When we think of barrier free design we usually think of renovated bathroom and kitchen spaces. Furniture is typically overlooked for roll under sinks and curb-less showers, but it is just as important to think of the furniture selections that work with accessibility. Just like with the hard scapes, barrier free design extends into the sofas, chairs, tables, beds and accessories. A great design is not complete until the space has been finished with all the things necessary for a beautiful, safe, and stylish life. Here are some of our tips that hopefully inspire you to select furniture that fits into a barrier free design plan.
Choosing the right height
The perfect height to transfer to is different for everyone and is the single determining factor if some one can or cannot transfer onto a furniture piece. This applies to beds, sofas, chairs, and anything else you may want to sit or lay down in. Whether you have paralysis and need to fully transfer, or have mobility limitations and just need some assistance, make sure your seat heights are working for you and not against you.
Typical seat height is 18 inch from the floor, and in our experience that height seems to work for a lot of different abilities. If someone uses a lower manual chair, a 16 inch height will be better where as if someone uses a power chair a 20 inch height could be better. For those using walkers or canes, 17-19 inches seems to be the sweet spot.
This could vary between the needs for a sofa versus a bed, but generally the height requirements are about the same. Consider the density of the cushion when determining height. A firmer cushion could be have a lower seat height than a softer cushion that will sink in more.
Sturdiness & Durability
This is a big factor when choosing any upholstery but especially if you are needing your furniture to support you in ways that may not be required of able bodied people. Transfers, push offs, and adjustments can all take a toll on furniture so it is important to invest in quality pieces that are going to stand the test of time. A sofa with a quality frame should be able to be reupholstered 1-3 times in its lifetime, that can give you almost 30 years of a quality sofa. Imagine any other item in your life that could last 30 years, most of us will have several cars, homes, and lives in that period of time.
Upholstery can be tricky, we are here to help.
A table is one of the most scared and versatile furniture items in a home. It of course where meals can be had but it is also where people connect, converse, start businesses, teach their children, you get the picture. It is so important to have a table where everyone feels included and comfortable. When choosing an accessible table first determine what assistive device you will be using at the table. Wheelchair, walker, cane, braces, these can all help you make decision on what table details to pay attention to.
The height of the table is first. Standard table height is 30 inches from the floor but with the rise of counter height and elevated table heights, there are more options than ever for those looking for taller tables.
Our go to is always a 30 inch height table because it seems to be the most universal size, but pay attention to the apron of the table and the leg positions. The apron can be the difference of being able to go under the table or having your legs hit the front. Look for tables with less than 4 inches of apron or table top depth to ensure enough leg room.
Leg positions can also make a table easier to navigate under. Pedestal bases have no interference around the edges of the table and can be a flexible option if there are multiple people with assistive devices in the home. A leg support base can work beautifully if there is enough room to not have the legs hit the wheels of the chair. A trestle base is half way between leg supports and pedestal. The base is inset from the edges and moved to the middle. This can be great for people to pull up the the heads of the table, but the base could get in the way of seating 2 or more people on each side comfortably. Most times someone has their knees on the supports. If you are wanting to transfer to a dining chair we recommend padded and upholstered seats for ultimate comfort
Beds & Nightstands
A bedroom is a haven for all people and should be the place where we all can relax and unwind from the day. This of course starts with a cozy bed that is easy to get into. Beds can be tricky to get the height right because all mattress depths vary. Be sure to research the leg height, mattress height, and frame height to find your total height of a bed. PRO TIP: You can cut down real wood legs of a bed to make it the perfect height. This is not something that can happen with all beds, it must be real wood and must be done very carefully and precisely. However, when done correctly it can allow you to have the bed of your dreams at your perfect height.
Nightstands can be such a personal selection. Like with everything in this post, first check the height of the nightstand to see how it will be in relation to the bed. Some people like the nightstands higher than the mattress, some people like it lower. These are all personal preferences. Next think about storage, what do you want to put in there? There are a lot of trending nightstands that are side tables with no storage, and though they look beautiful, if you like to have lots of things by your bed that will not be the best option. For me, I like to have a spot for my book, a lamp, lip balm, and my pajamas in a drawer right next to my bed.
Rugs are such an overlooked tool when it comes to accessibility. We can go 2 ways with rugs - absolutely have to have them, absolutely cannot have them. For those who are prone to trips and falls, we do not recommend rugs or when we do they must be large enough to be fully under furniture or against a back wall. For those who transfer to and from a wheelchair or use any other device on wheels, we love the extra traction rugs give. Transfers can be the most hazardous points in time and on hard floors wheelchairs like to slip and slide even when locked. A good rug with a nice backing can anchor a wheelchair and give a grip that is just enough to allow the person to transfer to it.
If you are team rug, we recommend a higher weight rug with a backing. Flat weaves are not heavy enough to withstand the slipping and sliding and most do not have a backing to help it stay in place. Woven rugs without a backing can stretch and create holes and breakdown points. A nice wool or wool blend rug will be the longest lasting and is the easiest to clean.
The right furniture piece can be the easiest way to add large amounts of storage to your home. We do not always need built in cabinetry, in fact sideboards, credenzas, and buffets are some of our favorite items to choose in our designs. They are such a utilitarian piece of furniture and can be easily accessed by most people. Low storage is great from those in wheelchairs as there is minimal movement involved in getting in the cabinet. Bookcases and armoires can be better for those who have a harder time bending down or getting lower to the ground. Whatever height you find right for you, we always recommend an organizing system. Bins, containers, and labels can be your best friend so deciphering through your stuff can be clear and clutter free. If your shelving is exposed, opt for woven or fabric baskets so the organization blends with the decor. Keeping a home tidy and organized is great for all fronts when it comes to accessibility.