By Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.
My husband, Mark Leder, and I didn't start out with intentions of building a national demonstration home and garden in Columbus, Ohio. The project evolved out of our frustration and housing needs due to a life-changing event. Our intension is to stay in this home for the rest of our lives.
On June 13, 1998, our third wedding anniversary weekend, Mark and I went for a bicycle ride on a rural wooded bike trail in Granville, OH. After riding for a few minutes, Mark thought he heard a gunshot and slowed down to investigate. As he scanned the scene he saw a large tree falling. He shouted, "Stop!" But the warning was too late. Instantly, I was crushed by a 3 ½ ton tree and paralyzed from the waist down.
Coming home from the hospital in a wheelchair in July 1998 after my spinal cord injury, I realized how my home intensified my disability. I was unable to roll on the carpet; fit through bathroom doorways; reach the clothes in my closet; access food in the pantry; reach glasses and dishes in the kitchen; take a shower or bath independently; do the laundry; use the oven or microwave; get food out of the freezer; access any of the landscape; come and go out of any door independently; and get to the second floor or basement. My husband and I knew that we had to sell our home and find something more suitable.
In September of 2004 we hired architect, Patrick Manley to draw the house plans for our new home. In January 2005, Mark and I were encouraged by our mastermind group to make our home a national demonstration home and garden and to acquire corporate sponsors.
In January 2005 we hired kitchen and bath designer and internationally renowned universal design specialist Mary Jo Peterson. She worked with Manley on the kitchen, pantry, bathrooms, and wardrobe floor plan and positioned the cabinets, appliances, plumbing fixtures, and countertops. She also helped select these items. Anna Lyon, our interior designer consulted on the floor plans and elevations and selected lighting fixtures, paint, stain, furniture and finishes for the home. Ardra Zinkon was the lighting designer. The design team from KraftMaid Cabinetry refined the Passport series cabinet design throughout the home.
Our design team focused on accessible features to accommodate me in my wheelchair including: knee space under the sinks and cooktop; 9" x 6" toe kick at the base of the cabinets; an elevator; countertop heights to accommodate me in all rooms. My husband is 6'4" tall while I am 4'1" seated in my wheelchair. Our heights and reaches were factors in the home design so that we were both accommodated.
We hired Robert August in October 2005 to help us with branding, marketing, and contacting international and national corporations to partner with us by contributing products and services. He named our national demonstration home and garden the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (www.udll.com)
Mark and I bought an acre and a half lot in December of 2006 and continued with the planning and design process. We broke ground on September 23, 2009. In addition to being accessible, universal design and green building construction principles were followed. We followed the standards from three universal design national certification programs: Livable Design, Life-Flex Home, ZeroStep.
On May 18, 2012 we moved into our new home. There are currently 188 contributors. Our home could not have been built without their support. Mark and I have personally funded the UDLL and served as the general contractors with Mark doing much of the work himself.