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.

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