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Seeing beyond face value

This week, I turn over the blog space to my husband, Brad. Below he discusses the choices we made during this renovation to address his limited vision.

This week, I turn over the blog space to my husband, Brad. Below he discusses the choices we made during this renovation to address his limited vision.

-- Angela Mangiacasale



“Do you know how many colours you’re using in the house?”

It wasn't so much a question as an exclamation that came from our contractor, Dave Rannala. He had reviewed the project book put together by our designer, Lorin Turner of Zebra Group. It catalogues all the items we chose for the house, including cabinet style, countertop materials, flooring, lighting, plumbing and paint colours. Ten paint colours, to be exact.

“Boy that seems to be a lot,” Dave said. “Most people have maybe four colours in a house.”

Yes, ours might be more than normal, but there is a reason -- my eyesight, or lack thereof.

I developed Type 1 diabetes 25 years ago - and was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy in 2005.  The retinopathy limits the acuity of my sight -- I use a three-power magnifying glass to read most text. My low light vision is also very poor.  As our daughter Caitlin often describes it, “Brad's eyesight  really sucks.”

This leads to certain challenges for me:  An empty, clear glass sitting on a solid-coloured surface might as well be veiled with Harry Potter's Invisibility cloak. Sometimes the consequences are humorous, other times they are downright embarrassing -- and it⊃1;s always hard on the glassware.

Today my sight is better than it was at its worst in 2007.  That said, there is no guarantee that my vision will not degenerate at some point in the future.

We were lucky that the house already had features well-suited to someone with limited vision:  There are not a lot of stairs; the floorplan was fairly open -- making it easy to move from one area to another without running into furniture; and there was lots of daylight in most rooms.  But that doesn't mean that we couldn't make what was good better.

As we began our planning and design work, we tried to make decisions with my limitations in mind. The best light for me is daylight -- so windows were located to bring daylight into the most remote corners of the house.  I had noticed that high contrasts in any room gave me better depth perception.  Similarly, flecks of colour in a countertop helped overcome the empty glass problem because an empty glass creates a distortion in the fleck that I can distinguish – well, at least, on a good day.  Lorin Turner got this right away and “contrasts and flecks” became a part of every colour scheme she proposed to us.

A simple example is our plan for the kitchen.  The island will have a light countertop with dark flecks sitting above dark cabinetry. The rest of the kitchen will have a dark countertop with light flecks and a high contrast backsplash below light cabinetry. Strong task lighting above the countertops will augment significant general lighting. Other rooms, especially the bathrooms, get similar treatment.

Keep in mind that my work has me leaving the house before dawn more than four months of the year.   So in the master bedroom, we are installing some night lighting to make it easier to find our way to the walk-through closet and bathroom when there is no daylight.  Moreover, we separated our “dressing area” from our sleeping quarters, so that I can get dressed in a well-lit area without disturbing those of us who prefer sleeping until after dawn. (That would be the woman who usually writes in this space.)

When we chose interior doors – sliding pocket doors between the kitchen and the dining room as well as the doors out to the deck from the kitchen and from the family room – we decided to copy the style of the existing door between the living room and the hall. Original to the house, it is divided into four panes of glass. Having mullion bars running across the glass is a nice design feature, but it also helps me tell whn the doors are open or closed – something that can challenge me when the glass is clear.

My favourite concession to my limitation is the light that will be placed in the cabinet underneath the bar in the family room.  Activated when the cabinet door is opened, the light will avoid a fumbling and time-consuming search for the single malt appropriate to the occasion.

There are drawbacks to designing with sight limitations in mind.  For example, Angela would have preferred putting hardwood floors in the family room and master bedroom, adding area rugs on top. However, we agreed that an area rug -- with the potential of a turned-up corner -- might pose too great a threat for me, especially in low light. So, we chose wall-to-wall carpet for these areas.

These are all adjustments in which most people might see little value.  But for us, this was simply another part of making the house “ours.” All three of us -- especially me - see value in that.