025: What makes a bedroom comfortable and functional?

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
025: What makes a bedroom comfortable and functional?

Show Notes

In this episode, I reference three images designed by Brooke Thabit, who is now an Interior Designer. She was with us for a student internship and designed this bedroom.

I also discuss the 24 areas of impairment our team looks at with regard to each design to make sure we ensure a good fit for all people.

If you’re interested in learning more about being a design advisor with our organization, learn more on our website!


[00:00:27] Welcome to episode # 25. Today, I’m sharing about how the design of a bedroom impacts the ability of people to easily get in and out of bed, plus access clothing and other essential items in this area of the home. This will help you understand how individual needs and the design of the environment results in either a good fit or a poor fit. It’s the little things that make a big difference. 

[00:00:54] In my first job as an occupational therapist, I worked in a hospital on a rehabilitation floor. In the hospital, in a rehab setting, my job was to help people get back to doing tasks like bathing, dressing, toileting, and grooming, which could include things like shaving, brushing your teeth or brushing your hair. These activities, or “occupations”, are pretty important in our daily lives. 

[00:01:18] Take a moment to think about various reasons why someone may be hospitalized. Do you have a few ideas in mind? 

[00:01:28] I’ll share a few that you may have considered as well. It could be because of an injury to their body, like an amputation, a broken bone, a stroke, spinal cord injury, or even a brain injury. They may be weak due to cancer, a heart attack, or even have had the COVID virus. With all of these conditions, and of course more, there is a significant change in the way you would go about doing these daily tasks that are talked about above. 

[00:01:55] What if you couldn’t move your legs? How would you get your socks and shoes on? How would you pull up your pants if you only had one leg that worked well? What if you were so weak after an illness and you needed oxygen to help get enough air to complete some of these seemingly simple tasks? All of these things, and of course many more, are what OTs work on to help people learn new ways to do daily activities so they can do them as independently as possible when they return home.

[00:02:26] Sometimes OTs teach people how to use different types of equipment to make dressing easier if they’re unable to do it the way they used to. Other times we teach them different techniques if they’ve lost the function in their arms or legs to wash themselves or put on their clothes.

[00:02:42] We’re one of those professions that you didn’t know is needed until you need us. And we’re oftentimes helping people learn how to dress while seated, standing, or laying flat in the bed. We’re pretty creative. 

[00:02:55] But anyway, one of the things I did with many of my patients, besides just helping them relearn how to get themselves ready, was to have them actually gather their clothes.  That’s what you do at home, right? You walk to your closet, open the door, or you go over to the dresser and pull out the drawer to pick out your clothes. I wanted to mimic that task as much as possible in the hospital for what they would need to do at home. This would not only help on their walking and balance or moving around with a wheelchair or walker but assist them with increasing their endurance.

[00:03:29] It also aided them in figuring out how they would reach and manipulate items as well as carry them to the bed or the bathroom or wherever they needed to go. The way people go about these daily tasks may have had to change based on their injury or illness, especially if they are now moving around with a walker or a wheelchair or crutches.

[00:03:51] Also think about those people who may have to get dressed in their bed. Did you know that sometimes people get dressed in their bed? People who do the task this way may need to get all of their clothes at night before laying down so they can easily get dressed before getting out of bed in the morning. There’s a lot of planning involved when an illness or injury is in the mix.  I’d keep that in mind with my patients and helping them plan for how they do these tasks when they get home.

[00:04:20] So in the hospital environment where they’re practicing these tasks, it’s a lot different from a home environment. Usually, it’s easy to move around the room and there’s lots of floor space around the bed, dressers, and getting over toward the bathroom.  There are not usually tight spaces and there aren’t a lot of trip hazards. The floor is generally tiled and easy for cleaning as well.

[00:04:43] Home spaces are much different. There could be potential clutter on the floor or in the pathway to the closet, to the dresser, or over to the bathroom. Think about thick carpet or throw rugs that can easily get tangled up in mobility equipment. There could be cords or the pathways could be really narrow, so it could actually prevent someone from getting anywhere in their bedroom. Think about how your bedroom is situated. How much room is beside your side of the bed currently? Do you think you’d be able to get a wheelchair that’s about 30 inches wide beside the bed or around the room?

