Designing for Special Needs

Today’s wonderful guest post on designing for people with special needs comes to us from Carolyn Von Der Ahe. And how appropriate on Mother’s Day weekend that we are graced with a post from such an awesome woman who thought of all this with her own beloved daughter’s special needs in mind. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there and enjoy!

Designing for special needs doesn’t mean that your design has to be strictly ADA (American Disability Act Compliant). Some basic accommodations in the home can mean the difference of staying in your home well into retirement, as well as being prepared for potential disabilities. Decorating for those with special needs, which includes basic aging issues, does not include throwing out dynamite décor…make it beautiful, make it fun! Having a daughter with special needs challenged me to prove that! Here are a few things to take into account…furniture design, fabrics, floor plan, and allowing for mobility and safety.

For instance, in my family room I kept an open floor plan so that my daughter (the cutest blind kid in the world 😉 ) could move, in her case crawl, from the family room to her bedroom without crashing into furniture. The open floor plan also works great when having friends over for a large party. I also designed a custom sofa and ottoman. The custom sofa has big high armrests so that my daughter can sit sideways on the sofa with her feet up and be supported…. and from a design standpoint, it so reflects Coco Chanel! The custom ottoman was made taller and larger than most ottomans so that she can sit, face her school aide to answer questions, and not worry about falling backwards. The fabrics are stylish but practical for spills and hard wear…Kravet grey chenille on the sofa and Perennial indoor/outdoor fabric on the ottoman. The ottoman works as a multifunctional piece in that it doubles as coffee table large enough to accommodate multiple dinner trays! Note, the slightly higher height is much better for your back when eating at your coffee table. I recommend multiple types of chairs in your living areas…from plush chairs for those seeking that fall in comfort, to straight back chairs with arms, which are much more comfortable and easier to get out of as we age.

Another room that is a great example of multifunction is the bathroom. Notice that higher toilets are now called “comfort height”, as a higher height is better for the disabled and the elderly. I spec the comfort height in all bathrooms and, thankfully, it is becoming a design standard. Ok, I know the stand-alone tubs are all the rage…but not so great for disabilities and aging. An under mount tub with a wide bench area to sit, turn and put your legs in the tub (preferably one with inside handles) will allow you to take baths for years. Just going to throw it out now…put me in a bath at the end of the day with a glass of wine and life is good…so I don’t plan on giving up my bath as I age or become disabled! In the shower, you always want to spec a built-in seat with a hand held showerhead right next to the seat, and make the shower door as wide as possible. I tell my clients even if you are not older (yet), the seat is a great place to sit and shave your legs!

We all want to look fabulous and age gracefully, but we need our homes to remain fabulous and age gracefully with us…plus how great is it to welcome guests of all ages and disabilities?

Thank you to Mitzi, it was my great pleasure to meet this fabulous, over fifty, dynamic designer at Design Bloggers Conference 2013!

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