A primary concern that clients with disabilities have is that their house should feel like a home, and not some sort of care facility or hospital
In most houses, it’s small things like the appliances that make day-to-day life so much easier — but, in the case of this Tipperary home, it is the whole house’s job to make daily life simpler.
The recently-completed home, on the edge of the historic medieval walled village of Fethard, is more than a house to nine-year old Keri Brett and her family, it’s a purpose-built centre of her world.
Young Keri has Quadraplegia Cerebral Palsy, a condition which means she needs (and will continue to need) around-the-clock care; that’s given in the main and with a huge heart, by her mother, Clodagh.
The injuries came about as a result of negligence and breach of duty of care during Keri’s birth the High Court found when Keri’s parents Brendan and Clodagh fought her case with huge conviction and passion in 2009, winning a significant award which has now, lately, made her care so much easier and certain.
A key element of this relief was the construction of this house, designed with Keri at its core, to cater for all her needs now, and later on as an adult. The challenge was to make it both a house able to cope with those demands — including play, learning, occupational therapy, relaxation and stimulation — while also making it a family home, which all, including Keri’s younger sister Lucy, aged six, can enjoy to the full.
So, halls and corridors in this impressive, comfortable, and energy-efficient home are extra-wide (1.8 metres) to allow for full wheelchair access and turning, and that’s a boon too to Lucy, who can charge around on her own scooter, and easily keep pace with Keri’s wheels.
When setting out to deliver a home capable of fulfilling a range of needs for the Bretts, the team behind this successful one-off note “a primary concern that clients with disabilities have is that their house should feel like a home, and not some sort of care facility or hospital, either in new-builds or adaptations.”
Coming on board with the Bretts was Cork-based CBA Architecture, headed by Mark Collins and Stephen Brennan, and as Stephen’s originally a Tipperary man, he was the man on site here at least twice a week during the smooth, six-month build period.
Involved from the very start, CBA viewed and considered as many as 50 possible sites for the Bretts before finally getting success with this level acre just on the edge of Fethard with the help of local estate agent John Stokes. Handily. it’s only a few hundred yards from the village’s fringing 25’ high boundary stone walls, and the considerable use of stone in the build keeps faith with local roots, as well as making for minimum maintenance worries in the years ahead.
Of necessity, the house needed to be quite large, as it has to cater for the family, for special needs and therapy rooms. Keri’s Occupation Therapist (OT) Fiana Barry insisted the design include a carer’s room/suite next to Keri’s room, as a future provision: it’s not needed now as mum Clodagh is so absolutely hands-on, but it’s there whenever it’s required.
Having moved in the past year from a far smaller three-bed standard bungalow, Clodagh says the quality of her life has improved immeasurably, as well as the care she can give Keri. “It’s a different life for her now, there’s not a thing she wants for,” she states.
Simple things like showering/bathing Keri are far easier, and safer, especially as Keri is growing up. “Showering is the simplest job now; before I fell on my back so many times when she was in the bath, now I can give her a shower every day,” Clodagh says, thanks to the trolley-chair that now fits perfectly into the over-sized shower unit, just one of the myriad special adaptations that make chores and tasks a safe, one-person job.
Other designed-for-purpose supports include long runs of ceiling track for electric hoists that can whisk Keri from her chair to a large, circular cosy seat or settee for snuggle time by the fire with Clodagh and Lucy, and the same hoists rail is on discrete standby for use in the therapy and wash areas, and by the over-sized hydrotherapy pool, like a giant hot-tub, specially imported from the US.
CBA architect Mark Collins says this special house’s design “was initially developed on a ‘form follows function’ basis, but other factors played a big part too, it was important to achieve a design that is full of natural light and blends well with its environment.”
Light indeed does flood in from every angle, down through the ceiling voids and Veluxes in the deep house’s central corridor for a cascade of light, and from the huge windows, especially to the south where there are distant views to Slievenamon.
Stephen Brennan’s time here overseeing the build process was brief, all things considered, and that was down to things like CBA ordering the highly-insulated precision timber frame structure from suppliers Cygnum in Macroom before the contractors were even appointed, saving about 12 weeks in the process.
“We had a very good relationship with the builders MMD Construction throughout the job. Everyone realised the importance of this job, given the circumstances,” say Mark and Stephen.
This build is about three times larger than the Bretts’ previous home, but it can be run and heated for the same amount as the smaller house.
It has an A2 BER rating, and the architects modestly say “some basic eco-friendly thinking was taken on board, along with some advanced technologies to keep the running cost low for this house.” It has 200mm of cellulose insulation (recycled newspaper), airtight membranes and service cavity, considerable weather protection from deep, overhang eaves with chutes concealed in the cavity, and deep-bore geothermal heating done by Kanturk-based Ashgrove, with heating coming underfloor, which means a comfortable, even temperature and no radiators or heaters blocking up corridors or rooms. This is combined with a heat recovery system, bringing filtered fresh air into the dwelling, warmed up before it gets transferred in to habitable spaces.
Wood-burning stoves set in immaculately-crafted Liscannor Moher stone chimney breasts add discretionary top-ups to the comfort factor, as well as simply looking good.
The design made a few engineering challenges too, such as the distinctive corner windows with cantilevered beams to allow frames butt up at corners with no post support, special trusses for the wide spans and to take loadings from the hoists, and giving a clear sign of the sheltering capability of this house is the large, drive-through porch entrance which means Keri can move from car/mini-bus/school bus (Keri now attends a special school ‘Rainbow’ class daily, with four others) to the house without her, or her helpers, getting wet.
Other features include simple things like attention to drains and ease of maintenance, there’s a well for water supply, a mechanical draught excluder on the front door for maximum air-tightness and CCTV for monitoring and safety purposes, plus a light therapy or ‘Snoezelen’ room, where stimulating and therapeutic lights and sounds can be manipulated, and the proximity of those colourful lights is essential as Keri’s eyesight is poor, and so can add to her visual engagement.
“We took on board comments from all specialists that work with Keri in increasing her quality of living, including nurses, teachers OT’s and of course her parents,” says Mark Collins. “Building regulations now ensure that new builds generally cater for people with disabilities, providing a good level of accessibility and this house goes far beyond the standard requirements for disabled use.”
Currently, CBA Architecture are working on five projects for people with disabilities and/or exceptional circumstances “but we find that increasing numbers of clients simply want to redesign their home to cater for their old age, or any personal injury that may occur in the years to come. A brief should always consider future needs,” they say.
“We always advise clients to allow us to design a home for them that will suit their full life cycle, and most people see the advantage in a ground floor space that can easily adapt for use as a ground level bedroom with en-suite facilities. It could have multi-purpose use but also accommodate a visiting elderly parent or themselves should the need arise.”
VERDICT: A bright home at the end of a dark period.