Photos by Dean Riedel
While the COVID-19 pandemic affected people’s lives differently, almost everyone found themselves spending more time with family. For Jill and Chandler White, a newlywed couple living together in downtown Minneapolis, this meant one thing: Their one-bedroom apartment was no longer large enough. “We got sick of each other real fast,” Jill admits, laughing.
Last summer, they began searching for a new nest, but the two native Southerners quickly discovered how Minnesota homes tend to be “big on basements,” as Jill puts it. For a couple both in wheelchairs, that meant either a costly addition of an elevator or quite a bit of space that would go largely unused.
After a few months of searching, the two finally found a 3,000-square-foot rambler-style house, built in 1953 and located on an acre lot in Golden Valley. “It was a dream location—close to the city, awesome wildlife, a creek running through the back,” says Jill. But the interiors, particularly the kitchen, needed some work. “We loved the spacious layout and all the natural light, but the day we moved in, we opened a cabinet and the door fell off,” she added, chuckling.
The two connected with Puustelli USA, a Finnish company specializing in eco-luxury cabinets, to design and remodel their new home. After first swapping carpet out for hardwood floors, stripping off wallpaper, and freshening up walls with new paint, the team was finally ready to tackle the kitchen. The goal was to make the space as convenient as possible for the couple without sacrificing any style.
“I have a background in industrial and product design, and I really hate when accessible design looks like accessible design,” Jill says. “There are so many cool products for people with disabilities, but they tend to look so tacky. Puustelli knew that and made it a point right out of the gate—they said, ‘This needs to be a place where, if you ever sell it, people look at it and think it’s just an awesome space and usable for anyone, not specifically designed for someone with a disability.’”
To solve the problem of too-tall upper cabinets, the existing standard-height ones (reaching up to the ceiling) were pulled out and replaced with models featuring top-hinged, lift-up doors for easy visibility. Counter heights were lowered to meet ADA compliance, and configured drawers were carefully placed during the design process so every item would have a proper home. The large L-shaped island containing the sink and stove was kept, and its location tweaked just enough for maximum accessibility.
“After relocating the island, we found out the countertop was the perfect height and distance from the built-in wall oven,” says Anna Juola, Puustelli USA co-founder and creative director. “And the countertop material is ceramic, which is heat-resistant up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, so they can take hot dishes out of the oven and set them right down on the island.”
The contemporary Wolf cooktop features knobs seamlessly integrated into the front of the cabinetry for easy access, while the Fisher & Paykel dishwasher (one of Jill’s favorite elements) makes loading and unloading dishes a breeze. A handy appliance garage on the back wall frees up counter space, and Chandler now has his own drawer to organize cooking oils and spices.
“Chandler used to prep and chop all the food using a cutting board on his lap,” Juola adds. “Now he has a space at the seating area where he can wheel himself to start prepping and chopping, and there’s also an integrated cutting board to the right of the stove for him to use.”
Now the kitchen is stylish, streamlined, and ultra-modern—just what the couple wanted. From the marbled ceramic countertops to the geometric appearance of the cabinets, the crisp angles characteristic of Scandinavian design are present in each and every selection. Warm brown tones were chosen to pair with the more neutral charcoal and white colors (evident in the walnut cabinetry with black side panels), while light wood floors make the space even brighter. Vibrant orange Muuto pendants provide the cheerful pops of color that were so important to the couple.
“Chandler says if I’m allowed to decorate a room, it will look like Nickelodeon Studios,” laughs Jill, who insisted on orange. “I actually work for a play manufacturer, so I love the look and feel of play and pop culture. Anna and the team picked the perfect color palette to accent our color standards—bold, but complementary.”
And for two people (plus, Potato Chip and Kiwi, the couple’s two small dogs with big personalities) who had learned to make the most of spaces that rarely considered their physical needs, the ability to use every inch of their kitchen is something they had previously only dreamed of. Even better? The emotional connection their new kitchen has brought them.
“We honestly cried when we got in the space—or at least I did,” says Jill. “You don’t realize how difficult it is when you’re constantly pushing your chairs around like a game of Tetris. Now we can enjoy all the nuances of cooking together without being in each other’s way, and that’s an experience we’ve never had before,” she continues. “And if we get tired of each other, now I can shut a door on him!”