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Living Well at Home with Arthritis, Hint: it doesn’t involve a flat screen television!

One of the roles of an interior designer is to show you how to live well in your home. The pleasures of domestic life are innumerable but it can also be extremely draining if you your home is disorganized, under furnished or worse yet, over decorated. And these are all magnified with chronic pain. Trying to maintain a home within any of these scenarios is so distracting when you’re already struggling with arthritis.

After so many years as a shop owner, designer and homemaker I developed quite a few philosophies about decorating, organizing, entertaining, cooking, gardening, et cetera. The benefits have been that our home is comfortable, beautiful and runs smoothly. I want to share some thoughts with you to hopefully inspire you to live better at home with arthritis.

Just remember: a comfortable, attractive home takes an investment of time, thought and finances and because of the degenerative changes you’re facing, the sooner the better. It’s imperative that your home serve and inspire you daily to take excellent care of yourself so you can stay ahead of the curve ball life has thrown you.

The Living Room

In my first book “Pain Free Decorating: Creating Nurturing Spaces for Women with Arthritis” I talk about the decorating style or philosophy I created specifically around your physical and psychological needs due to the heat generating, chronic pain of arthritis. I talk about Universal Design elements like rocker style light switches and lever door knobs; cooling colors; and space planning that promotes feelings of stability and permanence.

In order to live your best life at home with arthritis, your day to day priorities can either stay status quo and you can keep expecting the same results, or you can adopt new lifestyle habits that are positive and proactive. A living room planned around a fireplace and bookcases rather than a television encourages a healthier lifestyle of reading, writing, and listening to music. A fireplace and built in bookcases are great ways to give your living room a visual ‘anchor’ too. Television has its place but it shouldn’t be the focal point.

A great way to make television part of a healthier lifestyle is to use it as a motivational tool for workouts. Having a den that’s sole purpose is for watching television is one way to manage your screen time. A combination gym/media room is another great way to encourage daily workouts at home. The bottom line is that making television a little less of a part of your day to day life enables you to replace it with healthier activities like Yoga, meditation, walking, juicing and preparing all of the fresh fruits and vegetables that are integral to the Arthritis Diet.

To put together an inviting, functional living room that supports your new, healthier lifestyle you need comfortable seating with good quality cushions (high density solid foam core with a Dacron or down wrap); throw pillows (preferably feather filled) to adjust the depth of the sofa seat to the individual’s height; end tables and table lamps for task lighting and drinks; plenty of reading material;  baskets for holding magazines and newspapers; family mementos; a few throw blankets; sun and privacy control for the windows; a great stereo; and lots of fresh plants and flowers. These things breathe life into a room. A space without books, pillows, or plants feels sterile. With arthritis, pain is almost a constant and having these things around is incredibly comforting and meaningful.

An anchoring/stabilizing element like a fireplace and built in bookcases also adds to how you perceive the comfort level of your rooms. This is a visual trick I often incorporate into my room designs.

Dining Room

Having a dining area separate from the kitchen is often viewed as lost space today because so few people use formal, stand alone dining rooms anymore. For that reason builders have been omitting them. And the reason no one uses their dining room anymore? I think it’s because so few people know how to make them inviting.

Decorating the dining room is actually much easier than furnishing the living room if you remember a few things. If you don’t, your dining room will turn into what I call “a vast sea of wood” because between the table, chairs and china cabinet everything in the room is wood. No wonder no one uses the dining room anymore. Humans are tactile creatures. We crave many types of textures. A room without texture is sterile.   

So first, add a few fabrics to your design plan. You can incorporate them with fabric chairs, floor length draperies or stationery curtains or sheers. If you already have wood side chairs, add a pair of his and her fabric covered end chairs. For large dining rooms, use ones with skirts and for small dining rooms use ones without.  And second, fill the china hutches and table tops with items you find to be both useful and beautiful. In my own dining room I enjoy having my serving platters, crystal wine glasses, dinner ware, and decanters out where I can see them every day. Yes they get dusty but my dining room isn’t that large so it’s not a maintenance issue. I also have plants in my dining room, stacks of books; and a beautiful tray of glasses and bottles. I even have a small lamp on my sideboard.

Having the books and all my serving pieces in the dining room gives it two more purposes: that of dining area and library. In this way, the room gets used much more than if it was just a table and eight chairs. I also use my dining room table as additional work space when my office is overflowing with fabrics, floor plans, and paperwork. As a result, the dining room isn’t neglected but rather, is a place for large family dinners, buffets, reading in the big sunny window, and for organizing parties and work projects.

The living room and dining room are two spaces that can support you in living a better life at home with arthritis. Surround yourself with things you love and remember to incorporate cool colors, comforting textures and stabilizing space plans.

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.