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