By any standard, Joy and Bert Burns’ waterfront house on Lake Lanier is stylish, sort of a “modern farmhouse with bohemian accents,” as interior designer Beth Johnson describes it. But what makes this five-bedroom home even more impressive is its accessibility for a wheelchair — no easy task with the steep slopes found on lake lots.

With a few careful design elements, anyone with accessibility issues can enjoy Lake Lanier.

An outside elevator (shown on the left) and a series of wooden ramps allow wheelchair access from the main house to the lakeside dock.

A Lake Lanier, wheelchair accessible home. The outside comes in with these gorgeously large windows looking out to Lake Lanier. Interior designer: Beth Johnson

Neutral furnishings let the lake view be the focal point, although designer Beth Johnson added pops of color to the living room with pillows and throws homeowner Joy Burns already owned, gifts from Joy’s sister that were purchased while living in India.

You might never guess that this Lake Lanier home with FLOR tiles is wheelchair accessible! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

The coffee table was made from metal and reclaimed pallet wood by a local artisan, Robin Smith Wright of The Wright Design. The area rug is made up of FLOR carpet tiles.

After a drunk driver struck Bert’s car in 1982, he became a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic in his 20s. However, his injury didn’t keep him down; in fact, his life got even busier. He earned his college degree and began work at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center. He became a world-renowned athlete (including a Paralympic gold medalist in the 4-x-400 relay); founded Life After Spinal Cord Injury, a motivational program for people with disabilities, rehabilitation programs, medical education seminars and other community events; and went into business for himself by starting UroMed, a medical supply company.

All this nonstop action led to the realization that his family wanted a relaxing second home where everyone could unwind. The couple bought a house they believed could be adapted for wheelchair use and hired a team to help renovate the house, keeping in mind accessible home design. The team included interior designer Beth Johnson of B Interiors, general contractor Bob Rider of Rider Homes, and landscaper/ramp contractor Pete Wilkerson of Scapes Group.

The mix of dark and light create a dynamic living space at this Lake Lanier wheelchair accessible home. Interior designer: Beth Johnson

“When the homeowners bought the house, everything was the same pinkish wood color — from floor to ceiling,” says Beth. “To add contrast, we painted the stair treads and railing a dark brown and the spindles in Alabaster from Sherwin-Williams.”

This Lake Lanier wheelchair accessible screened-in porch just pops with color accents! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

A favorite place for the family to hang out, the screened porch features an indoor/outdoor rug from Surya and a sectional purchased at Macy’s. The aqua table was a thrift store find.

Eating outside, among the lush trees, gives the effect of living in a treehouse! This Lake Lanier home is also wheelchair accessible. Interior designer: Beth Johnson

A covered porch offers an ideal place for dining al fresco.

This Lake Lanier home is packed full of bunkbeds! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

Custom built-in beds sleep six in the boys’ bunk room. Two bunks (four beds) are twin XL for growing boys, and two are regular twin size. Each bed includes a reading light and USB port for convenient charging during sleepovers.

One of the crucial steps was getting Bert down to the dock, so the design team put in an elevator and series of ramps. “This was my first experience making a house wheelchair accessible,” says Beth. “It was eye-opening to see all of the things those of us who can walk take for granted.”

The team also opted for finishes and materials that were low maintenance and easy to keep clean, she adds, such as using rubber-backed FLOR carpet tiles in the family room. “Area rugs are usually a no-no for wheelchairs, but these are heavy and low enough to stay in place,” she explains.

This Lake Lanier wheelchair accessible home has an amazing kitchen with gray cabinets, blue barstools and a wooden ceiling! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

The designer freshened up kitchen cabinets with Dorian Gray paint by Sherwin-Williams. A newly designed kitchen island better suits family needs and features a quartz countertop. Blue bar stools from Grandin Road tie in to the nearby lake.

Two large pendants over the island from Progressive Lighting fit the scale of the room. A whimsical print by Sugarboo Designs provides a focal point over the island. Interior designer: Beth Johnson

Two large pendants over the island from Progressive Lighting fit the scale of the room. A whimsical print by Sugarboo Designs provides a focal point over the island.

This Lake Lanier wheelchair accessible bathroom is gorgeous! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

The master bath was completely changed, aesthetically and functionally. Gray ceramic penny tile covers the floor to enable easy roll-in access for Bert’s wheelchair. The roll-under vanity is custom by local cabinetry company GWD Cabinets.

This lake home with blue walls and orange accents and a brown ceiling is so happy! Interior designer: Beth Johnson

All the bedrooms originally had indoor-outdoor carpet, which the design team replaced with hardwood floors to make it easier for Bert to get around. The white chest of drawers was a flea market find refinished by Beth.

Though many changes were created to address wheelchair issues, like borrowing space from two closets to reconfigure the master bath to create a spacious, roll-in shower, not all were related to accessibility concerns. “While the primary goal of the remodel was to make the home accessible for Bert, redecorating this dated dwelling from boring to bright was a close second,” adds Beth. Painting the main living room walls white brightened up the house and allowed the view of Lake Lanier to be the star of the home. Elsewhere, Beth redesigned the kitchen, chose new lighting and used colorful furnishings throughout to keep the look lively. The kitchen space was softened with features like a simple, fabric valance (created by the interior designer) and a gooseneck light fixture to bring in a rustic element to this country setting.

This is a gorgeous lakefront house that takes into consideration accessible home design and safety for the homeowners, but is also a cool place to entertain guests and relax by the water.


Photography: Christina Wedge
Interior designer: Beth Johnson
Landscaping/ramps: Scapes Group
Carpet: FLOR
Cabinetry: GWD Cabinets
Furnishings and accessories: SURYA, Grandin Road, Macy’s
Paint: Sherwin-Williams


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