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At Home with Arthritis: A Quick List of Design Priorities Part I

Home is where we find our sense of balance and stability. It’s where our most effective self-care happens every day.

With arthritis, you want a home that’s comfortable, functional, meaningful and yes, beautiful. Beauty, particularly in your surroundings has a huge impact on your psyche. I can attest to this personally. After losing my husband of twenty five years, my beautiful 1930’s Spanish style home and terraced garden was a healing respite for me. I love homes that are comfortable and beautifully evolved with just the right amount of furniture and accessories. It’s those types of homes that I create for my own clients who have chronic pain.

To prepare you and your home for the degenerative changes of arthritis, your main concerns will be with comfort; function; ease of use; and ease of access. If you’re building or remodeling your home, familiarize yourself with the principles of Universal Home Design typically found in kitchens and baths and American Disabilities Act compliant layouts if your illness is further along so you can converse with your contractor and/or architect. Universal Design is defined as “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability”.

If your budget allows you might want to explore new innovations in technology such as in-home hubs, or intelligent automation, or the new smart refrigerators and faucets. Because you have heat generating arthritis and because you live with chronic pain every day you will want to include cooling colors in your scheme like soft blues, grays, tones of blush, soft greens, taupe and cool whites. Textures like plastered walls, baskets, antique rugs, blankets, throw pillows, and beautiful fabrics add comforting elements while books, mementos and framed family photography add sentiment and meaning.

Again when planning and decorating your home keep in mind comfort, stability (both physical and emotional) function, ease of use and ease of access first and foremost. Begin with space planning and once you have the layout dialed in you can choose furniture, fabric and colors and last by not least, accessories.

Space Planning

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Without a good floor plan nothing else you do will make much sense. A contractor or architect can vastly improve the layout of your existing home. Or try one of the easy space planning apps that do 3D walk-throughs. A 3D walk-through is super helpful in visualizing how the spaces will flow. To simplify things, I like to think of a home as a series of boxes. The size and shape of the boxes, how they connect with one another, and what we put on the walls (windows, curtains, doors, trim, sconces), ceiling (crown molding, paint, light fixtures) and floors (base molding, choice of flooring and rugs) elevate the boxes from cottage to mansion. These elements are often the ones an interior designer chooses in the building process.

Kitchens and baths require the most planning but I’ll do a multiple part feature on that another time, either for sale as a book or as part of my blog.

The furniture layout begins by first identifying door to door traffic patterns. Always keep those clear of furniture and cords. I especially dislike walking around end tables with lamps. My balance is off due to arthritis in both knees and feet and I tend to wobble a bit! Place the largest pieces of furniture first.

Repetition is comforting to the eye and creates a sense of stability. You can achieve repetition through many means such as flooring, paint, cabinetry, crown and base molding, window styles, etc. Scale creates a sense of stability too and the fireplace and built in units are both nice ways to display the principle of scale. If you don’t have a fireplace, some kind of large scale piece adds that scale or ‘visual anchor’. And bonus… having a large scale piece or fireplace makes the job of choosing and placing the rest of the furniture so much easier.

Always place the largest pieces first such as the sofa, then the armchairs, then tables and lighting. For small living rooms, choose sofas and chairs without skirts. This allows light to flow underneath them and it will visually enlarge your space. Conversely, sofas and chairs with skirts create a cozier, fuller look in large spaces. Sofas and chairs without skirts in large spaces tend to look cold and impersonal. Choose sofas under 90 inches for small rooms. For large rooms, choose sofas over 90 inches.

I don’t care much for end tables next to the sofa. There, I said it. End tables are cumbersome. Instead, use the cocktail table as a place to set drinks. If lamps are needed next to the sofa, I usually do apothecary style (swing arm) lamps. They come in a variety of metals like polished stainless steel and brushed brass. They don’t disturb the look of the sofa, they don’t tip over easily and they’re easy to reach. The light source is just near the shoulder when seated.

Too much furniture is just as disconcerting as too little. Too much looks silly and too little feels impersonal. For the average size living room you need one to two sofas or loveseats, two armchairs, two wood framed accent chairs, one to two cocktail tables, and one to two end tables for between the armchairs. I like to do two armchairs and two open wood framed accent chairs in large living rooms. Never place sofas or chairs directly against the wall. If the sofa needs to be near a wall, always pull it out about six inches. This is a little designer trick. Call it Feng Shu…call it added dimension… I don’t know! But for some reason, pushing the sofa smack dab against the wall feels uptight. 

The space planning app I like to recommend is Chief Architect. I’ve used it myself.

See you back here Wednesday for Part two!

Live beautifully. Eat beautifully, Shiree’

Click “Pain Free Design and Wellness” for a free chapter of my powerful new book that helps women with arthritis create beautiful, functional homes and take better care of themselves every day because home is where it all begins.