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The Edit: Accessible and functional interior design


Design by Norm Architects
The Edit: Accessible and functional interior design
Clara Carlino de Paz
February 28, 2024

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The battle between form and function is one for the ages. However, by understanding the fundamentals of interior design, the concept of ergonomics, and the importance of furniture placement, you can create a space that not only looks great, but also enhances your clients' daily living experience – visually and physically. In this article, we explore the key elements of accessible and functional interior design, providing you with practical tips and ideas to transform your space into a functional sanctuary. For more interior design tips, don't hesitate to subscribe to our newsletter.

The fundamentals of Interior Design

Balancing aesthetics with functionality

Balancing form and function is a fundamental principle in design and product development. Form refers to the aesthetic or visual aspects of a design, while function relates to its practical utility and performance. Achieving this balance involves ensuring that a product or design not only looks appealing but also serves its intended purpose efficiently. In many cases, form and function are interdependent, as an aesthetically pleasing design can enhance user experience and functionality. However, striking the right equilibrium can be challenging, as prioritizing one aspect over the other can lead to a suboptimal outcome. Effective design often involves a careful consideration of user needs and preferences, marrying them with the technical and functional requirements to create a harmonious and holistic solution.

accessible interior design
Design by Norm Architects

Principles of functional interior design

Functional interior design focuses on the occupants' needs and daily activities. It's about creating a space that not only looks great, but also serves its practical purpose. There are several principles of functional design that can guide the interior design project.

One of the key principles of functional design is ergonomics. This involves designing furniture, lighting, and fixtures with the occupants' comfort and well-being in mind. Ergonomics considers the natural movements of the body, ensuring the space is functional and practical. For example, ergonomic furniture pieces, such as chairs with adjustable height and lumbar support, promote comfort and productivity.

Durability is another important principle of functional design. Choosing materials and finishes that are durable and easy to maintain ensures the longevity of the design project. This includes selecting furniture pieces made from high-quality materials, such as solid wood or metal, that can withstand daily use.

Practicality is also a key principle of functional design. The layout of the room should enable a breadth of actions, allowing for easy movement and accessibility. This means considering the daily activities of the specific occupants and designing the space accordingly. For example, in a software developer's home office, the layout should be designed to facilitate productivity and long working hours with the placement of furniture pieces, lighting, and storage solutions in mind.

A common adjacent topic to functionality is minimalism. By creating a clean, organized space, every bit of a space is considered, making it more functional than decorative. However, it is important to say that minimalism is not the only way to make a space functional. The most ornate of living rooms can be perfectly functional to a specific person.

accessible interior design
Design by Space Coppenhagen

How do I make my interior design accessible?

Creating an interior design that is accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, is an important aspect of functional design... And one all interior designers should consider. You should take into account ergonomics, sensory designs, ventilation, movement flows, lighting, tech and colour.

Understanding the concept of ergonomics

Ergonomics is the study of designing furniture, lighting, and fixtures with the occupants' comfort and well-being in mind. By considering the natural and optimal movements of the human body, ergonomics helps us understand how to create spaces that promote physical and mental health and don't compromise the muscles, bones and brains of inhabitants. You can check out bespoke kitchen design solutions by The Main Company, who specialises in working with designers to create luxury kitchen designs that suit a variety of needs.

Sensory design

Sensory design enhances accessibility in interior spaces by accommodating various sensory needs. This design approach considers factors such as lighting, acoustics, colour contrast, tactile features, and scent control to create a comfortable and inclusive environment. It benefits individuals with sensory sensitivities or impairments, ensuring that the space is welcoming and functional for everyone, regardless of their sensory capabilities. Inclusivity through sensory design aligns with the principles of universal design, promoting a more accessible and enjoyable experience for all occupants.

An example of sensory design includes using contrasting colours, tactile signage, and clear directional cues can assist those with visual impairments. Also, acoustic panels, sound-absorbing materials, and the arrangement of furniture can control sound levels, making a space more comfortable for those with auditory sensitivities.

accessible interior design
  1. Queslett Cabinet Knob with Square Backplate-HBN by Armac Martin
  2. Rutland Pull Handle - 12" - Zero Black by Croft
  3. 3-Function Round Hand Shower - Brushed Copper by ABI Interiors

Prioritising health and safety for all

When it comes to interior design, prioritizing the health and safety of the occupants is of utmost importance. Universal design principles involve creating spaces that are accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities. In the context of functionality, this includes ensuring the layout of the room allows for easy movement and accessibility, incorporating grab bars in bathrooms, and adhering to building codes and regulations to ensure the safety and well-being of occupants.

