On a quiet country road in Tualatin sits a gorgeous new 5,000-square-foot home that fits right into its surroundings.
But look a little closer, and you’ll see this house has a secret.
The home of Courtney and Brad Lackey is not actually theirs — it was designed and built from the ground up for the lifetime use of their 8-year-old son, Reid.
Reid is a skilled driver of his power wheelchair — a necessity due to a birth injury that left him with multiple disabilities and a seizure disorder.
For years, the Lackeys looked for a home that would meet their accessibility needs and have space for their other two children. It was a long and difficult process. But what came together in the end was a beautiful collaboration between buyer, builder, architect and designer — all for the benefit of one little boy.
“It was probably one of my most rewarding projects I’ve done,” said builder Ben Meoak of Meoak Construction.
“Reid’s face when he saw his room for the first time — this is why I do this,” said designer Sarah Voss of True Life Design Co. “It was such an amazing, magical moment for everyone on this project.”
The build started in 2019. The Lackeys, after much searching and amid a very tight real estate market, pounced on a house that they thought would work with some modifications. But when they got into the walls, they found asbestos and other issues that wouldn’t accommodate their needs. It would have to be a full tear-down.
The Lackeys were living in a small home in Wilsonville and Reid was getting heavier to carry. His tube-feeding supplies seemed to explode out of every kitchen cabinet; the bathroom was much too small to be safe. But the worst, said his mom, was seeing Reid’s sadness at being unable to keep up with his siblings.
“That was heartbreaking,” Courtney Lackey said, noting how difficult it was to decide whether to keep up with household chores or help carry Reid around to play. “We were either guilty for not doing other things, or we were guilty for not keeping him up with everyone else.”
The family reached out to a friend and architect Ralph Tahran to design the home for Reid. Tahran, a former TriMet architect who started his own firm 16 years ago, said he didn’t quite know what to expect when he met the little boy. But Reid surprised him, bantering back and forth and repeatedly asking him to build him a tree fort.
“He was just a neat kid and every time I’ve seen him, he’s been that way,” Tahran said.
Tahran said he had to think through “the whole sequence of how is Reid going to spend the rest of his life.” From high school to college, adulthood to possible marriage and children, the architect had to think through each stage — and keep the square-footage reasonable.
“That took some gymnastics, I’d say.”
The design was finished before the COVID-19 crisis and resulting construction price increases. But even with the pandemic, the Labor Day fires and the Valentine’s Day ice storm, the house that broke ground in April 2020 was completed almost on time and almost on budget. The family moved in last February and has never been happier.
“It’s been everything we’ve been hoping for,” Courtney said.
Still… living in such a beautiful house comes with mixed emotions when the circumstances that led to it are so heavy.
“Sometimes I feel a little ‘survivor’s guilt,’” Courtney admitted. “That is difficult for me because I know every single person in our (disability) community would benefit from something this individualized.”
She added: “I would walk away from this whole thing if Reid didn’t have to experience what he experiences. I’m grateful that — because this is our story — we are able to have the opportunity to do this. But at the end of the day, this house is a reminder that we endured a lot of pain, suffering and sacrifice.”
Voss, the designer, knows a little more than average about the types of sacrifices the Lackeys have had to make. Her brother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of muscular dystrophy at age 6, and she watched as her frugal parents had to modify their home several times over the years.
“It really gives me the sense of what it’s like to live with somebody in a wheelchair and what it’s like to adapt your home continually for those needs,” she said.
Voss met Courtney in middle school and the two were close friends. After Reid was born, Voss was even a paid in-home caregiver for him and learned a lot about his unique abilities and the needs of his caregivers.
“People that care for people with special needs have so incredibly much to do outside of the realm of quote-unquote ‘normal’ to do,” Voss said. “Every single choice that you can not have to think about is — in the long run — so beneficial.”
The Lackeys home is Voss’ eighth accessible design and a crowning jewel in her portfolio. She chose the design elements to be classic and time-tested, since Reid will likely live in the house for the rest of his life.
