Renovation designs were already underway at Casa de Mar when a freak accident left the home’s owner, Nicholas Fagundo, in a wheelchair. The entire project had to be quickly reworked and adapted to meet the evolving needs of the client.
“I have a history of epilepsy,” explains Fagundo. “On August 2, 2009, after 11-plus years being seizure-free, while riding my bike to meet some friends, I had an epileptic seizure near the bottom of Store Hill. Luckily, being nine a.m. on Cup Match Sunday, the roads were almost completely deserted, save for myself and an off-duty police officer who was following behind me. I came off the bike and collided head first into the bus pole and then flipped over and landed on my upper back on a stone wall.”
What followed included an air ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, where doctors determined that he had severe damage to his upper back and nerve damage to his left arm. Intensive surgery and many months at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital led to some recovery of function below the level of his injury, but, in the end, Fagundo was paralyzed from mid-chest down with limited use of his left hand.
Once the family began to comprehend the extent of Nicholas’s injuries, they realized that the original plans for renovating the split-level, three-bedroom home were not going to suffice. With architectural firm OBM International already working on the project, the family—including Nicholas’s father, Danny, brother, Dennis, his wife, Shyama, and their then 7-year-old daughter—was approached by lead designer and project manager Samantha Walker and senior architect Colin Campbell to redesign the house from the ground up, so it would accommodate a 6-foot 5-inch man in a wheelchair as well as the rest of the growing family.
According to Walker, one of the main challenges they faced included “understanding what the true needs of our client actually were, as this home was designed while Nick was still at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston with his wife. We were trying to mesh desires of the original project with a very expanded list of family home requirements, which included functionality of home office for him, home catering business for her, therapy space and an apartment.”
Such an abrupt change of plans didn’t seem to faze the OBMI team—including architectural technologist Anthony DeShields, architect David O’Beirne, interior designer Michele Smith, landscape architect David Cox, Campbell and Walker—who were recently awarded the Built Environment Access Award from the National Association for Seniors and the Physically Challenged. Their expertise in accessibility standards, combined with a belief that accessibility does not have to look institutional, made them the perfect team to work closely with the Fagundo family to create a home that was both highly functional and aesthetically beautiful.
“Being in the construction industry, I have worked with OBM many times, but I am extremely impressed with the hard work and dedication by Samantha Walker and the whole team—from the amount of research that went in, to liaising with Planning, to bringing the final plans together,” states Fagundo. With D&J Construction being the family business, Nicholas’s father and brother were intimately involved in the redesign and construction process while Shyama and he concentrated on refining the interior finishes and kitchen details.
Special accessibility considerations include ramps that encircle the entire property, a central ThyssenKrupp elevator (tastefully hidden behind an interior door), ample wheelchair turnaround space, roll-under spaces at the sink and cook top, side-opening oven doors and pull-down shelving. The entire house was carefully designed to give the owners the ability to be completely self-reliant, especially since Shyama has a medical condition that may also limit her mobility in the future.
In the main living area, the exaggerated wall height adds an air of grandness to the room, although its main purpose is currently hidden. “We raised the height of the wall from a typical eight feet four inches to nine feet eight inches to accommodate a future wall-mounted overhead lift system,” explains Walker. This lift would include two wall-mounted tracks, which would support a beam that moves down the length of the room; the beam would have a suspended hoist, or seat, attached that would glide from side to side across the width of the room. The client could then use these lifts in lieu of a wheelchair for a portion of the day to take strain off the back and allow him to be supported in a standing position.
Functionality aside, the open-plan design throughout the main living areas allows ample space for the family to entertain or just enjoy their beautiful home. Earth-toned granite countertops on the large kitchen island, custom-made cabinetry stained a dark mahogany and stainless-steel appliances lend a modern air of sophistication to the kitchen area. Simulated-wood tiles on the floors add a classic look to the living areas while also providing subtle friction that is ideal for wheelchairs. With its stunning view over Harrington Sound and a generous balcony to enjoy it from, the home created by OBMI is a joy for anyone, regardless of ability.
The bottom floor features a handsome, generously sized gym to house the equipment Fagundo needs to continue therapy and possibly regain some use of his legs. There is also an indoor hydrotherapy pool fitted with a lift, along with a multipurpose room and an elegant, yet simple apartment for a future caregiver.
“As a purpose-built house, with home-business functionality, muscular-therapy space, a caregiver apartment, multipurpose room and complete accessibility for now and the future, with minor adaptations, this project has thankfully met the needs and expectations of our clients,” says Walker.
Fagundo agrees. “I feel free,” he says. “Being a tall, fairly active person before the accident, to being limited by where the chair can go, or what I can reach, is frustrating. While still there to some extent, many aspects of the design of the house allow me a degree of freedom and independence that is vital to a person in my situation.”
“This is a case study in how you do handicap-accessible design,” states one of the judges. “From an architectural perspective, everything is really well designed on the interior, exterior and landscaping.” Another judge describes the Casa de Mar project as progressing “from an impossible planning challenge to a beautiful and functional family home.”
“For a family that had just endured such a life-altering accident, being able to accommodate the family’s wishes to move back to Nick’s childhood property was a key milestone in his healing journey,” says Walker. “Now, seeing Nick mo
ve around the house so freely and being able to be an active member of the household is extremely fulfilling.”
General Contractor–D&J Construction Ltd.; Mechanical Contractor–BAC (air conditioning); Electrical Contractor–First Class Electrics; Plumbing Contractor–Island Engineering Ltd.; Engineer–Pereira Engineering; Excavating–D&J Excavating & Landscaping Services Ltd.; Landscape Design–OBM International; Flooring–Eminence Contractors (all floors except gym) & Custom Acoustics (gym); Millwork (Kitchen/bathrooms)–Solid Surface Carpentry; Custom Furniture–Fine Woodworking; Countertops–Eminence Contracting; Paint/Painting–Best of Brushes; Appliances–Bermuda Gas; Windows/Doors/Shutters–Island Glass; Lighting–ESC Ltd.; Roofing–Bermuda slate supplier–Bierman’s; Roofing–installer–D&J Construction Ltd.; Security–Selectron Ltd.