The house that love built: inside the Zink Family’s home

February 2, 2020

The Zink Family designed a home to meet their family’s unique needs. Through their giving, they help meet the needs of a special community. Lee and Kiera Zink knew the new house had to be perfect. Not just functional for a busy family of four, not just comfortable, not just beautiful. Their first home, a historic bungalow in Washington Park, was beautiful, even once featured in the pages of a Colorado design magazine. But it was cramped, and climbing up and down the stairs was exhausting, especially with their young children in their arms.

The space didn’t work for Kiera, Lee, or their son Nico. And it especially didn’t work for their daughter Jordan. Jordan, who is four, was born with a rare genetic disorder called Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. Though her eyes are large, bright, and distinct, the disease has caused her blindness as well as deafness and global delays. According to Kiera, the crowded bungalow was just too much for Jordan to navigate.

“We loved that house, but life happens, and things change,” she says. “There was stuff everywhere. We were always running into everything, bumping into things. We realized it was time to find something that fits us better, where Jordan could move around the house with some independence and some freedom.”

In 2018, after two years of careful planning, design, building, decorating, and fine-tuning, the Zinks finally moved into a 5,500-square-foot ranch house in Littleton. It’s the family’s dream house, but not because of its chic urban farmhouse style or the kid-friendly lake that sits a few hundred feet from the back door. It’s a dream because it was built exactly, perfectly to suit them. The house is fully accessible and built according to the principles of universal design, which are meant to improve a space for anyone and everyone who might use it. It has an open-concept floor plan, and every doorway is flush to the ground and wide enough to comfortably accommodate Jordan in her motorized wheelchair, which she pilots expertly. Pocket doors slide into walls, rather than opening in or out of a room.

The main floor contains most of the family living space, including Jordan’s bedroom. She can roll easily into her shower, and her bathroom sink is at a wheelchair-friendly height. Her racks of clothes, her hair, her stuffed animals—everything is within reach. While Jordan’s bed, which can be raised and lowered, is undeniably cool, the real piece de resistance of the house is the sensory-friendly room just off the main entrance. Lit by floor-to-ceiling tubes filled with bubbles, it glows green, blue, and pink. There are three types of swings and a LiteBrite-style table; the floor is covered with mats and balls of all sizes. Nico, three, knows it as a kind of fantasy romper room, filled with objects any child would find irresistible. For Jordan, it’s a place for learning and exploration. The LED lights from the tubes, set against dark walls, stimulate her vision; the velocity and motion of the swing make her smile.

“She is a thrill-seeker—swinging, anything to do with motion,” says Kiera. “We chose items for the room that she can grow into. We wanted a space where she could explore without us always being behind her. She isn’t mobile yet, but we’re hopeful that one day she will walk and be able to interact with things in the room in a new way.”

The Zinks consulted with experts in universal and accessible design to determine what would make their home truly accessible for Jordan, both now and later in life. They also sought support from a local network of parents with uniquely challenged children. “The term ‘it takes a village’ of people around us that support not only her but our whole family is an understatement,” says Kiera. “It’s an amazing community of people who are willing to reach out. That has been a huge source of information and encouragement.”

“Kiera really took this project on. She did so much research and spoke with other parents about what would they add, and what would they change about their current living situations. She became the expert,” says Lee. “We learned early on that the information we were seeking was not easily accessible. We had to reach out to figure out how to build a house that meets all of the needs for now, when Jordan is a four-year-old, as well as whatever comes up in the future.” Lee and Kiera also got lots of advice and support from the community and staff of the Anchor Center for Blind Children, which has been a grounding force for the family since the early days of Jordan’s diagnosis.

“It’s impossible to express how amazing of a place it is,” says Kiera of the Center, which serves about 175 infants, children, and their families per year. “And not just for the children. They provide so many things for parents—training, educators who come in when your child is there to make sure you are getting the best support, and connections to resources. They help you feel that you’re not alone, that there are people there who understand you and your child.”
“Every parent wants to be able to provide their child with tools for success,” says Lee, holding Jordan, pushing her ash-blonde curls off her face.

“By doing this, and maybe even going a little bit too far with it, we give every opportunity for Jordan to meet her needs and live a more fulfilling life. It gives us a place where we can see growth and her developmental paths. And for all of us, as an environment, we feel like we have a safe space for everyone. It’s a sanctuary feeling for us as a family.”

Lee and Kiera know they are fortunate to have the resources to provide whatever will help their daughter become as successful as possible. A former professional lacrosse player, Lee is a vice president of a prominent oil and gas corporation based in Colorado. Kiera was a successful sales executive before she became a full-time caretaker and advocate for children and families with special challenges. They’re able to provide for Jordan at a high level.

And they also share some of those resources to help other families. The Zinks have seen what a difference skilled specialists and educators, especially teachers of the visually impaired, have made for Jordan and children with similar challenges. They’ve also become aware that there’s a significant shortage of these types of educators working in the field. That’s why they established the Zink Family Scholarship Fund at The Denver Foundation, which provides financial support for the advanced study of special education.

“We wanted to create more opportunities for individuals interested in going into these fields of expertise,” says Kiera. “It really has to be someone who is passionate about working with kids who have challenges. If you find someone like that, you want to give them as much support as possible.”

“We are inspired every day by not only Jordan’s resilience but all children with special needs,” she continues. “With more interventions, teachers, therapists, special educators, and supports set up for these children to thrive, the more successful they can become.”

So far, the Zinks have awarded eight scholarships and plan to continue their giving. The idea for the fund was planted when the Zinks financially supported the advanced education of their former nanny, Caroline Calabrese, who completed her master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and now teaches at the Anchor Center. They saw what a difference their help made.

“When she worked for us, she was a great, fast learner, and she fell in love with Jordan and the whole field,” says Kiera. “We as a family funded her degree, and through this process became very inspired by her story, her success, and how she found her way through our family. She found her path while working alongside us.”

In their own home and in the special community they’re part of, Kiera and Lee are working toward a future where more people understand children like Jordan, and have the skills, empathy, and passion to help them thrive.“We all have needs,” says Kiera. “These children just have different needs. For us, it’s about finding the ability, not the disability, and supporting them to create success in their lives, be part of society, and be included in the community.”

In their large, grassy backyard, Jordan sits in a tree swing as brother Nico pushes her, laughing. As she sways from side to side, her fists are tightly clutched around the rope that tethers the swing to the tree. Beneath the thick lenses of glasses, her eyes are bright and wide open. As Jordan twirls, surrounded by her family, she smiles.