Kitchen Serves as High-Tech, Accessible Command Center

YORKVILLE, IL — While it’s no surprise that the kitchen is at the heart of the home and serves as command central in today’s busy world, a remodeled kitchen here takes that concept to whole other level. In fact, this space gives the owner, who became quadriplegic as a result of a car accident 10 years ago, a whole new feeling of independence.

According to Vance Cryder, it was the centerpiece of a year-long renovation that transformed this 1940s ranch-style home into a space that gives the owner the ability to access every square inch of living area from his wheelchair, despite no use of his legs and limited use of his arms and hands.

Cryder is a designer with St. Joseph Cabinetry & Designs, which is owned by Greg Millen and is also based here. He spearheaded the transformation.

“Although he requires the help of a caregiver for all major tasks, such as food preparation and cooking, he wanted his kitchen to be at the center of his home, and he wanted his own space in that kitchen,” explains Cryder.

And, even though his client owns a company that sells accessibility equipment, such as wheelchairs, door openers and lifts, the designer learned that his client wasn’t familiar with “smart home” technology.

“He knew what he wanted to be able to do, but he didn’t know everything that was available in the marketplace,” says Cryder.

So, with the help of Chicago Pros, a firm that wires homes for computer-controlled access to such things as security systems, TV and audio systems, and heating and cooling systems, Cryder was able to create a kitchen area that lets the owner be in control.

“For this owner the kitchen design was not just about aesthetics and ease of use,” he notes. “Although those were important considerations, for this owner, accessibility, independence, safety and security were the main concerns.”

In the Beginnning
The “kitchen as the command center” concept began with the owner’s desire for an office space, recalls Cryder. He countered with the idea of making a kitchen island that could not only serve as an area for food preparation, but also as a place to house a computer and office supplies. Cryder saw the island as a focal point for the entire home.

“I knew that access to his computer was very important for this client,” he says. “Because he is disabled, his computer is key to his ability to interact with other people, and to control his environment… I [also] knew it would have to be a large island, with a deep counter, [since] he needs to be able to roll his wheelchair under it.”

Cryder brought his concept to life by locating the island in the center of the home, under a vaulted ceiling with six skylights. There, it acts as an angled divider between the kitchen area with its adjacent sunroom/hot tub and the living room. It is not only the focal point of the entire home, it is also the command center where he can control his environment via his iMac computer. It controls everything from his Denon home theater system, Sony 300-disk CD changer, and Samsung plasma-screen TV and DVD player to his Honeywell thermostat system and Hunter overhead fans.

“He can now sit behind the island and control the Samsung plasma-screen TV on the wall over the fireplace in the living room,” remarks Cryder. “He directly faces it, and can easily look at that screen when the doorbell rings to see who’s at the front door. With a voice command, he can open the door [via the home’s new Open Sesame automatic door openers]. From this spot, using security cameras tied to his computer, he can see everything throughout his whole house on this TV screen.”

However, while Cryder felt strongly about equipping the island with all of the typical office accoutrements – including the “centrally mounted” computer, plus a printer and fax machine – he didn’t want guests to feel as though they’d just entered an office environment. Instead, he wanted them to feel the warmth of the home, which was renovated to emulate a cabin/lodge atmosphere.

To remedy that, Cryder tweaked the Shiloh Landes maple wood island cabinets selected by the owner. He made one drawer full-height. It now opens to create a compact space to house the office equipment, and act as another small desk area at counter level. An easily accessible trash basket is also hidden behind an island cabinet door.

The designer then finished the cabinets with a brick red distressed glaze, and topped the entire island with Uba Tuba granite from P & G Stone in Franklin Park, IL.

Rustic Fashion
in the kitchen Cryder continued the pastoral tone set by the island cabinets with Shiloh square, raised-panel Rustic Cherry cabinets finished in a medium color glaze. Mastercraft cabinetry hardware and beveled-edge, Himalaya slate Formica perimeter countertops fabricated by KDA finish the look.

“The kitchen cabinets pick up the warm glow of the 150-year-old yellow pine flooring,” observes Cryder. It was harvested from an antique barn and laid in wide planks, using square-headed nails, he adds.

