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Small changes

This beautifully designed accessible home by O’Shea and Sons Builders shows simple changes can make a big difference to the livability and functionality of home for all stages of life – or changes in circumstance.

Small changes

This beautifully designed accessible home by O’Shea and Sons Builders shows simple changes can make a big difference to the livability and functionality of home for all stages of life – or changes in circumstance.

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A site fall left Brisbane builder John O’Shea with paraplegia. That not only changed the course of his life but that of the family business too.

Now Nick, his son and Director of O’Shea and Sons Builders, is passionate about designing and building homes that aren’t obstacle courses for people who are mobility challenged, elderly or even very young.

O’Shea and Sons Builders, as a firm, is a flagbearer for the liveable and universal housing movement that includes ageing in place and multi-generational living, as well as creating attractive accessible and adaptive spaces for those who have to get around on wheels.

‘A real passion and drive of ours is to make sure that the houses don’t look clinical, and educating everyone – those who are building, renovating [or are just curious] – of the simple things we can do to make a home more accessible,’ says Director Nick O’Shea.

He’s not just talking about people with a disability or mobility challenges, but a growing trend (particularly in light of COVID-19) for different generations of families living together, either under one roof or in compounds.

‘As baby boomers grow older, and spots in aged care centres become less and less, we’re going to see more of a trend in people living with their kids, and making sure their houses are equipped to handle elderly people – on scooters or using walkers,’ Nick says.

Ian Bushnell

Author

The home was acknowledged with the 2019 HIA Queensland Specialised Housing Award and a finalist in the national award for the same category

O’Shea and Sons Builders is passionate about designing and building homes that aren’t obstacle courses for people who are mobility challenged, elderly or even very young.
The home features a drop bench, sink recess and bi-folding opening doors to the cooktop to enable wheelchair user access.
This ostensibly multi-bed and dual office double-storey home built by O’Sheas for wheelchair accessibility is a good example, having the capacity to convert to four bedrooms or multi-generational spaces. There are also three bathrooms, two of which are designed for accessibility and provision for support if needed in the future.

Its pavilion design provides more flexibility than the Hamptons or modern contemporary style, which O’Sheas build a lot of, but the business was keen to bring something different to the market.

Nick says a pavilion home is essentially a number of cubes that can be sized and arranged in whatever combination best suits the site and people’s requirements. ‘You can still bring your own twist without being restricted to a modern contemporary or Hampton style. We’re finding that people can relate to creating those bigger spaces as required.’ 

Loads of space – whether that is in hallways, around the kitchen, in bathrooms or from the high ceilings – is the key element in this home.

It had to be easily negotiated by wheelchair, and that required wider doorways, recesses for bathroom vanities and kitchen benches so a wheelchair can get in under the sink, low height kitchen benches, as well as extra space in opened-out showers, next to toilets and in the garage.

‘These can all be achieved without too much extra cost but will make a huge difference to someone in a wheelchair, using a scooter or walker, or even a parent with a large pram,’ Nick says.
But functional does not mean the aesthetics are forgotten and this home not only works for its owners but looks and feels like a place anyone would feel proud to reside in.
Loads of space – whether that is in hallways, around the kitchen, in bathrooms or from the high ceilings – is the key element in this home.
The idea is to reduce the number of walls, doors and openings, and in the kitchen this means no splashback.

A person in a wheelchair also needs to be able to reach things, so for example in the kitchen the wall oven is set lower, there are pull down pantry drawers and pull out storage enabling access from either side, and in the laundry there are under-bench appliances.

Of course, being more than one level, the home has an internal lift. For the O’Sheas it was the first time they had used a steel shaft, and with the lift ordered months in advance from Italy there was no room for error in the measurements.

‘You need to be millimetre perfect to be plumb,’ Nick explains. ‘You can’t wait till you get the lift. You’ve got to get it right first go. It has to be all flush.’

There also needed to be smooth transitions between the inside and outside, with step ups and step downs eliminated so a wheelchair can cross easily.

Nicks says rebating door jambs and inserting doors into the ground and floors all make for easier maintenance. Concrete outside allow easy movement for a wheelchair but that and artificial turf also make for easy maintenance.

A six-star energy rating keeps running costs down, and includes R2.5 wall insulation, solar panels ducted airconditioning, tinted windows and doors, a northerly orientation, and a design that promotes air flow and directs light through the house.

There are plenty of high and louvred windows to let the light and air in and bi-fold doors open up the rear of the house, with a retractable screen to keep out insects.

‘It’s important to have air flow and light through a house to make sure it’s comfortable in summer and winter,’ Nick says.
O’Shea and Sons Builders is a flagbearer for the livable and universal housing movement that includes ageing in place and multi-generational living.
Smooth transitions between the inside and outside mean step ups and step downs are eliminated so a wheelchair can cross easily.

A security system with intercom and cameras allows remote opening of doors, and the automated garage doors can be operated off-site by mobile phone.

But functional does not mean the aesthetics are forgotten and this home not only works for its owners but looks and feels like a place anyone would feel proud to reside in.

On the outside, a dynamic mix of Hardie cladding creates attractive facades, while a feature wall of Zebra Stacstone is eye-catching. Inside, timber is used to spectacular effect, such as the French Oak Herringbone floor, the solid oak stairs and the feature ceiling of Fiddleback matt Brush Box timber.

A signature feature wall created from offcuts adds another dimension to the home. ‘It’s something we like to do – put our own spin and twist on the job so we can walk away feeling like we’ve been creative as well.’

All up it took five months to build for an overall cost of $900,000. The home was also acknowledged with the 2019 HIA Queensland Specialised Housing Award and a finalist in the national award for the same category.

It’s a case study of how a home can be more inclusive and future proofed, and the firm is keen to take its message to the industry that this can be achieved without prohibitive cost.

‘We want to educate others in the industry to see that small changes don’t have to cost a lot of money, but can really help each home be that little bit more accessible,’ Nick says.

It may be contentious but the O’Sheas would eventually like to see universal design in every home.

Lutzow Pavilion at a glance

Builder

O'Shea and Sons Builders

Location

Brisbane

Materials:

  • Roofing: Colorbond in Surfmist and Monument, Stramit; Fiddleback matt Brush Box timber, Awesome Timber Flooring (feature ceiling)
  • Walls: Marble Plus Zebra Stackstone (studio feature wall); Matrix resene rose gold metallic (living room feature wall)
  • Windows and doors: Aluminium Monument, James Glass; Intelliscreens retractable bi-fold door; Nullarbor panel lift door, B&D garage doors; Polytec cabinetry 
  • Flooring: French Oak, Awesome Timber Flooring; silver travertine matt finish, Marble Plus; solid oak staircase, Stairtec
  • Joinery: Polytec Ravene in Natural Oak, Ultra Matt in Mink, Melamine in Blossom White and Natural Oak; Blum hardware 
  • Kitchen: Geolux Palissandro benchtop, Stoneville Australia; Miele appliances
  • Lift: The Lift Shop ECO El lift model Q-92170.