Boston Marathon Survivors' Accessible Condo Makes Everyone Feel Welcome

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes discuss the beauty of universal design, just in time for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Homeowners Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes enjoy their new living room with service dog Rescue.

 

Photo by: Elizabeth Stone

Elizabeth Stone

Homeowners Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes enjoy their new living room with service dog Rescue.

 

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes of Cambridge, Mass., know, perhaps more acutely than most, the importance of universal design. Four years after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which cost the two survivors their left legs below the knee, the couple is gradually finding peace in a colorful, accessible condominium.

"We face challenges everyday," says Jessica, who's currently receiving treatment with her husband at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. "When it feels like the rest of the world wasn't built for us, it helps to have a home that's so easy and comfortable to access."

Although the newlyweds had loved their fourth-floor walk-up in Harvard Square, the beautiful brick building — like many historic homes in New England — couldn't readily accommodate prosthetics, crutches or wheelchairs after the attack.

"The toughest part was we didn't even know what our needs were yet," Patrick adds. He and Jessica would later endure lengthy hospital stays, countless surgeries and for Jessica, the loss of her right leg. "Our bodies were so new to us that we didn't know what we needed in a home yet."

Interior designer Kate Maloney Albiani

Interior designer Kate Maloney Albiani

Kate Maloney Albiani, principal of interior design firm KMID and HGTV Designer of the Month, was more than willing to learn with them. After the couple secured a newly constructed, two-story condo in Cambridge, Albiani and her senior designer Thiara Borges volunteered to transform the blank space into a home that was both beautiful and easy to navigate. 

Working alongside The Boston Survivors Accessibility Association, which provides volunteer architects, contractors, electricians and plumbers to remodel survivors' homes, Albiani and Borges began making thoughtful changes to the condo's layout.

Contemporary Living Room Infused With Cheerful Hues

Contemporary Living Room Infused With Cheerful Hues

Stepping into the living room reveals an array of colors and patterns as cheerful as their homeowners. Patrick jokes that his bold preferences are genetic, inherited from a creative family. 

Photo by: Michael J. Lee Photography

Michael J. Lee Photography

Stepping into the living room reveals an array of colors and patterns as cheerful as their homeowners. Patrick jokes that his bold preferences are genetic, inherited from a creative family. 

In the living room, the designers introduced a plush sectional donated by Jordan’s Furniture, with room on each end to comfortably fit the couple's wheelchairs. They also installed motorized curtains around the television, which allow Jessica and Patrick to control the room's lighting without straining themselves.

Brightly-colored pillows, curtains and accents reflect the couple's vibrant personalities. Jessica notes, teasingly, that the lovebird wallpaper was a hard-sell for her husband, but they both enjoy how the TV gets lost in the pattern. 

Colorful, Accessible Dining Room With Custom Table

Colorful, Accessible Dining Room With Custom Table

Low-level slipper chairs provide chic yet comfortable seating for the homeowners and their guests.

Photo by: Michael J. Lee Photography

Michael J. Lee Photography

Low-level slipper chairs provide chic yet comfortable seating for the homeowners and their guests.

Those beautiful hues continue into the nearby dining room, where large watercolors from Black Crow Studio infuse the space with warmth. The paintings, like most pieces in the home, were donated, and so surround Patrick and Jessica with their community's goodwill. 

A custom table anchors the space, which was a must for a couple who loves to entertain. Thanks to its pedestal base, the piece makes room for both wheelchairs and prosthetics, thus ensuring that all of Jessica and Patrick's dinner guests feel welcome.

"We really wanted to be mindful of how they would be moving around," says Albiani. To that end, she and Borges also provided multiple routes to the second floor, including an elevator carefully installed over the deck on the exterior of the building.

Given its small footprint, this features enables Jessica and Patrick to move from one level to the next and easily carry their luggage upstairs, without consuming valuable square footage. 

Floating Staircase Includes Alcove With Built-In Storage

Floating Staircase Includes Alcove With Built-In Storage

"Rescue's Place" comes equipped with an outlet, which Jessica and Patrick happily use to hang lights at Christmas. To the left, they display a poster with signatures from well-wishers. 

Photo by: Michael J. Lee Photography

Michael J. Lee Photography

"Rescue's Place" comes equipped with an outlet, which Jessica and Patrick happily use to hang lights at Christmas. To the left, they display a poster with signatures from well-wishers. 

The designers also added industrial-style cables to the condo's floating staircase, a solution that helps prevent crutches from slipping through the gaps. At the same time, an alcove underneath gives the couple's sweet service dog, Rescue, a spot of his own with built-in storage for toys and treats.

On the second floor, a master suite layered with soothing neutrals offers an escape from the city, while custom nightstands on either side of the bed keep prosthetics and accessories organized and out of sight. Being able to tuck these items away, the couple agrees, helps them feel more like themselves and provides more room to move around. 

Because Jessica and Patrick still spend so much of their time at Walter Reed, they don't hesitate to share their home, also affectionately referred to as their beautiful Airbnb, with others in need. 

L to R: Designer Kate Maloney Albiani, homeowners Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, and designer Thiara Borges. 

 

Photo by: Elizabeth Stone

Elizabeth Stone

L to R: Designer Kate Maloney Albiani, homeowners Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, and designer Thiara Borges. 

 

Most recently, they lent their accessible shower stall to a neighbor with a broken hip, noting that having a space to simply wash up significantly boosted their friend's spirit during the recovery process. 

"Everyone benefits from universal design: mothers with strollers, people recovering from surgery, amputees," Jessica says. "The more adaptive our surroundings, the more welcome we all feel." 

We couldn't agree more. Thanks for inviting us into your accommodating abode — and congrats to Patrick for completing the marathon for the second year in a row! 

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