“The child who knows unconditional love has the greatest gift the world can offer,” is a famous quote by Brian Tracy.
An Edina couple, Chad and Kate Donnay of Traditions by Donnay Homes, gave their daughter Emilia the greatest gift they could, a house designed especially for her.
“When you have a child with special needs it’s a life changing experience and it’s a life changing journey for the rest of your life – your whole family,” Chad Donnay says. “As a parent, you do anything you can for your children. We knew that this would help her have the best possible life she could.”
Emilia is the youngest of three children. The six-year-old was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition where the connection between the left and right lobes of the brain does not exist. While everyone with the condition is different, for Emilia it means she currently cannot speak and has limited mobility through a wheelchair and walker.
The Donnays decided last year that their two-story home in Edina no longer worked for them. The hallways were too narrow, and their growing daughter was getting too big to be carried upstairs to her room every night. They wanted a more open concept. They decided to build a new home from the ground up. The location: right next door to their old house.
“Life’s a little easier,” Kate says. The family moved to the new home in May. “(Emilia’s) bedroom is down on the main level. We don’t have to do the stairs or carry her, which is the nicest thing. She has a wheelchair and a walker and everything is set up with big enough hallways and angles so she can get around anywhere she needs to be.”
Wide hallways and spacious rooms make for easier wheelchair navigation.
The entire main floor is a wide-open great room that allows Kate and Chad to see everything from any point in the home. The house has large floor-to-ceiling windows, a grand kitchen, a breakfast nook and a playroom. There is a custom-made swing door that prevents Emilia from falling down the basement stairs.
“It’s basically all handicap accessible, doorways are ADA (American with Disabilities Act) widths,” Chad says. “We did a very open floor plan so she can maneuver around in her walker and get to where she wants to go.”
The result is amazing to her parents.
“Her independence has skyrocketed,” Chad says. “We can let her do what she wants and she’s figuring out, ‘Hey, if I want to get to my room, if I want to go to this room where I can play, I can scoot over there.’ She’s progressed a lot since we’ve moved in. She’s learning so many new things which is exciting for us.”
Kate says the excitement is in the fact that Emilia is suddenly able to do things she couldn’t do in their old home. That brings joy to the entire family.
“Everything fits for her – it fits for everybody but it also fits for her.”
An elevator located across the hall from Emilia’s bedroom allows her full access to the home.
The Donnays also installed an elevator across the hall from Emilia’s bedroom.
“This will take her from here to the lower level. She has a gym down there,” Kate says. The gym has an accessible door and wheelchair grading. But there was no point to the gym unless Emilia could get down there on her own.
Home gym has a wheelchair accessible door and appropriate threshold grading.
“The key part of the house was the elevator,” Chad says. “As she gets bigger, when the kids have friends over and they can go downstairs, she can get down and be a part of it.”
The Donnays say while the prospect of an elevator may seem daunting, it is more affordable than people may think.
“We assumed this would be out of price point for us to do,” Kate says. “But we only did one level. If we did another level, it doubles the price.”
Emilia’s room also has an en suite bathroom with a special sink.
“It is set up so it’s low and she can roll up in her wheelchair. She can tap the faucet to turn it on and off,” Kate says. The bathtub is accessible with a door for ease of entry. For now, the Donnays say Emilia is still little enough to be lifted into the tub. “But in a couple years, she will be able to get herself in and out of the tub by herself.”
The master suite is right across from Emilia’s room.
“Our bedroom is right there. So she’s able to get in if she needs to and we can hear everything,” Kate says.
The Donnays say while their new home fits them, they understand not everyone has the ability to afford new construction.
“You could remodel your home and add wider doorways, handicap accessible doors, move walls to make hallways wider. You could remodel a bathroom to do a handicap height sink, put in a handicap accessible tub. Those things could all be done,” Chad says.
Their new home has been a big change for the family.
“No matter where Emilia is, she’s the most easy going, happy kid in the world,” Kate says. “It’s just so safe for her here. I can make dinner. She can’t go down the stairs, she can’t get hurt.”
That piece of mind knowing their child is safe in their home is a game-changer for the Donnays.
“I want people to know that there are things you can do with your home to make it a better life, easier for your child,” Chad says. “Hopefully if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t think that, or is down because of the situation they’re in, they’ll read this and go, ‘Oh wait, we can do some things to help improve everyone’s life.’”