Nicole and Dan Feeney love their 1910 American Foursquare-style house and their leafy neighborhood in Whitman, but they knew they had to alter their living situation. They have four children: identical twins Elyse and Tamsin, who turn 7 this month, 6-month-old son Rhys, and 5-year-old daughter Shelby, who was born with CHARGE syndrome. The syndrome affects Shelby’s mobility, hearing, and vision, making it difficult for her to navigate the home — and for her parents to care for her safely as she grows.
After the couple decided to renovate, they contacted the Boston-based Institute for Human Centered Design, which referred them to Beige & Bleu Design Studio in Waltham. Owner-designers Nicole Noonan and Morgan Mackintosh welcomed the challenge.
The duo, who worked at a discounted rate and secured additional discounts and donations, incorporated principles of universal design throughout the house. That means the design functions efficiently for all, regardless of their abilities. Noonan says, “We made things easier for Shelby by removing barriers, while improving the functionality of the space for the rest of the family as well.”
Creating an environment that would allow Shelby experiences akin to those of any other 5-year-old was essential. “Everything was done with her independence and quality of life in mind,” says her mom. Aesthetics were also a consideration. The couple and the designers wanted the home to reflect the tastes and personalities of every occupant.
As with most young families, life centers on the kitchen, which was relocated to a new two-story addition at the back of the house. A ramp there leads to a side entry door that opens into an area large enough to maneuver a wheelchair. The two-level island accommodates a wheelchair or walker. Mackintosh says, “The design helps Shelby participate in family activities — she can help cook and eat at the island — rather than exist on the outskirts.”
The island, painted Nicole’s favorite shade of green, pops against the crisp white cabinetry and fiberboard paneling on the room’s perimeter. The sharp contrast makes navigating the space easier for someone with less-than-perfect eyesight. Other practical applications of color include painting the inside trim on doorways a saturated shade of yellow. It’s Shelby’s favorite color and helps signal a transition between rooms.
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A KITCHEN DESIGNED FOR ALL
1. APPLIANCE SMARTS: No-touch faucets accommodate fine-motor-skill deficits. The induction cooktop replaced a gas appliance and its open flames.
2. HIGH CONTRAST: The island pops against the white walls, which makes locating and navigating around it easier for Shelby.
3. VISIBILITY: The designers used honed rather than polished quartz because it’s less shiny. Reflections and glare can make it hard to distinguish items placed on glossy surfaces. Multiple layers of lighting illuminate every aspect of the room.
4. VARIED HEIGHTS: The two-level island accommodates multigenerational activities. The lower countertop extends far enough to allow a wheelchair to slide underneath.
5. WITHIN REACH: Long, D-shaped pulls and handles are easier to grasp than small knobs, and slow-close drawers prevent squashed fingers. Patterned contact paper lines drawer interiors to aid with depth perception.
6. CLEAR PATHS: The entry door is wide enough for a wheelchair, and the layout allows clearance for moving through the room.
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In the dining room, floral-print chairs and a display of mismatched plates inspired by an old family recipe box showcase Nicole’s taste for eclectic vintage decor. The focal point in the family room is an abstract painting created by the three daughters, “commissioned” by the designers. “Nicole and Morgan came with paint and a canvas and let the girls go at it,” Nicole Feeney says. “I was so touched that they involved them.”
The playroom is organized and outfitted to work for the whole crew. Shelby can crawl across the room, find toys on the new built-in shelves, and put them away when she’s finished. The television is mounted where she can get close enough to see it, while the twins watch from the low-slung daybed. “She’s able to satisfy her curiosity and is enjoying her independence,” Nicole reports.
Upstairs, Mackintosh and Noonan indulged the twins’ desire for rainbows and fairies. Their bedroom walls are painted a not-too-cloying shade of pink — but just two-thirds up, because while the girls adore pink, Dan doesn’t. The nursery veers less pastel, as does the master bedroom. “We’ve never had a nice space for ourselves before,” Nicole says. “It’s like a luxury hotel.”
Shelby’s motorized bed was refinished in a handsome charcoal gray, and the linens boast a multitude of patterns. As they did throughout the home, the designers catered to the family’s attraction to tactile materials, incorporating velvet upholstery, tassel details, and shaggy textiles into the room. “The sensory piece is huge for Shelby,” says Nicole. “When she sits on her rug, she moves her feet back and forth.” Dan adds with a smile, “I like it, too; it’s like petting a soft dog.”
The process has been an education for everyone — the designers, the family, and, most of all, Shelby. “Living in your home is so basic; it’s just part of being human,” says Nicole. “Now Shelby has that, and we’ve seen so much growth.”
Architecture: HPA Design, hpadesign.com
Cabinetry: Metropolitan Cabinets and Countertops, metcabinet.com
Contractor: C.G. Construction
Interior Design: Beige & Bleu Design Studio, beigeandbleu.com
Painting: Kimball Painting, kimballpainting.com
Marni Elyse Katz is a frequent contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated to clarify that a new cooking appliance is an induction cooktop.