The kitchen cabinets behind the island are laid out in an L shape, with a peninsula extending to form a divider between the home’s dining area and the kitchen. This peninsula has a pass-through to the dining room. It is also where Cryder began his appliance layout, positioning the Maytag Advanced Cooking System gas range and Kenmore hood there.

“However, the 20' vaulted ceiling created a problem for venting the hood’s fan,” Cryder reveals. “I solved this by hiding the necessary vent pipe on top of the peninsula’s cabinets with extended crown molding.”

Although the owner doesn’t plan to prepare his own food, says Cryder, he did spend time testing different kitchen appliances to ensure that he would be able to open doors. “He discovered that refrigerators that had strong suction were difficult for him to open, and handle size needed to be considered,” states Cryder.

Based on those criteria, the owner ultimately chose the range, as well as a stainless steel Kenmore Elite refrigerator and GE Profile Spacemaker II Sensor microwave. All were placed within easy reach. A Kenmore Elite dishwasher finished the appliance selection.

Cryder accommodated the owner’s request to have an easily accessible sink by installing a stainless steel bar sink in a corner of the island so he could get close to it in his wheelchair. A Moen faucet with large handles allows the owner to easily wash his hands, or get a glass of water.

The designer also widened the space between the island and the cabinets 4' so the owner could easily navigate around the island in his wheelchair. This extra space lets both the caregiver and the owner in his wheelchair occupy the kitchen area without getting in each other’s way. Hunter track lighting attached to an antique ceiling beam, and a large elk antler chandelier hand-crafted in Wyoming, continue the kitchen’s rustic appeal. They also enhance the natural light from the skylights. Recessed, undercabinet lighting illuminates countertop work areas.

A V-1504 hydraulic vertical platform lift, made by Savaria of Canada and distributed by Accessible Living, Ltd. in Yorkville, IL, was built into a custom-designed shaft. Cryder concealed it behind a kitchen door that’s operated by one of the home’s automatic door openers. The lift works as a two-stop elevator that gives the owner access to the fully finished basement level.

Last, but not least, is the back-up generator Cryder installed to ensure that the owner would always have power to run his computerized house from his kitchen island command center.

Project Highlights

  • For the disabled owner of this 1940s ranch-style home, the kitchen design was not just about aesthetics and ease of use, says designer Vance Gryder. “Although those were important considerations, for this owner, accessibility, independence, safety and security were the main concerns.”
  • Gryder took the owner’s idea of a centrally located office area, and created a kitchen island that acts as a command center from which the owner can control his entire home environment via his computer.
  • The large, angled island serves several purposes. It acts as a room divider given its central location under six skylights. It acts as a high-tech office with the owner’s iMac computer hooked into a security system, home theater system and climate control system. It offers ample counter space for food preparation. Plus, it acts as a focal point, and sets the rustic tone of the kitchen’s overall design.
  • Though the owner has a caregiver who primarily cooks for him, Gryder installed appliances the owner could easily open and access.
  • A mix of natural light and light from a track system and rustic chandelier, along with undercabinet task lighting illuminates the ultra-accessible design.
  • A hydraulic lift and back-up generator round out the overall renovation.
  • Products include: Shiloh Landes maple wood island cabinets with a brick red distressed glaze; Shiloh square, raised-panel Rustic Cherry wall and peninsula cabinets in a medium color glaze; Mastercraft cabinetry hardware; Uba Tuba granite island countertop from P & G Stone in Franklin Park, IL; beveled-edge, Himalaya slate Formica perimeter countertops fabricated by KDA; Maytag Advanced Cooking System gas range; Kenmore range hood, refrigerator and Elite dishwasher; GE Profile Spacemaker II Sensor microwave; bar sink; Moen faucet; a V-1504 hydraulic vertical platform lift manufactured by Savaria of Canada and distributed by Accessible Living, Ltd. in Yorkville, IL, built into a custom-designed shaft; a back-up generator; Open Sesame automatic door openers; Honeywell thermostat system; Alarm Detection Services security system; Samsung plasma-screen TV and DVD player; Denon home theater system; Sony 300-disk CD changer; Hunter track lighting attached to an antique ceiling beam; Hunter overhead fans; a large elk antler chandelier hand-crafted in Wyoming; recessed, undercabinet lighting; six skylights; and reclaimed antique yellow pine flooring from Vintage Barn Co. in Sugar Grove, IL.