Designing for Sensory Issues

(Clockwise, from top left):
1. Teardrops Capiz Chandelier / CB2 2. Blush Pillow / CB2 3. Woven Area Rug / World Market 4. Baies Hourglass Diffuser / Dyptique

If you or more likely, your child, have sensory issues (sensitivity to light, sound, touch, etc.) you’ve no doubt done all the research and have a weighted blanket, sensory table, and fidgets galore to prove it. What you may not have considered, however, is how the very basic elements of home design can be modified to create an environment that is both soothing and functional for the entire family.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and spend thousands of dollars to modify all aspects of your living space to suit your sensory-challenged family member. If you happen to be planning a remodel, however, or are up for a little weekend DIY, then these suggestions could end up paying dividends in a calmer, more cohesive home.

1. Sight: To some the flick of a switch can set off sensory alarm bells. Going from darkness to full on light may be overwhelming to some, so an easy trick is to install dimmers….everywhere. When I was growing up, we had precisely one dimmer–on the dining room chandelier. Now, in every house I design I specify Lutron Diva dimmers for every switch except small closets and basement storage rooms both for their high-end look, and ease of use.
2. Sound: The kitchen is by far the noisiest room in the house, what with the whir of appliances, clatter of dishes, and constant chatter that comes from being the family hub. A few low-cost solutions are to use placemats to absorb the sounds of dishes and glasses hitting the table, silicone bumpers on the inside of cabinet doors, flateweave area rugs to soften footsteps and muffle voices, felt or plastic glides to quiet screeching chair legs. If you’re remodeling, now is the time to specify an ultra-quiet garbage disposal, dishwasher, and–most importantly–exhaust fan. If you’re not remodeling, break out the manuals for your existing oven and microwave. Most newer models have mute functions so the kitchen is beep-free!
3. Touch: If you’re buying new furniture make sure the sensitive one in your family gets to feel the fabric first and ideally sit on it with bare legs. Though different touch sensations affect people in different ways, in general scratchy fabrics like tweeds, mohair and sticky fabrics like leather or vinyl could cause issues. Fabrics that generally delight the senses like velvet, microfiber, silk, or viscose are probably safe bets.
4. Smell: I’m a huge fan of essential oil diffusers for their ability to unobtrusively permeate a scent throughout a space. I eschew the tacky plug-in (and light-up) variety in favor of elegant glass and metal versions like this one by Diptique. Though pricey, you’re getting a two-for-one: a fabulous smelling home and a beautiful objet d’art!

What tips do you have for creating a sense of calm at home?


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A collection of my current design obsessions, Shop Chic Home is the place to get professional design advice, inspiration, and the know-how you need to take your home from bleak to chic. Let's go shopping! -Bethany Adams, NCIDQ Founder and Creative Director... read more

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