Conquering Larsen Syndrome With An Accessible Kitchen

See Emily discussing the challenges of and overcoming her spinal condition in the video below.

After meeting a family affected by Larsen syndrome who expressed a desire for a new kitchen, we learned that a member of the family was wheelchair-bound but had a passion for cooking. As we gained a solid idea of what they were looking for in cabinetry, countertops, appliances, and all the other accessories that would enhance the space, we offered our suggestions and put our plans in motion. The kitchen project would not only be aesthetically pleasing and highly functional, it would also provide for safety and universally accessible throughout.

All the new features added up to making the family extremely happy. Where once it was inconvenient for anyone in a wheelchair to reach appliances, cooktop and counters because they were too high, now every newly installed item was easy to access and there was free range of motion in the kitchen.

Universal Design Kitchen – CAD Proposal of New Kitchen Remodel

The previous kitchen made it impossible to reach into drawers or countertops, find kitchen tools, or remove food from the refrigerator/freezer. Since the completion of the renovation, the family has donned their chefs’ hats many times, and is overjoyed to be cooking together.

Using the new drawers is easy when you can roll right up to them.

Emily, a 19 year-old college student, is thrilled to be spending quality family time with her parents in the kitchen. While a good part of the kitchen design concentrated on meeting her needs, her mother, Ellen, points out that while the new kitchen facilitates Emily, it also helps her out tremendously, as well.

Emily is thrilled to be using their accessible kitchen. Although it’s been nearly a year since it was installed, she explains that it is still new and exciting each time the family works together in the kitchen.

Since the renovation was completed, my own abilities have diminished somewhat and recent bouts with a painful foot condition and acute tendonitis made me thankful that our kitchen is so chair-friendly”, says Ellen. “Even better is that we didn’t have to sacrifice beauty and style for function. Vita and Jerry made sure our kitchen was the most attractive and inviting room of our home.

Utilizing Universal Design standards, we designed a kitchen with quality products and special features that took into consideration the structure and environment that would make our clients feel comfortable, regardless of age, ability or situation.

We enhanced the space by creating a separate accessible section with no barriers between the sink, cooktop, and storage areas. Wheelchair accessible toekicks and a lower-placed wall oven, as well as an induction cooktop, were installed with safety features to prevent injuries. Cabinetry and countertops are steel reinforced and provide five feet of clear space for unobstructed wheelchair access.

Cabinetry and countertops were also installed at a lower height for convenient access. Additional easily-accessible electrical receptacles and switches were placed below the countertops.

New Cooking Skills in A Newly Accessible Kitchen – “I’m so happy to have a place where I can spend quality time with my mother when I come home from college. With her guidance, I’m improving my cooking skills and making food the whole family can enjoy”, says Emily.

DJ’s Home Improvements received a 2012 CotY Regional award as a “Universal Design Project Recognition” from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry for the above-mentioned kitchen renovation using Universal Design principles.

Emily discusses the challenges of and overcoming her spinal condition

* DJ’s Home Improvements is an award winning design and build remodeling company. Vita and Jerry have been staples of the Franklin Square community for 30 years. As homeowners and business owners for over 21 years in Franklin Square, we are also members of the Franklin Square Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, Sons of Italy, National Association of the Remodeling Industry, plus the National Kitchen and Bath Association and awarded Big50 in Remodeling. In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 we have received the Contractor of the Year awards.

If you are interested in having us design and build your home remodel project please call us at #516-775-8696.

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DJ’s Home Repairs & Improvements, Inc.
Nassau Lic. #H18C4240000 – Suffolk Lic. # 46377-H

Tips on Aging In Place

Many of our projects come to fruition to serve the needs of the ever growing and changing family. A household grows or downsizes and incorporates young and old. That’s why remodelers stress the importance of right-sizing your home as well as incorporating Universal Design into your home to accommodate the needs of different age groups residing under one roof.

(below are some notes by Louis Tenenbaum)

What is Aging in Place?

Aging in Place is a housing and care option that integrates design, equipment, and services to provide the opportunity and ability to remain in the home of your choice indefinitely.

The Mechanics of Healing (10)photo © 2008 Nazareth College | more info (via: Wylio)
Aging in Place works best when people prepare their home environments in advance of accidents or injuries using Universal Design to preserve independence and create safe care environments.

Aging in Place relies on a comprehensive and dynamic management system to use human, financial, and medical resources efficiently.

Aging in Place preserves housing stock, fosters community continuity, and strengthens families.

Aging in Place empowers older citizens with Choice and Control, Dignity and Independence – the essentials of happier homes, better lives and more economical housing and care.

What should you do to Age in Place?

  • Take care of yourself FIRST.

Remodel your home to preserve independence and create a caregiver safe environment. Preparing your home results in reduced falls, allows earlier returns from hospitalizations and rehabs and safer and easier assistance from paid and informal caregivers.  This is all win-win because the benefits you appreciate also save healthcare dollars. Currently you have to make this investment in YOUR future. I hope subsidies and incentives will help out soon. Independent Showerphoto © 2007 Nancy Hugo, CKD | more info (via: Wylio)
Grab bars and railings are modest investments. Removing throw rugs costs nothing. More extensive remodeling also enhances your lifestyle and increases property value when done attractively and well. Maybe I should say win-win win!

