This week on my occasional series of conversations with lovely people who have made some adaptations in their home to deal with a disability I’m talking to Harri from Home Wasn’t Built in a Day. A self confessed lover of travel and design, Harri’s page is full of interesting, unusual and inspiring images, art, culture, interiors, design and more. Harri is also incredibly supportive to me and my blog and she’s full of great advice and ideas when it comes to accessibility and design in the home.
WCH: What’s your name and where do you live?
Harri: I’m Harri Radburn-Brown and I’m based in Berkshire, UK.
WCH: What sort of home do you have?
Harri: I live in a 1960’s detached Bungalow, is there any other kind for disabled people in this country?!
WCH: Can you share a little more about the disabled person in your home?
Harri: In my early 20’s I started to lose strength in my legs and eventually it spread to my whole body. It came along with relentless pain like I’d never felt before. It began the journey of endless tests and hospital visits.
I’m now under Pain management and walk with 2 walking sticks. At the moment my house is designed to help me get about without my wheelchair, and I get away with only using it outside the house, but that is not likely to always be the case. If my condition has taught me anything, it’s that you are constantly adapting.
WCH: How does this disability impact your home?
Harri: When we moved into the house I was perfectly healthy, so I was using the bathroom handles from the previous tenant as towel racks instead of hoists!
They quickly became invaluable and were soon being used properly to help me get in and out of the bath. I soon added a bath board to help with showering and washing. An absolute “must have” for any accessible bathroom! As well as being able to sit whilst showering, it helps you stay at sitting height which makes it easier to stand.
The rest of the house has definitely had to change and adapt with me, but this is where I find design and a few smart purchases have made the difference.
WCH: How do you incorporate or disguise the adaptations and equipment into your home?!
Harri: Ok, so makers of mobility and disability aids seem desperate to get “Ugly” into our homes! I was not about to let an under-bed brown hospital table make itself at home in my house! So with some paint and pretty paper I used decoupage to blend it into my style and décor. (WCH – see if you can spot it in the photo!)
WCH: Do you have any great tips for furniture buying, room design or planning that helps with the disability?
Harri: There are some incredible upcyclers and upholsterers out there to help you bring any piece of adaptable furniture into your own scheme. You needn’t compromise on your own style. (WCH: The picture below is a table upcycled by Harri)
Of course, with a little research you will also find some pieces on the high street that will work just as well as ones from medical care sites.
One I always recommend putting effort into is finding the right sofa or armchair. Consider how easy it is to get in and out of, as well as proper back support.
WCH: What’s been the trickiest thing to deal with in the home to make it accessible?
Harri: My biggest nemesis when walking is wide open space! That’s not true, my biggest nemesis is stairs, but open space is a close second!
Of course, this is the complete opposite to when I am in my wheelchair, so designing for a disability must be tailored to the person’s individual needs. For me at the moment having furniture, doors or work surfaces to cling on to help me get about the space, so these are positioned a few steps from another.
This means I can use my furniture to work for me, but think sturdy! If you’re going to go down, the last thing you want is a flimsy shelving unit on top of you! Just pop these away from walkways or where you’re likely to grab for support.
WCH: What would you say to an architect or interior designer to help them in designing an accessible space?
Harri: When I am in my wheelchair it is amazing how poorly accessible “accessible” spaces are. A lot of adaptations are after thoughts or patch jobs. So for architects wanting to design a truly accessible house it’s so important that they talk to their client about their individual needs.
As I say, at the moment I am “supported walking” but there is the likelihood of wheelchair use in the future, so design with your clients future needs in mind too.
Just some of the things to be considered are things like turning space for a wheelchair. Often an accessible bathroom is placed at an awful angle in a tight hallway, making a 10 point turn necessary to get in.
Door widths are another pain in my posterior! A doorway should be designed to allow room for both the wheelchair and the wheelchair user’s arms!
A small point I would consider when designing my own space would be how difficult it can be to open and shut doors whilst in a wheelchair, it seems a door is always out of reach and then further out of reach. As most people can’t afford automatic doors all over their house, I would choose open plan living and door free archways to minimise cost, and rooms needing more privacy to have sliding doors. Sliding door tracks are easy to source now and if you are limiting your need for doors, I would invest the money in doors you love.
For me, I love rustic barn doors put together with scraps of wood. The internet has provided us with some talented craftsmen and women who can do this for you.
WCH: Any other info you’d like to share that I haven’t covered?
Harri: I’d like to reassure those designing or adapting their homes that they needn’t buy into the belief that the “beige hospital” look is your only option. Fab places like Wheel Chic Home are championing change and you are amongst many creative warriors who are here to offer tips and advice to make your home your haven.
WCH: I’m blushing here, as I said at the top Harri is always supportive of me and my blog and I’m always happy for support! Thank you to Harri for her time in chatting with me and giving out such great advice.
Note: All photos courtesy of Harri.