Safety in the home and in the workplace has become a new specialty topic in interior design—one geared to enhance comfort, peace of mind and assurance that physical harm is less likely to occur to yourself or to someone you love, or to someone you either are responsible for or depend on. Creating a safe environment is the result of design awareness from the blueprint stage through to thoughtful and informed redecorating, retrofitting or making changes to a home or building.
WINDOW AND WINDOW COVERING SAFETY
Window coverings professionals are generally aware of the potential danger to young children who accidentally become entangled and strangled in window cords. October has been designated as window treatment safety month for several years already, and year round the Window Covering Safety Council offers consumers information and free retrofitting devices for addressing potential cord hazards on older window treatments at (800) 506-4636 or online at www.windowcoverings.org.
Also, the last full week of April is designated as National Window Safety Week by the National Safety Council; www.nsc.org. These efforts are aimed more at safety precautions involving the actual window rather than the window coverings, but still there are areas pertaining to interior decorating that should be addressed by those working in our industry.
Simonton Windows, a manufacturer of windows and patio doors based in Parkersburg, WV, offers these safety tips:
• Keep furniture (including cribs), or anything children can climb, away from windows. In areas prone to active children or potential crime, select tempered safety glass, at least for the first floor of the home. Two panes of glass are adhered to a durable plastic interlayer. If the glass is hit, it will shatter, but broken pieces adhere to the interlayer preventing glass fallout inside the home. The plastic interlayer is also puncture-resistant, frustrating potential intruders.
• Practice safety drills regularly. Small children tend to hide from fire or danger, so make sure children are familiar with escape routes and know how to move quickly out of the home.
Safety escape chain ladders should be under beds in upper levels. Practice operating windows with older children and show them how to install chain ladders.
• When windows are opened for ventilation, only open windows that young children cannot reach. Ventilation locks allow windows to be partially opened for fresh air while remaining securely locked.
• Having second floor windows open can present a risk to children and pets. In these areas of the home, consider a top sash that opens down while the bottom sash (closest to the floor) remains closed. Before ordering windows, make sure to examine the unit’s locking system and operations. Multi-point locks provide more protection against intruders and make it more difficult for curious young children to operate.
Window screens are designed only to keep insects outside; they will not support the weight of a child or family pet. The Screen Manufacturer’s Association, (www.smacentral.org) offers a "Kids Can’t Fly" program to educate users that screens are not designed to keep small children inside the home.
Manufacturers of window film also note that safety film can help keep glass shards from scattering into an interior. Film (see www.vista-films.com) also offers health benefits by reducing glare and ultraviolet light.
SAFETY ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE
For designers and decorators, safety goes beyond the windows and furnishings and has become an important issue throughout a building. There are three main reasons for this:
1. Legislation and litigation
2. An aging yet relatively healthy population
3. Increased lifespan and function of those with limitations and disabilities.
Here are some areas a proactive decorator should become informed about in order to offer the very best services to his or her clients:
• The ADA—The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed into law in 1990 and became effective in 1992. This civil rights legislation made possible the safe accessibility to all public spaces and buildings in the United States. The result has been a benefit to all; every interior that meets the criteria is safer for all users.
The ADA has brought to our attention the need for safety for people of all ages. As the Baby Boomer population ages, more people will become limited in their abilities to walk, see, hear and be physically limber, strong and active, so that the ADA will have increased benefit to a larger population as time passes.
In addition, many who may have succumbed to illnesses in the past may now enjoy a longer life through medical breakthroughs, living independently or with some assistance in a safe environment where careful planning is a part of the design process.
Much more information on complying with ADA or helping clients live more comfortably in their homes, visit www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm.
• Universal Design Equals Safe Design—Universal Design was a phrase coined by Ron Mace, a talented architect who also faced disabilities. His premise was that all design should be easy to use for the widest possible marketplace, not just, as he said, “the six-foot able-bodied male in the prime of life.”
His influence has been broadly felt and information has become widely available, such as that found on these Web sites: ; www.universaldesign.com; www.udeducation.org; and www.aarp.org/families/home_design.
Universal design is now viewed as having all aspects of architecture and furnishings be user-friendly. Universal design is safe design for all—from the size of the lettering on thermostats to the ease of window treatment operation to the opening of doors with levers rather than difficult-to-turn knobs. Universal design ensures fewer accidents and demands less physical effort to communicate and operate home appliances and products. Another term that is sometimes used is transgenerational design, meaning that the design of the building and its interior components work well through the life span, from the youngest user to the oldest user.
• Senior-friendly—As our population ages population ages, most have a great desire to stay in their own homes. Today, 83 percent of older Americans voice the desire to stay in their current homes for the rest of their lives, according to a housing survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
Forecasting indicates that by 2020 there may not be enough affordable senior housing, meaning that more people will, of necessity, stay in their homes, and so safety will become a priority for all. At home, seniors feel comfort, security and independence. They are familiar with their surroundings and find convenience at home.
Lead designer Davis Remignanti, www.furniture.com, suggests that for seniors living at home—on their own or with their families—making the right interior design and furnishing decisions can go a long way towards achieving a friendlier, safer and more enjoyable living environment. To help create a more senior friendly home, Remignanti suggests the following practical home decorating ideas:
• For many seniors who live with their family, the bedroom is often their only personal space. Customize furnishings to create a personal sanctuary for one’s privacy, hobbies and memorabilia. Choose a bed that offers easy access (onto and off) along with appropriate support and comfort.
• Clear away items—such as small home accessories, plants, magazine racks—that clutter pathways or require individuals to walk around to avoid. Accommodate wheelchairs or walkers by allowing at least 36 inches between objects.
• Ease eyestrain with plenty of lighting. Areas to be used for detailed work, such as reading and hobbies, require additional task lighting. Generally, place wall switches to control lighting at room entry points.
• Provide adequate, easily accessible storage that doesn’t require reaching, bending or straining. Choose dressers and wardrobes with large or D-loop handles that don’t require fine finger dexterity. Many children’s dressers feature easy-rolling guides and built-in safety stops.
• Create a seated work area for food preparation tasks. Dedicate a small table and chair in a comfortable location as a workplace, with nearby access to utensils.
• Select dining chairs that provide good back support and have strong, sturdy arms. Seat cushioning adds comfort, but should be securely fitted to the chair.
• To assist with visibility, consider home furnishings in hues that contrast against their backgrounds. To open-up and enliven small spaces, consider whites, light neutral colors, blues, greens and light violet as wall colors to help rooms appear larger.