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?
Well, we closed on our new house just over a week ago, so I guess it’s time to start planning. Just kidding! I’ve spent the last 6 weeks measuring, drawing new home plans, drawing more new home plans, measuring, visiting stone-yards, measuring, drawing plans, pricing out 6 different kitchen cabinet lines, drawing plans, and – oh, did I mention measuring?
Where to Start with New Home Plans
First off, let me tell you that the house–like most fixer-uppers–was an absolute steal. However, the fact that it needs all new systems, a new porch roof, major landscaping, exterior painting, new rear siding, etc. means that we’re on a very tight budget both inside and out. That being said, I started this project like I do all projects: by letting my imagination run wild. I draw the house like it could be if I had an unlimited budget. I don’t bother with pesky things like plumbing chases, and HVAC duct work.
Not everybody works this way, so I’m not necessarily recommending this practice. I know some architects and designers find the inevitable return to reality to be much too crushing to proceed with anything but absolute caution. I, however, find that the liberation of the exercise usually leads to some exciting design possibilities that I probably wouldn’t have found if I had reined myself in early on.
After imagining the best scenario for the house, I went back – measuring tape in hand – and looked at the space. I looked at where the plumbing and duct-work ran. Then I looked at the view from each window and noted exactly where the electrical outlets were. I made honest assessments of what could change, and what really couldn’t and then went back and edited my drawings. I did this probably 20 times and the result is a plan that makes sense for my family. The new home plans also make sense for the architecture of the house. It also makes sense for our budget, which, in the end, is probably the most important consideration.
I’ll be unveiling the final plans shortly, so check back soon!