Age and disability are rarely associated with style and fashion. This is a shame, particularly as the current trend minimalist trend offers a way to create accessible but stylish homes. Retaining the functional accessibility, but moving away from the utilitarian clinical feel that can overwhelm some accessible homes.
So how do you design an accessible yet stylish space? Well you design for humans in all of our forms and shapes. There are a huge variety of issues that can affect how we interact with our environment so what follow below are unfortunately some rather general tips. I’ve tended to aim at wheel chair users as many of the adaptions for them are also helpful for a range of other disabilities. For example an lever handles on doors and taps will be easier to manipulate not just for wheelchair users but also people with arthritis or poor strength.
Steps and Stairs: Stairs and steps are hard to avoid at best, and if you can’t or don’t want to move into a bungalow then they will have to be dealt with. Assuming that you can’t line on a single level the easiest way to deal with stairs is to get a stairlift. These come in a wide variety and can be upholstered to fit in with the rest of your décor.
Steps are slightly easier as they can be replaced or covered by ramps to allow for a smooth transition between different levels. Whilst temporary or portable ramps can easily be kept out of the way it is also relatively simple to use a permanent ramp which matches the landscaping. For example a stone ramp which matches a stone footpath will provide an easy transition, both physically and aesthetically.
Hallways: Hallways always need to be well lit and at least 36” wide so as to allow walkers such as Zimmer frames and wheelchairs to turn around. They also need to avoid loose rugs and other tripping hazards. As far as flooring is concerned laminated wood can is stylish and easy to clean but would need an anti-slip coating. A better option is to get a well fitted wall to wall carpet, just avoid the shag pile as it can easily catch in wheels and is hard to move walkers over.
Bathroom: The greatest risk in the bathroom is falling. This makes anti slip flooring such as textured surfaces like tiling or vinyl vital. Tiling offers a great range of colours and sizes so it is easier to provide a stylish non slip surface that fits your bathroom. Grab bars are another essential feature of an accessible bathroom. Not only do they mean that if someone does slip they can break their fall but they also make it easier to move around the bathroom if you have problems with your legs. While typical option, coated in white plastic has a very clinical look, you can also find a rang of more stylish steel and chrome options.
Kitchen: The main issues with kitchens are height and safety. For example wheelchair users and people who find it hard to stand in one place for long lengths of time may find that the standard height of work surfaces is dangerously high. The main problem is that having hot objects such as kettles, pots and pans at head height or above the user increases risk of spills. This means that low work surfaces with enough space to fit a chair underneath are a huge help. Most standard surfaces can be lowered to make them more accessible, though it can involve a lot of work. Similarly drawers and cabinets should come with pull out options to allow users to simply pull them out and reach down, rather than needing to lean over to get more access. Fortunately these changes can be made to most standard kitchens, meaning that there is no need to sacrifice style for accessibility.
Daniel Frank is writing on behalf of Stannah who provide a range of stairlifts and lifts including disabled stairlifts.