do this," she says. "My answer is that really, he couldn't afford not to."

Reprinted from Canadian Homes and Cottages Magazine

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