'A Very Comfortable House'


November 23, 2003

PATRICIA CORBETT CONOLE
CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Melvyn and Beverly Miller are living and entertaining with greater ease since they moved into their new handicapped-accessible ranch in Jamesville.


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"It's a very comfortable house," said Melvyn, who uses a walker because of a spinal cord injury he suffered while serving in the U.S. armed forces in 1956.

The new house is at 6143 Thunderhead Lane in the Doubletree subdivision, off Route 173. It is not for sale.

The couple recently held their first large gathering of friends and family for Rosh Hashana, followed by a family reunion in early November.

"The way the kitchen is laid out, it's great for serving," said Melvyn, who is a partner with his son, Adam, in Melvyn Miller Associates, a financial investment company.

"I like to cook, but I have a serious balance issue," explained Melvyn. "Now I can reach everything."

He noted there are three 5-foot turnarounds in the kitchen, which accommodate his and his baby grandson's walker.

Beverly Miller, a former public health nurse and a retired assistant director of public health for the Onondaga County Health Department, found out about universal access design houses when they visited Rochester's showcase of homes.

"We came back to Syracuse with a floor plan and hired architect Joe Maryak, of JCM Architectural," she said.

Through the advice of a representative from the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Administration, Melvyn was re-evaluated after his annual exam at the Veterans Administration Hospital. Melvyn found out he was eligible for more benefits because of his degenerative condition.

"His mobility became increasingly worse," said Beverly, who is patient services manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

A representative from the U.S. Veterans Administration regional office in New York City explained the benefits Miller was entitled to under the rehabilitation grant. One of the benefits was a grant to either rehabilitate an existing home or build a new handicapped-accessible home.

He received a $48,000 grant and the lowest interest rate to build the new house in Jamesville. The Millers went online and researched the Americans with Disability Act to find out more details about building a house for the disabled. The Veterans Administration also provided them with a book on requirements.

"It was pretty comprehensive," said Melvyn. The couple also contacted architects from the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, who said, "the house should be designed for your needs - what works for you," said Melvyn. "Everything I did, I laid out with an architect."

In the universal design access layout, the Millers orchestrate activities from the kitchen, on the front of the house. The kitchen is separated from the great room by a large island with a two-tiered counter for working and serving. Different activities can take place at the same time in the open room and everything is visible from the kitchen, without any walls of separation. The 16-foot-high vaulted ceiling creates drama in the family gathering area.

The housewas designed on the exterior without any ramps on the front. Instead, the builder, Tom Abbott of Abbott Custom Homes, graded the site so that Melvyn could roll into the main front entry and garage entry.

"In standard construction, there are always some sort of steps into a house," said Abbott.

On the back of the house, the builder lowered the outoor deck 3 inches and built an open steel grate from the master bedroom doorway and great room doorway to the deck.

"I was concerned with the water and snow buildup," said Abbott, explaining how the open metal ramp would allow for drainage.

All of the doorways throughout the house are 36 inches wide instead of the standard 30 inches. Typical bathroom entries are 2 feet wide. All of the switch plugs are also lower to accommodate a person in a wheelchair.

"It's much easier to design and build a handicapped-accessible house from the start instead of retrofitting an existing house," said Abbott.

With the Millers' growing family, which includes their son, Adam, and his wife, Joanna, and their 8-month-old son, Max; and their daughter, Sarah, and husband Tim Chamberlain, they enjoy the way different activities can take place with everyone together in the same 960-square- foot great room.The kitchenfeatures recessed panel maple cabinets with a nutmeg finish that contrast with the same cabinets in a lighter stain to add interest. The oatmeal-colored solid surfacing countertops and 12-inch-by-12-inch beige stone-textured ceramic tile floor create a light earth tone color scheme. A Jenn Air downdraft and smooth top range are built into the large island.

On the opposite side of the island are lower built-in glass-front cabinets that showcase Bev's china. Bev also positioned her desk flush with the island to be in a central location. The living room area and dining area are tied together with an oak floor. The ceramic-trimmed fireplace is surrounded with bookshelves and a built-in media center above the mantel.

From the living room is a view of miles of rolling hills. The Millers worked with Phoenix Flower Farm on the landscaping to take advantage of the view.

Melvyn has already planted 200 flower bulbs in the front and back of the house.

The dining room is filled with Hitchcock furniture that was a wedding gift from Beverly's father in 1959. The couple was introduced through a mutual friend, when Beverly was a nursing student at Cornell University Medical School in New York City.

The architectdesigned the master bedroom suite on the southern side with plenty of room.

"I wanted enough space next to my bed for a walker," said Melvyn.

In the master bath, everything is within easy reach. Melvyn can roll into the shower without any obstruction and feel secure with three grab bars attached to the beige marbled ceramic walls that measure 48 inches by 60 inches.

There are two vanities - a maple vanity with a solid surfacing countertop for Bev and an ADA porcelain wall-mounted vanity that Melvyn can easily roll underneath to use with his walker. There is also a large separate commode room, equipped with commode bars, a telephone, bookshelves and a smaller wall-mounted sink.

"I can handle me in here," said Melvyn.

The his-and-herswalk-in closets were also designed for Melvyn to be able to easily reach everything from his walker.

The mudroom/laundry room also is a central command area of the house that is easily accessible from the garage without any threshold. The 10-foot-by-17-foot room has an old-fashioned pantry closet, a coat closet, laundry facilities and door to the basement with a stair glider.

On the opposite side of the house is the guest bedroom, full bathroom and office/playroom, where Melvyn keeps his computer and collection of toys.

"I am a clown for Rotary," said Melvyn, who works and babysits his grandchildren in the room. "These are my toys; I like to smile."


© 2003 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.

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