Accessible Design, Accessible Remodeling & Accessible Elevators

At Signature we believe that home improvements are also quality of life improvements. This is proven every time we work on accessible design remodels. Rather than tell you about accessible design principles or barrier free remodeling requirements, we’d like to show you the work we recently completed on an immensely gratifying project in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Our customers were two long-time friends named Carl and Oscar. Both in their 70’s, Carl uses a wheelchair and Oscar had to have his leg amputated as a result of a childhood illness. They wanted a whole-home remodel for the house Carl has owned since the 1970’s. The Adams Morgan row home, built around 1890, contained four generations of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and upgrades, repairs and improvements put in place by each prior owner.

Carl and Oscar wanted a number of their own improvements for the home. They asked Signature Elevators & Accessible Design, along with our sister company, Signature Kitchens, Additions & Baths, to design and install a four-story residential elevator, an accessible bathroom on the 2nd floor, powder room on the 1st, and an accessible wheelchair lift from street level to the 1st floor.

The Full Accessible Remodel

The first thing we did was make sure that the layout of the rooms they wanted remodeled would fit with where the elevator would need to be placed. Fortunately, the kitchen and bath on the 1st and 2nd floors were adjacent to where the elevator was going to be. Next we worked with Carl and Oscar to choose an overall design for their newly accessible kitchen and decided onMedallion Cabinetry’s "Designer" line (with the "Brookhill" door style in a Pecan stain) for its wide variety of possible modifications. We designed 32" high cabinets with modified 8" toe kicks at the bottom. In addition to this, we put in pullout shelving specially made for wheelchair height, allowing Carl to pull out the entire contents of a 48" deep cabinet!

Appliances are always a big part of a kitchen design, but their careful selection is even more important when remodeling a kitchen for accessibility. We chose an American Blue Star convection oven, for example, because its French oven doors swing open to the side and provide easy access from a wheelchair. For countertop cooking we chose an induction cooktop by GE because it feels cool to the touch even when it’s on high, allowing Carl and Oscar to use all four elements and not just the front two. For fume exhaust we installed a 600 CFM (cubic feet/minute) fan made by Vent A Hood and were able to completely enclose it within the Medallion cabinets. As for the other important appliances, the refrigerator and dishwasher, we chose General Electric’s "Profile" line, again because of the accessible French door design. Finally, we installed MAAX’s 220-amp radiant heating system under beautiful stone tile laid in a classic Versailles pattern.

While we worked on the kitchen we also started designing the 2nd floor accessible bathroom. Carl and Oscar decided they wanted to install a unique system, called the "Sure Hands Lift," that could let Carl transport himself back and forth from the bedroom to the bathroom with no assistance. The accessible bath design included a Toto bidet toilet and a handicap bathtub specially made to be easily slid into. We were concerned with the room temperature and so installed in the bathroom the same radiant heating system we had in the kitchen.

Accessible Elevators
We started the residential elevator side of the job by making room for an elevator shaft from the house’s basement to its roof. We chose Federal Elevator System’s "Panorama" model. The elevator’s standard inside measurements were 36" by 48", but we modified it to measure 42" by 54" so that Carl would have enough room to turn around in his wheelchair. During the design process we created a mock-up of the elevator cabin to determine what dimensions would be necessary for the wheelchair’s turning radius. The custom cabin featured recessed oak walls and hardwood flooring. An additional challenge that came up was that we needed to build a small addition for the 3rd floor in order to have space for the hoist way. This illustrates the fact that accessible designs are always unique. Each customer looking to improve his or her quality of life has his or her own challenges.

Accessible Wheelchair Lifts
The next step in the accessible design project took us outside. Carl had recently passed a driver’s test and wanted to be able to easily get from his front door to his car. This was a problem because the first floor was 6 ft. above ground level and the basement was 3 ft. below. Our solution was to install an outdoor residential wheelchair lift (sometimes called a porch lift). With this lift Carl can not only go from ground level to his front door, but also to sun deck on top of the garage!

In all our years working in the real estate, building and remodeling industries, this project was undoubtedly the most gratifying one we had worked on. It was a pleasure designing an accessible kitchen and bathroom for Carl and Oscar and helping to improve their qualities of life.


I've worked with many contractors over the years and this was the largest project I've done. Fortunately, it was also the most satisfying. Gary Case and his "Signature" companies proved to be masters of their craft. There were many challenges. The project had to meet Historic Preservation requirements and the Review Board noted that the project "strikes a perfect balance between the competing concerns" of accessibility needs and historical preservation. Space is at a premium, yet Signature drew on its incredible creativity and installed a 4-floor residential elevator while actually increasing usable living space. The accessible kitchen remodel transformed what was antiquated into a showpiece, while a previously unusable bathroom was made an accessible bathroom so precise to my needs that I no longer require assistance. Best of all, this was all accomplished largely within budget and within the scheduled time. It's hard to do better than this.

- Carl's testimonial

To find out more about this job and what we did for Carl and Oscar, contact Gary Case at


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