Proper lighting, ventilation, and air quality are also essential in creating a healthy interior space. Whether it's easily flexible windows or investing in materials low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), adequate ventilation and air filtration systems help maintain good indoor air quality, reducing the risk of health issues for those immunocompromised.

Designing spaces that promote physical activity and wellness, such as incorporating standing desks or exercise equipment in home offices, or creating outdoor spaces for relaxation and recreation, can also contribute to the overall health of the occupants.

Colour choices as a tool for accessibility

Colour choices play a crucial role in interior design, especially when it comes to accessibility. By using contrasting colours, considering colourblindness, avoiding overwhelming colours, using textures, and keeping colour schemes consistent, you can create an interior design project that is accessible to all individuals.

accessible interior design
  1. Fresco Pink - 1l - Chalky Matt by Pickleson Paint Co
  2. Boujee Blue - 1l - Gloss by Pickleson Paint Co
  3. Lyme Stone - 1l - Chalky Matt by Pickleson Paint Co

Textures as decor (and accessibility features)

Textures can be used as functional design elements, providing guidance and enhancing the accessibility of the space. By incorporating materials with different textures, using textured flooring or wall treatments, considering the use of braille signage, and incorporating elements with sensory appeal, you can create an interior design project that is accessible to all individuals.

accessible interior design
  1. Formation Reformed Stone Tumbled Salmon Pink by Artisans of Devizes
  2. Thames Wall Ceramic Linear Gris by Artisans of Devizes
  3. Formation Reformed Stone Tumbled Leaf Green by Artisans of Devizes

Lighting: Natural vs Artificial?

Selecting the right lighting for your interior design project is crucial, as it profoundly influences the space's functionality. Striking the balance between natural and artificial lighting, harnessing natural light sources, integrating task lighting, choosing both functional and visually appealing fixtures, and leveraging lighting design to establish ambiance can result in a space that is not only practical but also aesthetically pleasing.

Natural light sources, like well-placed windows, not only infuse a room with a welcoming radiance but also support the occupants' well-being. By maximizing natural light, you can curtail the need for artificial illumination, thereby enhancing energy efficiency.

However, as much as natural lighting is important, the incorporation of task lighting plays a pivotal role in delineating functional zones within the room. Task-oriented fixtures such as wall sconces, floor lamps, or table lamps offer focused illumination for specific activities like reading or work. Strategically positioning task lighting ensures that the space remains efficient and purposeful in accommodating daily routines.

accessible interior design
  1. Caton Stipple by Northern Lights
  2. Bouvard Large - Marble by Northern Lights
  3. Naiad Rechargeable - White by Northern Lights

Tech: practicality and functionalism combined

Home automation, including the use of smart home devices, can enhance the functionality and accessibility of the space. These devices can be controlled through voice commands or mobile apps, allowing the occupants to easily control lighting, temperature, and other elements of the space. For those who are visually disabled or hard of hearing and living in their own home, having these accommodations can make a space feel practical and well-adjusted.

The functional art of furniture placement

Furniture and floor layout for flow and connection

A functional floor plan is the basis for every user-friendly, balanced space. There are hundreds of ways to do this – Feng Shui, we're looking at you! – but the most important is to sketch it out with architectural visualization software. Try to imagine how the occupants will actually use this space, and how much negative space is necessary to create a space that doesn't feel claustrophobic. If the occupants need mobility aids, make sure to take that into account. Function above form, always.

accessible interior design
Accessible bathroom design on RoomSketcher

Multi-functional spaces

Designing multi-functional spaces is a practical approach to optimize room functionality. Incorporating storage solutions like built-in shelves and hidden storage, prioritizing a functional floor plan with designated areas for various activities, and utilizing versatile furniture pieces, such as coffee tables with storage space or convertible pieces, ensures the room adapts to different needs while maintaining both practicality and aesthetics. This approach maximizes the room's utility and visual appeal, serving the occupants effectively. This approach is specially useful in those projects without enough space for dedicated areas.

multi use room
Photography by Pedro Mascaro
accessible interior design
Photography by Pedro Mascaro


It's not all functional... The power of artwork in interior design

While functionality is important, interior design is also about aesthetic appeal and personal style. Choosing artwork that complements the design elements of the room can add visual interest and create a cohesive design. As many of us know, art pieces can serve as focal points, enhancing the overall beauty of the space. For more information on this, check out our interview with Lena Cottray.

accessible interior design
Design by Whipple Russel Architects

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