The Home Love Built

Story by Jeannie Stone

Kristi Crissup, 37, is bathed in golden streams of sunshine. Her one-year-old home is meticulously appointed to reflect her youthful energy and trademark optimism. Uplighting mimics the rising sun and creates a soft glow around her blonde, page-boy haircut and her sparkling green eyes. This home is a product of love built by her architect father and modified for his paraplegic daughter.

Jim and Maryann McKenzie of Russellville didn’t know what to expect 12 years ago when they received the phone call about their daughter, Kristi. 

Crissup recollects that time with her unusually mature grace. “I broke my neck at C-1,” she said. “If the spinal cord injury had been at that level I would have been long gone or on a respirator and unable to hug my boys. We are truly blessed.”

She often recounts her many blessings. “First of all, my babies were unharmed.” Twins Hunter and Chase Crissup were 21⁄2 years old and strapped in their car seats when the vehicle impacted another and rolled four times.

“It was a miracle,” she said. “Because I was a full-time student, and I worked full time. We lived out of our car, and there were heavy boots, big textbooks and even a tire iron that could have instantly killed either or both of them.”

She paused. “When my best friend visited me in the hospital she told me that the boys had been wrapped in the wings of an angel, and I believe her to this day.”

At the time, Crissup worked as a waitress at the Russellville Country Club and was a student at Tech majoring in physical therapy.

“That is so ironic,” she said. “And I was a full-time mother,” she added. “It was Jesus, my children, and the love of my family that carried me through it all,” she said. “A seed was planted long ago, and through it all, my faith has not wavered.”

McKenzie applied his know-how once his daughter and wife had selected a lot.

“This was going to be Kristi’s house and she needed to be happy with the location,” he said. “Personally, it would have been a lot easier if it had been on a more level lot. There’s a little too much slope in the front as you can tell by the driveway and an even greater slope in the back.”

The house is nestled on Comet Street in The Center, a newly-developed subdivision between Sequoyah Way and Western Hills. Crissup is pleased with the neighborhood. “I really wanted something that was close to the schools and to the grocery store,” she said, “and of course it had to be something I could afford.”

“This is contrary to what I ever wanted before,” she said. “I always wanted to live in the country with lots of acreage.” She doesn’t sound disappointed.

The usual complications normally inherent with construction projects were magnified because in many instances, McKenzie was instructing the builders to go against the status quo.

“There were several times they had to tear out what they’d just completed,” he said.

“It was a drawn-out process. The threshold had to be lower, the garbage disposal had to butt against the wall, and pull-down shelves and grab bars to pull down clothes racks had to be installed. All counters and work spaces had to be lowered, sinks had to be shallower, closets had to have ample turn around room, and everything had to be modified to allow for room under sinks, tables and counters for knee space.”

The proposed three-bedroom house quickly morphed into a two-bedroom house with the boys sharing a bedroom. The single-story, 1,750 sq. ft. space lives large mainly due to the purposeful layout.

“We were living in an open plan house long before it was the style,” McKenzie said “That was back when everyone had rooms that were sectioned off. This design was a natural choice for Kristi because in opening up the floor plan, she can see what‘s going on with the boys.”

The ability for his daughter to escape should an emergency arise was of paramount concern for McKenzie, who consciously mapped out escape routes in his mind before he put pencil to paper.

“Wherever she might be in the house, there are two different paths to access the outside,” he said.

“And I always have my phone on me,” Crissup said, “even when I sleep.” She is paralyzed from her chest down. The airy feel to the home is also due to the unifying color scheme.

“Yellow is my favorite color,”Crissupsaid. “It‘s bright and sunshiny and happy, and it‘s full of life. At night it has this wonderful warmth and soothing quality.”

All lighting in the house is fluorescent for energyefficiency.“Andtheygiveabrighter and truer light,” she said.

The tile in the backsplash is unique due to its rectangular shape.

“The yellow in that tile is really understated,” she said. “It’s really just a yellow undertone. The yellow walls accentuate that, and it brings the color out.” The tile in the master bath is the traditional one inch squares also with a little yellow in the design.

McKenzie, of Jim McKenzie Architect, P.A., is a Kansas State University graduate and has worked on projects centered on new institutional constructions and renovations over the years, primarily of healthcare facilities.

He has designed the cath lab at Saint Mary’s hospital, the original plans for Central Arkansas Hospital in Searcy, and, 30 years later, renovated their new entry and designed a heart unit. He has also designed the new school in Helena.

“I specialize in the health care industry, and most of it has been moderate- to-low budget, which in healthcare, presents a challenge. I was well-versed with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations,” he said.

“I’ve learned a lot building an accessible home for all us and now this. They’re just coming out with new regulations, but, honestly, what we had before wasn’t good for anybody.”

“There are three designs to consider when building for accessibility,” McKenzie said. “You need to consider fire safety, accessibility and functionality, and the importance of providing an uplifting atmosphere that allows for personal reflection.”

McKenzie invoked the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright: “He preached that form follows function, and that’s true. Design the building from the inside out to meet the needs of the resident, and the exterior will take care of itself.”

In the wake of Kristi’s accident, McKenzie built a large home, completely accessible, overlooking Dardanelle dam on the Arkansas River where he and his wife helped Kristi and the twins.

“It was actually a four-generation house with my mother living with us until her death,” he said.

“And I couldn’t have done it without their help,” Crissup said. “I was blessed with everything I needed to take care of myself and my children. I couldn’t have done it by myself. It was wonderful to have a couple of extra set of hands especially when my children where sick. Now that Hunter and Chase (now 141⁄2) are older, they’ve become such a big help themselves.”

Managing her own health often took more energy than Crissup had. The exhausting early years were filled with physical therapy and untold number of health glitches due to her damaged body. She spent over a year in and out of the hospital because of a brown recluse bite. Because the bite was on her upper thigh where she has no feeling, it was not immediately noticed and serious infections, surgeries and hospital transfers took up a big chunk of her family’s life.

Crissup admits to being spoiled by her parents. “Living with my parents for eight years really opened my eyes to the little things I needed to make my life easier. My mother would help me reach things I couldn’t and helped me change sheets. I knew I wanted a sink in a large laundry room like theirs,” she said. “I knew I needed countertop space to put clothes on and a place to hang clothes.”

“It’s the little things, like the drive-in window connecting the sink and the patio, which make me feel included in everything here,” she said. The mudroom, a necessity for two active teenagers, and the concrete floors further ease the flow of traffic and the ease of maintenance.

Space is a necessity for Crissup who insisted on large bedrooms, so she could maneuver around and between the two beds in the bedroom her sons share.

“Daddy didn’t understand why I kept insisting on two sinks in the master bathroom, but I figured I wouldn’t be alone for the rest of my life,” she said. In fact, it doesn’t look like she will be. Recently, Crissup has rekindled an old friendship. “I’m looking towards the happily ever after,” she said.

When asked to explain how difficult it was to accept the circumstance of living in a paralyzed body, Crissup paused and said, “I just don’t go there. Don’t get me wrong. Everything, I mean EVERYTHING is harder because of my limited mobility.

“There’s not anything that’s not a challenge. Getting in and out of bed, loading the dishwasher, just every little thing is harder, but I never asked why it happened to me. Acceptance is the only answer. You either pick yourself up and live, or you feel sorry for yourself and don’t. I’ve chosen to live, and my daddy has helped me to do that.”

Touring the home triggers words from an ageless melody, “good, good, good vibrations.” After nearly twelve years of roller coasting on a medical mystery tour, Crissup has landed on her own two wheels and is grateful to be alive.

 

 

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