[00:05:20] If you have a walk-in closet, could you get through the door with a walker or a wheelchair? What about reaching the items in your closet if you couldn’t stand up or reach down low? All of these types of things are important to think through in the way a bedroom and the storage is organized and designed.

[00:05:37] Unfortunately, many people are restricted by the space in their bedroom because of a smaller square footage. Most bedrooms aren’t big enough to hold a king-size bed with room along the sides to have a space for an end table on each side plus room for a wheelchair and a caregiver. For a while, after our daughter was born, we kept her in a bed right beside our bed. There was just enough room to fit the bassinet between the bed and the wall. Thank goodness that thing was on wheels because I could move it just enough to stand up, but other than that, I had to scoot all the way down to the end of the bed to even get out. 

[00:06:14] When someone comes home from the hospital and a friend or family member is trying to get the space ready for their return, many times, a lot of things have to be rearranged or things even removed from the room. That big, bulky dresser that is right beside the bed may need to be moved so there’s enough room. Plus when people are dealing with designs that don’t work well, some people may even have to get a bedside commode and set it right to the side of their bed if they can’t easily get into their bathroom due to physical limitations or space requirements. So a lot of times things have to be added into the room after a hospital stay. 

[00:06:52] People who live with a family member who has a disability understand that while the bedroom is generally for sleeping, reading, or for kids playing, there’s often a lot of other things that people need in that area of the home. Many people may need help getting ready and so there also has to be enough room for a person to move around the bed and to help someone get washed up and dressed. Sometimes people need a Hoyer lift to get their caregiver’s assistance in the morning for moving them from the wheelchair to the bed and that has to fit in there too. 

[00:07:23] Plus everyone sees benefit in some sort of storage beside the bed, whether it’s an end table or a rolling table that can be moved over to the bed. We all have our own important items that we like to keep there. Phone plus a charger, maybe a drink, alarm clock, books, others like to keep their medicine there, or maybe there’s a C-PAP machine. What about cathing supplies? That little bedside table might need to expand. Oh, and what about lights? We all need lights. 

[00:07:53] It’s also important to consider that some people may have to also spend a lot of time in their bed for medical reasons. If someone gets a wound, they might not be able to get up in their wheelchair per doctor’s orders, until it heals. Someone who is pregnant might have to be on bed rest until their child is born. What about someone who’s battling COVID and quarantined in their bedroom? Of course in these situations, they’d need to keep even more things within reach. 

[00:08:19] Not everyone uses a standard bed. Sometimes a hospital bed is needed. What does the spouse or partner do in that case? Do they have to move their current bed into a different room? I would think they’d want to stay close or even sleep in the same bed. While many people opt for staying in a separate room, for other reasons: maybe snoring or maybe the other person moves too much, some people push the hospital bed and a regular bed together to make it feel like a regular bed. King size beds with split sides do offer adjustability and can do the trick too. 

[00:08:56] In the summer of 2019, we worked on a home design and I wanted to talk about the master bedroom that was a part of that design exercise. We had an interior design student named Brooke Thabit and she was our designer for this area of the home. She is now graduated, congrats, Brooke! And I do hope to have her on this podcast soon to share more about some of the work that she’s done in one of our episodes. 

[00:09:23] So back to her design. When we were designing this area of the home collaboratively, we wanted to make sure that anyone who lived in this home, disability or not, would feel comfortable in the master suite. Comfortable as in their needs would be met, but comfortable as in cozy, as well, like it would be a nice retreat for them. 

[00:09:46] In the show notes, I’ve shared a few pictures of the master bedroom. If you look in the image with the bed, you’ll see that there’s lots of floor space around the bed, on the sides, and at the foot of the bed. The bed shown is a King size bed and there’s plenty of room around the sides for someone to get in and out easily if they used a wheelchair or other mobility equipment. There’s also room for a caregiver to help and also room for a Hoyer lift.

