Given the choice, most people would prefer to live in their homes for the rest of their lives. One Northfield couple had the choice and decided to build a home that will meet their needs as they age.

Called a forever home or universal design, Bob Thacker and Karen Cherewatuk now reside in a house designed by Michael Graves that is constructed in a manner that can make life easier for older, as well as disabled people.

For instance, instead of having to reach up in cabinets for dishes, everything is at waist-level. The oven and microwave rest at the same level as well. The interior of the home allows space for wheelchairs, if necessary. The floors are heated in order to absorb moisture and prevent falls.

“It’s so much more handy because gravity is working with you,” Thacker said. “We love this kitchen.”

There’s even space for an elevator, if needed, as well as a beam over the couple’s bed if a hoist ever needed to be installed.

Evidence suggests most people want to continue to live in their homes versus moving, as they age. Approximately 90 percent of seniors intend to live in their current home for the next five to 10 years, according to The United States of Aging Survey. Of those, 85 percent believe they can do so without making significant modifications to their home.

Graves, who died in 2015, was a postmodernist architect known for designing the Portland Building, the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, and restoring the Washington Monument.

Graves later did design work for Target. Locally, he was responsible for the architecture of the Children’s Theatre Company and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts expansion.

He became paralyzed from the waist down in 2003 after he suffered a spinal cord infection. Following his paralysis, he sought to design more elegant rooms for disabled people. That work included redesigning grab bars by adding friendly curves and designing home health care possibilities.

Graves became involved in the Wounded Warrior Home Project and designed a home in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Thacker met Graves by chance in Washington, D.C., while waiting to meet some associates who missed their train. Graves was in the midst of designing the scaffolding for the restoration of the Washington Monument. Thacker was the vice president of marketing for Target, a sponsor of the restoration project.

The two forged a friendship from that moment on. Graves partnered with Thacker and Cherewatuk to design their house in Northfield before he died.

The house is built at grade level, which allows for an ease in movement for wheelchairs.

Cherewatuk had a daughter, Helen, who was in a wheelchair and, later, her first husband, Rich DuRocher, died from cancer and received care in their home. The family designed their home to be accessible for Helen, which also allowed for Rich to receive care at home.

=“This isn’t about aging,” Cherewatuk said. “What young couple doesn’t want a place for their parents. The entire building industry should be moving in that direction.”

The couple moved in Dec. 23 last year and decorated the home with a variety of found materials. The dining room table was made from a tree that sat on the site of the house, the kitchen features countertops that came from a Duluth school chemistry lab, etchings of love notes and all. A bar top is made from an old bowling alley lane.

Northfield Construction Co. built the home.

“We have worked with a wide array of clients looking at forever homes from young couples getting ready to start a family to empty nesters,” said Chris Kennelly, Northfield Construction Co. owner. “The baby boomers are very interested in aging in place. The forever house lets them do that. Given their appeal to many different groups, I believe forever homes with smart design will hold their value.”

Kennelly has seen a growing trend in homeowners incorporating elements of an aging in place home design.

“We definitely see this as a growing trend with our client base,” Kennelly said. “In the past couple of years, we’ve had many clients come to us talking about incorporating aging in place into the design of their home. Even young families are cognizant of the issues facing the aging population and are now thinking about what life will be like when they are empty nesters and face the next phase of life.”

Though not all clients have gone to such a degree as Thacker and Cherewatuk, Kennelly sees home owners wanting to do smaller scale design items like building their home at grade level and incorporating wider doors.

“Ninety percent of people want to live in their home but the home becomes the enemy,” Thacker said.

Nick Gerhardt is the Northfield News Associate Editor. You can reach him at 645-1136. Follow him on Twitter @NfldNewsNick.

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