A carriage house historically is an outbuilding for horse-drawn carriages and accessories. For Deb and Ed Dick—clients with a carefully curated antique collection and a need for wheelchair access—architect Kent Thompson chose this structure as the starting point for their new home. The building type offers traditional style but minimal trim that doesn't overwhelm the antiques. Plus, a carriage house layout features open spaces and extra wide doors, ideal for accessibility. Thompson used this traditional form to elegantly incorporate universal design.

The clients also requested abundant natural light—a tough request given Ohio’s tendency toward cloudy skies. Thompson again turned to traditional carriage house forms, updating them to meet modern lifestyles. A glass-filled cupola invites sunlight deep inside. Grouped windows appear as if they were added to fill large openings. Thompson included an awning detail above a central set of windows to make them look like they replaced the main carriage doors.

A 5-foot-wide turning radius, standard for accessible design, was the driving force behind the floor plans. Thompson opted for timber-framing to generate large spans and maintain an old building feel. Timber frame construction made open circulation and living space fairly easy to design. “It was making sure Deb could move around the kitchen and bathrooms that was trickiest,” Thompson explains. He worked closely with Deb to determine what she needed for functioning independently in those key rooms. Two islands in the kitchen place most storage low and within reach. The second island also provides countertop space that’s open underneath for pulling the chair close. Increasingly popular and available of drawer-style appliances also helped. Microwave, refrigerator, and dishwasher are all drawers, while twin ovens with swing-doors flank either side of the cooktop at counter height.

Though the powder rooms were straightforward because they are tight spaces requiring only the addition of discreet grab bars, it was the shower in the master bath that took a few tries to get right. It had to be roomy enough for a wheelchair without losing heat or putting the bench seat and grab bars out of reach. A continuous 5-foot-by-7-foot wet area was the final plan. “We used the extra space to create a foyer where Deb transfers into a shower chair,” Thompson says. “I ended up putting the toilet in that foyer to make it a more comfortable, usable space.”

Heated floors also amplify comfort in the bath and adjacent bedroom. The master suite is partially underground to help keep the home’s footprint compressed. Although the bedroom has walkout egress with French doors for lots of light, Thompson wanted to ensure that it didn't feel musty. Precast concrete panels filled with batt insulation did the trick. “Precast panels are about four times denser than poured concrete,” he explains. “We also added a geothermal well that feeds the whole house—including hydronic radiant floors—so the entire level is really cozy and never feels damp.”