Home for a Lifetime
A Nebraska couple builds a home that’s accessible to all.
By Margaret Haapoja
When Kearney, Nebraska, native Tammy Lawter returned from the 1999 National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Puerto Rico, she brought home gold medals in softball and bowling, and silvers for shot put and discus. Tammy tackled the plans for a new log home with the same energy and enthusiasm she brings to any task.
A young woman who “doesn’t let any grass grow under her feet,” according to Action Log Homes owner, Craig Peister, Tammy met her husband Ted when they both served in the Army. A military auto accident in 1994 left Tammy in a wheelchair, but it hasn’t slowed her down. “We both love the outdoors,” Tammy says. “Before I was injured I ran marathons, and I still ski and golf. Participating in sports from a wheelchair is very different, but it’s fun and exciting to learn new things.”
Although Tammy and Ted originally intended to build a brick rambler, they changed their minds while working with Craig in his model log home. “When we looked at his walls and his fireplace, we started thinking about a log home,” Tammy says. “We picked up Log Home Living and other log home magazines and began reading more about them.” The Lawters eventually chose a Rocky Mountain log home of 8-inch standing-dead, lodgepole pine, and Craig drew the design to accommodate Tammy’s wheelchair needs.
The Lawters spent a year and a half locating the perfect site for their new home. “A lot of the acreages we looked at were really hilly, and because I use a wheelchair, we didn’t think that would be the best thing for me,” Tammy says. Finally they found a 5-acre lot that was once a cornfield. To get enough fill to make the grade for the walkout basement, they dug a pond.
Tammy and Ted are glad they chose Craig and Rocky Mountain Log Homes to create their dream home. “We decided to go with Craig because he was local,” Tammy says, “and we have a great deal of confidence in him. Rocky Mountain Log Homes has been wonderful. When we had a few problems with our windows, they mailed us letters of apology, and they sent someone out to take care of everything.”
Craig, who often draws plans for other Rocky Mountain dealers, says the Lawters’ log home is the first he has designed for wheelchair needs. The most challenging aspect of the project was working with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Because this was a VA home, they had set certain criteria,” Craig says, “so the guidelines were pretty well-established.” Although Craig says building a handicap-accessible home is not much more costly initially, retrofitting an existing home can be very expensive.
Despite the fact that the Lawter home incorporates several universal design features, to the casual observer it looks like any other log home. “That’s one thing I really like about our home,” Tammy says. “Even though I’m in a wheelchair, it doesn’t look like a person in a wheelchair lives here. I’ve had friends come in and make that comment, and I agree that it looks like a normal, able-bodied person lives in this house.”
Local craftsman Dennis Ummel built the cabinets based on ideas Tammy found in magazines and at cabinet shops. In the kitchen, the lower cabinet doors and pantry shelves are drawers that pull out, making bowls, pots and pans easily accessible. Countertops are two inches lower than standard height, and the sink is more shallow. Sink drains are set in the back so pipes won’t block Tammy’s wheelchair.
All the home’s doorways are at least 36 inches wide. Tammy’s bathroom sink is lower than Ted’s, with space underneath for her wheelchair. A vanity table is designed the same way. A spacious roll-in shower is outfitted with a special wheelchair. To access the lower level of the house, with its exercise room, game room and theater, Tammy uses a chair lift mounted on the stairs. “If I had it to do over again,” she says, “I think I’d put in an elevator.”
Tammy took architectural drawing in school and has always been interested in design. “Tammy was fun to work with,” says Betty Peister, the interior designer who helped decorate the house, “and she knew what she wanted. When she makes up her mind, she’s definite, and she was always happy with her decision.”
Tammy chose a green and blue color scheme and tailored window treatments to keep the home from becoming too feminine. She selected commercial carpet to better withstand wheelchair use.
Outside, the couple has planted more than 100 trees on the property. Coming from South Carolina, Ted found Nebraska’s prairie landscape too open. “Back home there are pines pretty much everywhere,” he says, “and we moved up here and found only six trees on our five acres.”
For Tammy, life is easier in their new log home. “Everything is more accessible,” she says. “About the only thing I can’t do is vacuum without getting tangled up in the cord, but that’s a blessing in disguise!”
Log package price: $110,000
Square footage: 6,362
Log producer: Rocky Mountain Log Homes
For contact information, see Resources.
Universal Design Tips
Whatever it’s called–aging in place, unlimited by design or handicap accessibleuniversal design is about creating a home that is usable by everyone, regardless of stature and ability.
As you design your log home, you may want to follow guidelines for universal design. Including these features in your home now makes sense. Your home will meet your future needs and be more functional for your current use. Here are some features worth considering:
Action Log Homes, 1020 Central Ave., Kearney NE 68847; 308-237-5647
Rocky Mountain Log Homes photos