Exercise. Wellness – combined cardio, strength and flexibility training is the single most important factor you control about your own future. Exercise is the key to falls prevention and falls steal dreams. The evidence is mounting but there is already enough. If you are not exercising 30 minutes three times a week get started. There is also good, but less clear evidence that brain exercise helps avoid the scourge of dementia.  Most communities help with training, testing and social exercise opportunities to get you started and keep you on.

  • Take a look at Aging in Place 2.0 to see what could lay ahead for us in Universal Design and Aging in Place.

My design and build company, DJ’s Home Improvements, has experience and success in remodeling homes with Universal Design and designing for the aging in place lifestyle.

* You can call DJ’s Home Improvements if you would like a consultation on your home improvement project at 516-775-8696, or visit to see other projects we have completed. DJ’s Home Improvements is a design-build remodeling company licensed in Nassau and Suffolk counties of Long Island New York.

** Are you thinking of how to pay for your remodel? One option is reverse mortgage. Call Layla Corrochano, a Wells Fargo Reverse Mortgage consultant, for more information at (347) 256-9959.

Your Home Is Your Ketchup Bottle

By Matt Thornhill of Boomer Project for Reed Business Information.

For more than 120 years the iconic Heinz ketchup bottle was made one way – in glass, with a metal screw top, and packed to the top with America’s favorite ketchup. Of course, it was really difficult to get a tomato concoction with the consistency of mayonnaise and the viscosity of butter to “pour” easily from the bottle, but never you mind, that’s how we make it.

Heinz knew its bottle was difficult to operate and the ketchup slow to emerge, requiring either the strength of Hercules, vigorously banging on the bottle bottom, or the skill of Hippocrates, surgically using a table knife. Consumers knew, too. That’s why one of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the past 50 years was the Heinz ketchup commercial using Carly Simon’s anthem, “An-tic-i-pa-tion.” Making me wait, for sure.

Explain, then: Why did Heinz abandon that iconic glass bottle some 10 years ago for a plastic bottle, turned upside down(!), with a flip top and easy-to-squeeze sides? Why in the world would the company give up its most dramatic and unique point of difference for added functionality? The answer, it turns out, is universal.

Universal design, that is.

Heinz realized that it could build a better mousetrap – or in this case, bottle – by turning it upside down, making the contents easier to dispense, and therefore accessible to, well, everyone who likes condiments. The concept behind designing products that everyone can use, whether they are 4 or 84 years old, is called “universal design.”

It isn’t the most descriptive of terms – as one home builder recently told us, it’s not a “picture word” – but it does explain the basic thinking behind the next big thing in design of everything: products, homes, cars, buildings, you name it.

Heinz and others are embracing universal design because they have paid attention to the changing demographic portrait of today’s American consumer: We’re all getting older. By 2015, according to the Census projections, one out of three people in America will be over the age of 50. And every single one of them likely loves condiments.

We’re fortunate to be involved in a new effort to help enlighten more companies like Heinz to embrace the concepts of universal design. A group of stakeholders in the housing and home building industries – including the National Association of Home Builders, the National Association of Realtors, Builder magazine, and groups like AARP and the Boomer Project – are talking about how to encourage more companies and organizations to follow universal design concepts. This group is interested in building homes and products for consumers to use in homes that will make it possible for more of them to grow old in place.

Homes in the current “built environment” have followed the same conventions Heinz followed for more than 120 years – we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way. Homes are built on the assumption that every resident will always be able to climb stairs, reach countertops, bend easily to reach electric outlets, and so forth. But in truth, older consumers can have difficulty with some of those basic design features. Where is it written that electric outlets are only 18 inches off the floor? Why can’t they be 24 inches high? Why must we use hard-to-grasp door knobs when an easy-to-turn lever costs no more?

As boomers continue to grow older (we never say “age”), isn’t it time we started modifying our homes to be more accommodating to our changing needs? Isn’t it time we made our castle more like the Heinz ketchup bottle – more functional and simply easier to use?

The answer of course is “yes.” Yet when we look around at those involved in developing products for use in the home we find only one or two good examples of universal design. Thanks to Oxo Brand’s “Good Grips,” kitchen utensils are now much easier to use. Makers of washers and dryers have created pedestal versions that are easier to load and unload, without bending over.

That clearly isn’t enough. How easy is it to use your TV’s remote control? Can you even see the controls on the thermostat? How much contorting and twisting are required to maneuver in your own bathroom to get into the tub or shower, or access the towel? Is every cabinet and pantry in your kitchen accessible without getting out a stool, or getting on bended knee?

It’s time to design all of these things for all of us. Whether we are 4 or 84. Everything in our homes, including our home itself, needs to follow the example set by Heinz.

Your future house is in that ketchup bottle.

** Vita Burdi, a Certified Kitchen Designer and Certified Bath Designer, is a remodeling designer and Vice President of DJ’s Home Improvements since 1990. She has been contracted to design few kitchens and baths for aging-in-place use (aka Universal Design) and promotes public awareness of the importance of universal design. Please visit for more project photos.

If you would like a professional to assist you, please call DJ’s Home Improvements at 516-775-8696, or visit to see some of our completed projects for design ideas. DJ’s Home Improvements is a design-build remodeling company with 40 years combined experience, licensed in Nassau and Suffolk counties of Long Island New York.