Interior design for special needs
The marriage of form and function is essentially what interior design is all about, but even more so when a person’s changing needs — due to either aging or a specific medical condition — are at the root of a redesign.
After experiencing a stroke, for example, the road to recovery can be long and difficult. Because of the lasting effects of strokes, many of which are physical, it’s important to try to recover as much mobility and independence as possible.
A big part of that process revolves around adapted living, which helps make everyday life safer, more comfortable and easier to navigate through the creation of personalized environments that are designed to meet individuals’ special needs.
Enter Arianne Hudon-Brooks, the interior designer behind HB Design, who was called upon to create just such a space after a client of hers suffered a stroke.
“A lot of these projects often become purely functional, and I think that’s really too bad because it’s such an opportunity to make better choices,” Hudon-Brooks said. “It’s nice to feel like you’re still living the kind of life you want, in an environment that makes you feel good.”
In Hudon-Brooks’s case, the couple in question quickly needed a new bedroom and ensuite on the main floor of their house, both of which had to be wheelchair-accessible. To accommodate them, the designer converted the existing sunroom into a bedroom and the powder room into a full bathroom with a walk-in shower.
“I think the key is knowing what the client’s needs are, which is basically the start of any design project. In this case though, it was even more important,” she said. “After an in-depth consultation and a discussion with an occupational therapist, I was able to incorporate everything they needed into the design instead of having it seem out of place, and adding it as an afterthought.”
One of the ways Hudon-Brooks accomplished that was with the stairlift. Instead of opting for the usual white stair chair, she picked one in a colour that matched the rest of the decor and accessorized it with a decorative velvet cushion.
Colour choice was especially important for the designer in this project, because the clients were concerned with having their home feel like a hospital.
“The first thing I thought was that it was important to not use too much white or light pastel colours, which you often find in hospitals,” Hudon-Brooks said. “That’s why we went with a much darker, and richer, colour palette. It made the space feel homier.”
In the bedroom, one of the ways Hudon-Brooks married form and function was through the creation of a single fabric headboard that covered both the husband’s hospital bed, which was fully adjustable, and the wife’s regular single bed. “One of my favourite features of the project was the custom headboard. With it, the couple can sleep side by side with a large comforter covering both beds, and it looks as if it’s one big bed,” she said.
In the bathroom, the designer opted for an Italian walk-in shower that was installed at floor level, without a sill. “Not having a sill makes the shower look cleaner and it also makes the space look bigger,” Hudon-Brooks explained. “Italian showers are very practical for mobility issues and wheelchair access, but they’re also on trend.”
She also had grab bars installed, where necessary, and used levers instead of knobs. “A lever that’s easy to manipulate is practical for anyone, even someone who has arthritis, but it can be really nice, too,” she said.
Finally, to accommodate a wheelchair, she used a durable tile that looked like wood and wouldn’t bend over time. The tile was used in both the bedroom and bathroom without a break, allowing for easy access between both rooms.
In terms of lighting, what’s most important when it comes to adapted living is safety.
“When I design a lighting plan, I want to make sure that each space has multiple levels of illumination, including lighting to perform visual activities, to enhance the decor of the space, to create a mood and ambience and, most importantly, to ensure safety and security,” said Inga Semionov, a lighting consultant and the owner of Iluce Concepts Lighting + Design Inc.
“Proper placement of lighting ensures that a person can perform regular tasks such as cooking, grooming and reading more comfortably while feeling safe in their space.”
According to Semionov, adapted lighting should also be equipped with integrated motion sensors that detect movement within a two-metre radius, so that when a person walks into a bathroom, or gets out of bed, a light automatically turns on. “This kind of lighting is perfect for the elderly, someone with mobility issues or even a mother who has just given birth and has to wake up a few times during the night to feed her baby.”
Interior designer Arianne Hudon-Brooks converted a sunroom into this main-floor bedroom (above, left) and a powder room into a full ensuite bathroom, all wheelchair-accessible. And instead of going with the usual white stair chair (above, right), she chose a stairlift in a colour that matched the rest of the home’s decor, accessorizing it with a decorative velvet cushion.
A single headboard and joint comforter or blanket spanning two beds gives the appearance of joint sleeping accommodation, even though one of the beds is a fully adjustable hospital bed with safety rail (see photo at right, foreground).
Levers instead of knobs on a faucet or shower makes it easier to use, even for someone with arthritis, and installing a grab bar in the shower is a crucial safety feature when it comes to adaptive living.
When it comes to lighting a room equipped for adapted living, safety is the primary concern so integrated motion sensors are a good idea. But multiple levels of illumination also allow for ambience and enhancement of the decor of any room.