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Residence built to accommodate bad hips, knees

Chris Dorst
Robert Dorsey rigged a rope pulley to bring wood to the elevated porch. He can load the storage box for wood for the inside fireplace or burn the wood in the fireplace on the porch.
Chris Dorst The walk-in shower in Robert Dorsey's bathroom is large enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
Chris Dorst For easier opening, all the interior door handles are levers.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Robert Dorsey pointed to an electrical outlet during a recent tour of his new house.

"See how high it is, probably 21 inches from the floor, whereas most outlets are 12 inches? Makes it easier to plug something in," he said, demonstrating by barely bending over to reach the outlet.

It's one of several features Dorsey has incorporated to make his new house accessible.

"Everybody ought to be planning for old age," stated Dorsey, who spent many years remodeling houses.

"Customers would call me and say, 'Dad's getting out of the hospital tomorrow and I'm going to need a bathroom on the first floor,'" Dorsey recalled, shaking his head at such lack of foresight.

Now retired, Dorsey has spent a lot of time thinking about the details for the future. The laundry room is on the main floor; door handles are levers rather than knobs. A pocket door separates the master bedroom from the master bath to allow room for a wheelchair to pass through. The toilet seat is higher than standard, and plenty of space was left around all toilets for a wheelchair to maneuver. The large walk-in shower can also accommodate a wheelchair.

There's a steep driveway from Smith Road up to the parking area in front of the house and its large detached garage. Dorsey built a ramp from the garage to an elevated porch that opens into the house.

He rigged a rope pulley to hoist firewood from the ground a story below to the porch. There's a wood-burning fireplace as well as a gas grill on the porch. And it's from the porch that he stacks wood into a storage area to feed the wood-burning insert that helps heat the living room.

Although Dorsey plans to use the large, high-ceiling attic only for storage, the area is reachable by an interior stairway and could be converted for other purposes.

A judge in a recent design competition commented, "The house really embodies a great spirit of Appalachian ingenuity."

When asked, Dorsey said he has invested about $340,000 in the house, roughly $100,000 more than he intended to spend.

"I have bad knees," he said. "I wanted a house to grow old in."

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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