Home Accessibility Considerations for Your Living Room
When it comes to creating an accessible home for aging in place, there is usually great emphasis placed on bathrooms and kitchens. This makes sense, considering how much change is needed in those areas to make a home truly accessible. But this often means that other areas, such as the living room, get overlooked.
The living room is where we greet our guests, sit down to relax at the end of a long day, enjoy some entertainment on the television, play board games on the coffee table, and experience the little joys of day-to-day living. Homeowners who are aging in place can continue to fully enjoy that wonderful atmosphere – or perhaps even enhance it – with a few home accessibility modifications. Modernize is here to help you consider the best home accessibility improvements and modifications for your living room.
Consider Safer Flooring
Believe it or not, your flooring is an opportunity to create a more accessible living room. First thing’s first: Beware of loose floor rugs. They are a serious trip hazard for anyone, even those who have no mobility issues at all. It is in your best interest to remove anything that might slip underfoot.
There are a few suggested options for safe and slip-free flooring. Carpet is great for cushioning and warmth on the feet, and it tends to prevent slips and falls. However, carpet is not always the best choice for a wheelchair accessible living room. Instead, choose smooth flooring, such as hardwood, cork, bamboo, or even vinyl. Many luxury vinyl options can look surprisingly like wood. It is best to go with a non-slip, matte finish for safety purposes.
If you do choose to go with carpeting, remember that tight loop carpeting with thin padding can help avoid difficult transitions from the carpet another surface, such as vinyl or wood floors. Also keep in mind that the ADA says carpet should have a pile height of no more than one-half an inch. ADA-compliant carpeting should have a firm backing or no backing, and it must be securely fastened to the floor to prevent slippage.
Installing the same hard flooring material throughout the entire home can help avoid thresholds at doorways, which can become trip hazards and make life challenging for wheelchair users.
Choose Furniture Built for Accessibility
There are three things to keep in mind when choosing furniture for aging in place: accessibility, storage, and ease of use.
Sofas and Chairs
For an accessible living room, sofas and chairs need to be comfortable but easy to stand up from. Look for seating that is on the firmer side, since plush chairs and sofas challenge even the most nimble of us when it’s time to get out of them! A good rule of thumb is a seat depth of 20 inches, a seat height of 18 to 20 inches, and wide armrests that support the body as you stand up.
When choosing a recliner, look for those with easy-to-use mechanisms for opening and closing the chair. Recliners with traditional mechanisms can be tough to use for those with limited mobility or strength. Alternatively, go with a lift chair, which makes standing up easy and safe.
Open shelving is a great way to see all those books, craft supplies, and more at a glance. This storage makes it easy to simply reach out and pick up what you need – no struggle with tiny door latches or other intricacies. Pull-out organizers also work well for those smaller things that need to be corralled. Consider an end table beside a favorite chair with a few baskets on top for easy access, and an open shelf underneath for larger items.
Speaking of furniture and storage, let’s talk about that coffee table. Most coffee tables are made of hard material and often have sharp edges. This can make them a potential danger if someone were to fall. Consider replacing it with a storage ottoman of a similar size. Look for one with a flat top for more potential uses, such as a landing place for magazines and books.
Whatever storage furniture you choose, from tall bookcases to built-in entertainment centers, make sure to employ adequate tip-over protection to avoid serious injury.
Accommodate Hearing and Vision Challenges
As we age, it’s not just our mobility that begins to give us trouble. It can be our hearing and vision, too. Catering to these changes now can make aging in place much easier.
Walls and Floors
Let’s start with the walls and floors. Contrast in color is important. Hues on the opposite sides of the color wheel can help create that intense contrast, which allows us to distinguish doorways from walls or mark thresholds from one room to another. (Here’s a helpful hint: when painting the walls and trim, use paint made safer with no volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.)
Think about the light in a room. It is easier to see in natural light, and you can use it to create a lovely space that is inviting to everyone. Make sure there are plenty of windows for that light to stream in. However, be aware of reflected light from the windows that might settle on your television screen. This glare can make seeing the screen difficult for even those with perfect eyesight. Position your television accordingly!
Doorbells and Detectors
To build an accessible living room, install a loud doorbell that will get the attention of the hearing impaired. You can even opt for one that triggers a light to flash in the living room. For households where someone is hard of hearing, it is essential to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that flash a bright light, in addition to the sound of a loud siren or alarm.
Add a Touch of Elegance
Even if you have a complete home heating system, it might be a good idea to install an additional heating source in the living area. Elevate your atmosphere with a raised gas fireplace. You can have all the warmth and ambiance of a fire without the serious maintenance required of a wood-burning fireplace. Many gas fireplaces have remote controls that allow the user to adjust temperature and flame from across the room.
Consider other elegant options that double as quite practical fixtures, such as sconces on the walls for extra lighting, a ceiling fan with an impressive light, or strategically placed chair rails that can double as a hand-rail for those who need a little extra security.
Remember Practical Considerations
Even the smallest details matter when it comes to your accessible living room. For instance, are there areas that will be hard to access? Here are a few commonly overlooked areas of the living room where home accessibility modifications may be necessary.
- Lights and switches: Consider placing light switches at 40 to 44 inches above the floor, which work for those standing as well as those sitting in a wheelchair. Rocker switches are usually accessible for everyone to use. Automated sensors might be great for turning on the overhead light or even the smaller lamps around the room.
- Lamps: Look for lamps that can be controlled by a wall switch instead of a small knob or pull chain, as these can be tough for those with limited mobility. Touch lamps are a perfect option. When it comes to the bulbs, go with long-lasting LED to avoid changing them so often.
- Window sills: Sills no higher than 30 inches.
- Electrical outlets: Consider raising the height of electrical wall outlets so everyone can reach them with ease.
- Television and other surfaces: Use no-glare coatings on the television and other surfaces that might reflect light.
- Walkways: Finally, remember that everyone needs space. Shoot for an uncluttered walkway of at least four feet wide, with a five-foot turning radius for those in wheelchairs.
Final Thoughts on Accessible Living Rooms
When you create an accessible living room, you are making strong plans for the future. Let Modernize help you get started by connecting with local contractors who can make the changes you need to age in place gracefully, with the comforts of home all around you. Learn more about great options for accessible living with our home accessibility checklist.