“We just wanted to have a beautiful heritage project. Something that will last,” she said.
During the design process, the team had to think a lot about what Reid’s abilities and desires would be 10, 20, 30 years from now.
The single-story, 6-bedroom house is designed with several configurations in mind. There are two possible main suites — one is an attached apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. All of the spaces — even the laundry room, pantry and hallways — were designed with 3-foot sliding doors and enough turn-around space for a power wheelchair.
All four bathrooms are fully wheelchair accessible, including a locker-room-style roll-in shower with a large mat table for changes. That bathroom’s urinal was one of the trickier design elements for the team, Voss said, since none of them had installed one before.
Meoak’s favorite element is the roll-up door to the back patio from Reid’s therapy room.
The contractor said the hardest part for him was getting all 10 exterior doors flush to the cement pad outside. Though the lot was “as flat as they get around here,” Meoak said he spent a lot of his personal time with lasers ensuring that the floor of the 170-foot-long house was within 3/8ths of an inch of the driveway.
Meoak said the idea of a family home designed from the ground up to be wheelchair-accessible was especially meaningful. He spent extra time in subcontractor meetings to make sure everyone knew how important the details were on this project.
“You could see the change in all the construction guys’ mood,” Meoak said. “I think there was definitely an extra effort put in to make that place exactly what they needed.”
Reid’s new bedroom is spacious and across the hall from his parents’ so that they can react to seizures or other needs in the middle of the night.
The walls of the house are wired for extra electrical needs, cameras for safety. The under-sink plumbing was padded to protect legs in wheelchairs.
Outside, the family has accessible gravel paths, a squash court and a very large driveway with a porte-cochère for their wheelchair-accessible van. If Reid has been out driving somewhere muddy, no problem, just enter in through the side door to the family’s expansive laundry room with a hand shower to spray off his wheels.
Gone is the disorganized array of syringes and other supplies in the kitchen — Courtney’s favorite element in the new home is a bar sink with pull-out drawers just for Reid’s feeding equipment.
“Is he going to be cooking meals? We don’t know,” said Voss, so they designed the kitchen with that possibility in mind: a microwave drawer, a double oven and a counter at table height.
All of this is seamlessly designed into an upscale, farmhouse chic open floor plan with custom ambient lighting and the latest in technology, like smart home elements that Reid can command with his voice and touchless faucets to dispense water with a wave.
“The average person wouldn’t necessarily notice that it has an accessibility bonus to it,” Meoak said. “There was a lot of thought that went into that house.”
Though at times the project felt in jeopardy, the Lackeys credit the kindness and compassion of their team members in seeing it through to the end.
“Along the way, there were a lot of things that dominoed as the people who were working with us shared the project and what it meant to them,” Courtney said. “It was such a blessing to experience, and to have other people experience.”
Courtney said she thinks all homes should be designed with accessibility in mind as disability is “the only minority you can join at any time,” she said, paraphrasing a joke from comedian Josh Blue.
“The reality is that having something that’s accessible and usable to anyone is really important,” she said. “Every building, moving forward, that’s built should feature accessibility for all.”
Voss, whose signature is making accessibility functional and fashionable, agrees. She argues that all houses should have wide hallways, doorways and countertop heights that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act specifications. As the population ages and wants to stay in their homes, Voss sees universal design becoming more popular.
“I want to see the industry change,” she said. “I want to see it working for our clients instead of working against us.”
Meoak said he learned a lot on this project.
“It definitely put things in perspective as far as everyone’s needs that they have in their builds,” he said. “We do a lot of high-end builds, but this was way more personal.”
Courtney said, for her family, all the hard work and thought has finally paid off. These days she can watch all three of her kids play tag through the house and feel less guilt.
“He’s way happier,” she said.
— Shasta Kearns Moore is a freelance writer and creator of MedicalMotherhood.com, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the experience of raising disabled children.