Six years ago, Mario Guzman came down with the common flu. After receiving the standard treatment, though, he didn’t get any better. Mario had been misdiagnosed. Because of the delay it caused in his healing process, he then slipped into septic shock, and his body quickly declined. “As a result of his illness,” his wife Ludmila tells us, “he became a multiple amputee, and thanks to the nerve damage that he suffered as a result of the infection, he is now a wheelchair user.”
The couple immediately felt the strain of Mario’s setback. Once a pair that loved to travel and exercise, their days were now filled with healing and trying to figure out how to make life easier for Mario.
In order to allow Mario to feel more comfortable at home, the family decided to move out of their stair-heavy condo in San Jose, CA. Finding a new space that was the right fit, however, was challenging. They toured 30 homes, none of which were even close to being accessible, before landing on a 1930s-era, Spanish-style bungalow. “Our home was the only one that we could actually manage to get him in using a portable ramp, and its beautiful looks and ample garden helped close the deal,” Ludmila explains.
Recently, the two took on a thoughtful renovation to make the new house’s kitchen and dining area more accessible. The four-month-long project involved, among other things, doubling down on lower cabinetry and widening doorways to accommodate Mario’s chair. The cleverness of their design is most prominently on display in the area around their sink. From the outside, the cabinet doors below the sink appear to hide run-of-the-mill storage, but Mario can actually open the doors and glide his chair up under the sink itself (where shelves should be) and use it without any problems.
Looking back, Ludmila says one of the greatest challenges she faced during the renovation was tracking down design inspiration that was equal parts accessible and attractive. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. I’ve heard the same thing from countless other families through my work here at Design*Sponge. What Ludmila and these families don’t realize is that their voices are making a difference. Right now, somewhere in the world, another family is searching online for accessible design ideas just as they did themselves. If they look hard enough, they’ll come across Ludmila and Mario’s hacienda or one of the other accessible homes we’ve covered over the last 15 years and (hopefully) feel a little less alone. —Garrett
Photography by Ludmila Guzman
Image above: In order to help their new kitchen’s look fit with the house’s original design and subsequent revamps, the couple focused on Spanish-style accents. “This [house has] been loved by all of its previous owners, so we felt that we needed to respect its history and architecture by making changes that would not look discordant nor too contemporary,” Ludmila explains.