Diane Miller believes everyone should have a place to go to get away from the rigors of a daily routine. And, she has spent much of her adult life building a retreat for everyone, especially individuals who just happen to be living with a disability.
“I had polio as a child and had to plow through life in a chair,” Miller said. “So, I had a good idea of what other people just might want in a getaway. We’ve tried to create that here.”
“Here” is Welcome H.O.M.E. (House of Modification Examples) near the western shore of Lake Michigan (http://www.welcomehouseof.org/). The 3,700-square-foot bed and breakfast situated on 18 acres was built for the purpose of improving the quality of life for people living with physical disabilities, providing creative options for seniors aging in place and offering ideas for the builders targeting those markets.
By designing, building and maintaining a unique single-family home, Miller has created one of the better working vehicles in the nation for providing evolving options information for barrier-free living, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.
Welcome H.O.M.E. is a living laboratory, providing visitors with a place to relax while affording remodelers and homeowners the chance to experiment with different applications, household devices, fixtures and adaptive equipment. Guests can explore the entire home, for a few days or quickly during one day, to determine the design that will work best for them in their own homes. The first sign is the no-step entry, making it easy to bring in luggage or a stroller, walker or wheelchair.
Homebuilder members interested in obtaining the country’s certified aging-in-place professional designation are required to complete a training course. The program, known as “CAPS,” is a three-day seminar that provides information about aging-in-place home modifications, including background on the older adult population, common aging-in-place remodeling projects, marketing to the aging-in-place market, codes and standards, common barriers and solutions, product ideas resources and communication techniques.
In a capsule, aging in place means living in one’s home safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level. In most cases, it provides the pleasure of remaining in a familiar environment throughout one’s maturing years and the ability to enjoy the familiar daily routines and the special events that enrich lives. It also brings the reassurance of being able to call a house a home for a lifetime.
An AARP study, “Fixing to Stay,” was a wake-up call to the residential remodeling industry. The results sent messages loud and clear:
1. Americans prefer to stay in their homes as they mature rather than seek assisted living and other arrangements.
2. Older consumers want a reliable means of identifying the professionals they can trust to remodel their homes.
The Welcome H.O.M.E. house is more a demonstration home than a model home. It has three different kitchens, all with distinctive appliances, bathrooms with diverse fixtures, countertops and heights, a large variety of light switches, door handles, lift-assist devices, roomy hallways and clever grab bars. None of this has an institutional feel.
The guest wing of the house features two bedrooms. One has a queen-size bed plus a fold-out twin, while the second offers a double bed, a twin waterbed and a fold-out futon. Both rooms have a door leading to a screen porch overlooking the prairie.
“We are a genuine nonprofit and rely on volunteers and donations for everything,” said Miller, who has been supported by national companies like Kohler, Culligan and Benjamin Moore. “We have kept it simple and inexpensive mainly because we can’t afford many of the elite items that are available today. While an elevator is probably out of our reach, we hope to do more in the home with new hearing impairments applications and interior electric door openers.”
Welcome H.O.M.E. is open to the public year-round, and summer is its busiest season. It features its own hiking trails and is close to wine tasting, art galleries, antiques and summer farmers’ markets.