[00:10:10] If people choose a smaller bed there would be even more room for these tasks. Or, if for some reason, the couple needs to sleep in two different beds, two different twins maybe, or a twin bed and a hospital bed, there’s room for that too. We also decided to put a bench at the end of the bed because some people might need to sit down to do some of their dressing tasks or to put on their shoes.

[00:10:33] In the second picture, you’ll see that on the opposite side of the room, we have a fireplace with a mantle and the TV over the mantle. And on either side of the fireplace, you’ll see floor to ceiling wardrobe units. We felt it was a really nice touch to have additional clothing storage in this area to keep items within reach but also behind closed doors so it wasn’t messy.  And if somebody didn’t want to go into the closet, they didn’t have to. They could also put a small chair in that area as well to make it cozy or have a nice little reading nook. 

[00:11:07] The closet door isn’t pictured here, but it is off to the right of the mirror in the second picture and if you look in the floor plan, there is a walk-in closet and you can see that there’s enough space to turn around for someone who uses mobility equipment, which is about five feet and we had all doors in this house at least to be a 32 inches minimum so it would be easy for someone to get in and out. This layout does provide great access to get clothing, room to move around the furniture. And it also has a great full-length mirror for someone to see the full length of their body. 

[00:11:44] So one of the things we’re really trying to do within our organization in the designs we create is to think through where furniture will go and how people utilize the room once they’re moved in. We are currently working with an architecture student named Bethany, on another home design and right now we are just discussing the layout of the home. Before we go into any of the details of each of the rooms, like what fixtures we’re going to put in the bathroom and things like that, we are just going to focus on the layout. And we aren’t just doing that with the perspective of physical disabilities, but we’re taking into account 24 different impairments or situations that could impact how someone can use the home. And in the show notes, I’ll put a link to what those 24  areas are.

[00:12:35] We do this because we feel like it helps us not miss anything important in regard to how anyone could use the home. That’s universal design, right? Making sure a wide variety of people can use a space easily. We want the home to look like other homes out there, but we want people to be able to look at the space and see it and think, Oh, wow, this worked so well for me and no matter what their life situation could be. 

[00:13:03] We have had to make sure there’s enough floor space and that the layout flows really well and that there’s enough room for people to complete their daily tasks. And like I said, we’re doing this prior to jumping into these little details.

[00:13:15] So for example, we started out with a really great floor plan, but our bedrooms were just a little small, and not every bathroom had enough space for someone to turn around in their wheelchair. And that was really important. Actually, one of our design advisors,  which I’m going to talk about a little bit in a minute, she says she uses a power chair and she says she has never found a house that she can completely do a circle in a bathroom in her power chair- she always gets stuck somewhere. So that’s obviously something that we want to consider. 

[00:13:46] So back to the design. We have to get these pieces correct. These major pieces of moving walls, making sure there’s enough floor space and the flow is good before we move forward in any of our design plans. We are also concerned about there being too many doors to open. Swinging doors can just take up a lot of room and can be difficult for some people to manipulate, to have to get around the door every time. So we are opting for some barn doors in specific places in the home to make things seem more open as well. 

[00:14:19] So once we get these pieces ironed out, we’re actually going to send this floor plan draft over to our design advisors and they’re a group of almost 90 people now who have direct experience with a disability or working with someone who does. And by running our plans through them, they can help us catch some of these things that we may have missed. This is a great way for checks and balances and learning from others who experience the frustration of a home that doesn’t fit well. And these people actually want to help us make things better. 

[00:14:51] By the way, if you are interested in volunteering as a design advisor, it’s pretty simple to apply. You should pop on over to our website at universaldesign.org/volunteer and learn more. There’s also an application to fill out there as well. So that is the end of today’s episode. I look forward to sharing more about Bethany’s project in future podcast episodes. But for now, I hope you learned a little bit more of how people use their bedrooms with a disability and why the design can really make a big difference in how comfortable and functional the room can be. So thanks for listening and I look forward to sharing more soon. Bye.


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