April 25, 2010

A space re-invented for special needs

DvH2010 02 Malibu Lake

Because of disability, ordinary movement becomes difficult at times. This requires a re-invention of the living space.

For a person using walking aids, and with uncertain footing, doors should ideally have wide openings, clear of doorstops, and any bulky fittings. Handles should be easy to grip and strongly secured since they will probably be used for support as well as operation. Double doors or sliding doors work better than conventional designs.

Wide traffic paths and an even floor plan are best. Furniture with sharp corners should be moved out of the way. Sofas, beds, and chairs ought to be generously proportioned with high seats that are easy to get in and out of, plus high, straight backs and sturdy arms for support.

In the kitchen cupboards should be within easy reach, taking into consideration the occupant’s range of movement and, if necessary, provide some means of sitting at the worktop. Extra strong illumination for failing eyesight. A two element ceramic cook top at the back of the work surface works well so that hot, heavy pans do not have to be lifted, but can be pulled forward safely. A wooden handrail fixed along the front gives support and provides a place to hang a walking stick. Reduce unnecessary movement by storing kitchen equipment on open shelves and pullout cupboards.

For many older and impaired people ordinary bath are too low. A sitz bath which is shorter than average, but much deeper, with an integral seat at one end so the bather is completely immersed without having to lie down is ideal. The wall-hung basin can be positioned high enough for a tall person to use without bending.

A high bed is easier to manage. Built on a platform with drawers underneath. This arrangement will do away with the need to clean under the bed-an awkward task when bending is painful. At the head of the bed is ample storage for all electronic gear and reading materials. The content of the wardrobe or closet is easy accessible behind curtains. Wire baskets on runners, shallow drawers, and low hanging rails.

For our client, an artist, we designed and built a glass-enclosed deck that allows easy access, easy movement, and plenty of natural light.

The house, built in the 1990’s, was upgraded to more energy efficient standards. The surrounding landscape has been left in its “native” state, requiring no watering and only an annual clearing and pruning of trees.