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Spring 2006, pg. 207, Trish Donnelley, Editor

A Turning Tide

One Couple’s Practical Dream Home Is Ahead of Its Time


A wide doorway without a threshold leads into the open foyer, creating a dramatic and easily accessible entryway. The barrel-vaulted hallway beyond is wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass side-by-side.

A  gently sloped, semi-circular brick walkway provides an important and accurate first impression of a home that stands out from its neighbors. Well-kept ramblers line the streets of the well-established neighborhood in Arlington where Rick Barry and Linda Cox built their very practical dream home. The wide walkway doubles as an accessible entryway and a parking area for large family gatherings and is the first introduction to the themes of dual-purpose design and attention to detail that are carried throughout the custom home.

It’s obvious before even entering the house that Barry and Cox gave a lot of thought to exactly how they wanted their new home to feel and function. What isn’t obvious is that they were not simply planning for their current needs and desires. Barry, 72, and Cox, 70, who are both active seniors, were planning for a future that for many of their peers is still inconceivable. From wide hallways and doorways to an office suite that can easily be converted to accommodate a live-in caregiver, the couple was looking forward to their needs in their 80s and beyond.

Learning From Experiences

The single-level home includes nearly 3,000 square feet of living space that is spacious and open. In addition to eliminating stairs, the design includes countless accommodations that make life easy for the homeowners now, and even more that will become essential as they age in place.

Doorways throughout the home are barrier-free. In the stylish owners’ bathroom, grab bars function as attractive towel bars and the large wheelchair-accessible shower includes a seat and non-slip tiles. All the electrical outlets were raised to 18” to eliminate the need for bending or crouching to access them. Lever door handles were used because they are easier to operate for those with decreased hand strength or arthritis. The kitchen has ample space for a wheelchair to navigate around the large center island, and built-ins will allow the couple to drop the sink should that need arise.

The large kitchen provides plenty of room for a wheelchair to navigate around the center island, should the need arise.

Barry and Cox did not set out to build a home that would push the boundaries of contemporary design or serve as a template for others who wish to age in place. They were motivated by firsthand experiences with seniors and how they live.

In her career as a nurse, Cox has worked extensively with the geriatric population. She notes, “I have seen what happens when people do not plan ahead. They are forced to make decisions during an emergency, which is the worst possible time.” Experiences with former neighbors also influenced the couple’s decision to plan for the future.  Barry explains, “We watched several of our older neighbors become virtual captives to one or two rooms in their multi-level homes.”

Universal Design

When they began the process of planning their barrier-free, accessible home, Barry and Cox were not aware of the principles of Universal Design or the corresponding emerging trends in home construction and remodeling. When they discovered Universal Design, they used some of the guidelines of the philosophy to fine-tune their plan. According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, “Universal design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.”

Barry and Cox’s builder, Chip Gruver of Gruver-Cooley Corporation, was also new to Universal Design construction. He notes, “This project was a learning experience because there was no template. The objective was to create a custom home that smoothly integrated all of these accommodations for future needs.”

Custom builders have the tools to make aging in place a viable alternative. Barry says, “The Gruver-Cooley team worked with us tirelessly to make sure this home met our expectations and stayed within our budget.”

The above ground wine “cellar,” a climate-controlled room with built-in shelving, was the couple's innovative solution for wine storage.

Barry and Cox may have rare foresight, but they are just two of an increasing number of individuals who are hand-crafting retirement lifestyles that allow them to remain in their own homes indefinitely – and safely. Downsizing from their former 6,000-square-foot home to half as much space in their current custom home and carefully planning a living space for their immediate and future needs certainly posed challenges, but today the couple enjoys entertaining their large family and wide circle of friends in their new home.

Pointing out the great room from the backyard, Barry says, “We don’t call it the great room to be fancy. In our last house we had a library, a living room, and a recreation room. While we were planning this house, we said, ‘If all of those spaces are going to be condensed into one room, it is going to have to be a great room.’ ”

The Benefits of One-Level Living

Maximizing the potential of every square foot became even more important after Barry and Cox decided to fill in the basement of the previous home in order to maintain a one-level living space. Finding a place to store and display their large and varied wine collection immediately posed a challenge. “We wanted a wine room, positively,” Cox says.

Barry and Cox devised a unique alternative to the traditional wine cellar. The climate-controlled wine room, adjacent to the dining room, is one of the most distinctive features of the custom home.

Rick Barry and Linda Cox select a wine from the extensive collection stored in their wine room. An antique door featuring a stained glass panel separates the wine room from the formal dining room.      One of the biggest surprises to the couple was how soon the amenities in their home came in handy. “Don’t you know that six months after we moved in my wife, who is a marathon runner, had to have knee surgery,” Barry says.

Cox’s recovery was far less painful in their one-level home than it would have been in a multi-level living space. “The shower was really nice to be able to just roll in with a walker and hang onto the grab bar. I didn’t think I’d use it quite that soon,” Cox says. Ironically, a year later she had to have surgery on her other knee.

Barry and Cox’s home for the future has quickly proven to be the ideal living space for today. As the enormous wave of Baby Boomers prepares to retire, crafting living spaces that offer innovative features for retirees promises to become a major factor in the custom home industry. For now, Barry and Cox’s home stands alone amid a sea of traditional ramblers, “pop-ups” and “McMansion” replacement homes – but their distinctive design might very well be the signal of a turning tide. Ws



Gruver-Cooley Corporation

William K. Gruver

Pella Windows, Architect Series

Ricca’s Architectural Sales

Union Hardware Inc.

Wine Enthusiast


As seen in the Spring 2006 Issue, pg. 207