Independence Of Design

October 6, 2006
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SPARTA — The first local housing community truly designed for all ages is welcoming its first tenants this month. Built using universal design concepts, Independence Condominiums is intended to fit the needs of any individual capable of independent living, regardless of disability or any physical needs that may develop.

“They’re made for everyone, not just people with disabilities,” said Scott Anderle, president and owner of Specialized Home Design Inc. “If we have a 20-year-old couple that wants to move in, it would be perfect for them.”

Built on one of the last undeveloped plots in the village of Sparta, the condominiums don’t outwardly appear to be much different than any new ranch-style home. The basic design is two-bedroom, two-bath with a two-stall garage. It carries a base price of $229,500 with a $90 per month association fee, and the units are to be custom built from 1,600 to 1,800 square feet in size, marketed by AM Realty.

In truth, if Anderle had his way, there will be nothing unique about the five-home development — he thinks every home should be built this way. A physical therapist for 18 years, Anderle reinvented himself as a home modification specialist, working as a third-party consultant to modify homes for the disabled, elderly and forward-thinking.

For the disabled, everyday life can produce a myriad of challenges that compound if an illness progresses. Thick carpet can slow the workings of a walker or wheelchair. A light switch and door handle can present challenges, never mind a standing shower. Even cupboards and kitchen appliances can be everyday hassles, if the doors open in the wrong direction to maneuver around or are too high to reach.

Medical advances have exponentially increased the likelihood of surviving a catastrophic, life-changing injury. Others may develop a disability with age. With the growing visibility of health care today, builders and homeowners are beginning to recognize that nearly everyone will have at least some period of life when they are not fully mobile, quite possibly even for short periods as a young adult.

“There is a growing acceptance of universal design,” said Anderle, who spoke on the subject last month at the Brain Injury Association of Michigan Annual Conference. “People want to have a home they can live in their entire life.”

These design concepts are the primary feature of Independence Condos, built by Custom Development LLC, a partnership between Anderle and Rick Dunneback.

The couple moving into the first home built in the community, on the 200 block of West Gardner Street, is mostly mobile. The 87-year-old man and 85-year-old woman have lived in Sparta their entire adult lives, but their longtime home has begun to present significant barriers. He sometimes uses a wheelchair or walker.

“They want to die in this home and give it to their heirs,” Anderle said.

Among other things, the new home has wider doors and hallways, a wheelchair friendly kitchen, barrier-free shower, and no steps in its entryway. A medical center, pharmacist and grocery store are all within blocks and wheelchair accessible.

The association covers basic maintenance and upkeep, freeing the occupants of having to cope with home repairs.    

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