In the home and cottage construction industry few contractors consider accessibility when building or renovating. As cottagers age, the issues surrounding accessibility to the family cottage will become more apparent. Many retirement age couples are renovating their family cottage into a permanent residence and they need to be encouraged to plan adequately for the future. At Gilbert + Burke we work hard at promoting this concept and encouraging everyone to “build universally” right from the start.

Sturgeon Lake Cottage Renovation

We take great pride in an award winning* accessibility project done under our former name, Evergreen Home & Cottage Inc. As the General Contractor on this Sturgeon Lake cottage renovation, we were commissioned to remove the physical barriers which had prevented our client, Norma Bertuzzi, from using her family cottage for ten years. Access to the cottage was completely impossible for Norma after a major disabling automobile accident; she was unable to even reach the front door.  This is typical of most cottages due to older construction ideas, landscape and site elevations.

Landscaped, graded pathway.

We incorporated innovative solutions to increase accessibility for aging or physically challenged individuals. For example, platform lifts, graded pathways, stair glides and other innovative modifications.

Slip-resistant deck surface, clear tempered glass railings and a platform elevator.

Many cottages have great sentimental value attached to their structures, and often people do not want to demolish them and start new when faced with challenges such as this. Nor do they want their cottage to look “institutional”.

Norma summed it up best in this quote from Cottage Life Magazine featuring the Sturgeon Lake cottage renovation, “My husband, Larry, and I talked once about selling, but no, the cottage is more than just a place. It’s the constant in my life, and people need constants.”**

Simplicity and Functionality

We were able to make all the necessary changes to enable full accessibility while, at the same time, work with our client to preserve the family heritage aspect of the cottage in respecting the finishes and layout.

Completely level floor transitions and widened doorway entrances.

Steps to the front door were replaced by a ramp. Regular doors were replaced with low threshold doors. An addition was built which incorporated a larger bedroom with a walk-out to a private, screened porch, and a barrier-free bathroom. All floor transitions were leveled with each other and all doorways were widened.

Wheelchair accessible kitchen and casement style windows with lower sills.
Wheelchair accessible kitchen and casement style windows with lower sills.

A wheelchair accessible kitchen was installed. Windows were replaced with casement style operated ones, easy to operate from a wheelchair. Lighting was improved by adding numerous tubular skylights to increase natural light.

On the exterior, a slip-resistant deck surface was installed with clear tempered glass railings and a platform elevator. The elevator descends to a ground level sloped, landscaped concrete pathway leading to the boathouse rooftop and stairs, negotiable with scooter, wheelchair or walker.

Exterior Stair Glide

The stairs to the lake level were rebuilt and an exterior stair glide added, which enables Norma access to and from the lake. The simple and familiar “family cottage” ambiance was maintained.

Universal Design Approach

The cottage looks like a cottage – the changes that were made are not institutional in appearance. Anyone with any type of a disability issue, whether it is use of a cane, impaired vision or use of a wheelchair would benefit from this type of renovation, but the changes implemented are not obtrusive.

We worked with the client to use quality finishes to suit and match the cottage décor and atmosphere, respecting their desire to keep many things “just as they were”. Rather than be discouraged with the difficulties that site elevations presented, products and solutions were found to satisfy the needs presented.

Exceeding Building Code Requirements

The building code does not require all of the features that Gilbert + Burke provided in this accessible remodel, such as the added natural light provided by sola tubes and the completely level floor transitions.

* 2008 Kawartha Lakes Accessibility Awareness Recognition Award
** Cottage Life Magazine June, 2007 | “reclaiming the cottage” by Ray Ford

Photography by Laura Arsié | Cottage Life Magazine June, 2007 issue

Randy Burke is President and CEO of Gilbert + Burke, an industry leading design-build firm known for their signature designs and distinguished excellence.

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