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How Mainstream Brands Are Making Furniture Accessible for All

COPD Basics

March 15, 2024

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Photography by Westend61/Getty Images

Photography by Westend61/Getty Images

by Chloe Curtis

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

•••••

by Chloe Curtis

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

•••••

In 2023, Pottery Barn launched its Accessible Home range, offering furniture designed with disabilities in mind. It’s another step toward democratizing design in the mainstream.

Creating inclusive products is all the rage — and so it should be.

In 2017, Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty and took the beauty industry by storm. It’s become synonymous with a more inclusive beauty image, offering its iconic foundation in a much broader range of colors to include darker tones that have been historically harder to come by.

In 2019, Selena Gomez founded Rare Beauty, producing beauty products designed with accessibility in mind, including unique shapes to make them grip-friendly.

The fashion industry is also creating new trends, offering greater size ranges with inclusivity in mind.

“Adaptive fashion” has been used to describe clothing that caters to different needs. Tommy Hilfiger is one of the leading global designers to invest in this approach. There are also smaller companies, like Unhidden, who are founded with this mission in mind.

So, what about the furniture industry? In 2023, Pottery Barn launched its Accessible Home range. Other mainstream brands like IKEA, Target, and Walmart also offer their own lines, making products for those living with disabilities more visible and accessible.

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What are some of the current challenges?

“It’s difficult in general to find options in stores, so it means you have no other option than to shop online. Shopping online can be tricky because you don’t get to test it out to see if it will work for your situation or space.”

Alexis Rochester, diagnosed with RA in 1997

Searching the web for accessible furniture isn’t always easy. It can be a bit of a minefield, which is quite a blight for the 1 in 4 Americans who live with a disability.

There are options, but you often have to know what you’re looking for, which can be its own challenge.

Once you find the right product, it might be costly — and with fewer companies offering a range of options, they might have a monopoly on price.

With a lack of options, they don’t always appear very fashion-forward or “Instagram-able”. It feels like entering the medical world of furniture “aids” rather than the dream home one might hope for.

A democratizing of design is needed — for varying bodily needs, price ranges, and aesthetics.

“I have struggled, and still struggle, with accessible furniture. Personally, I have difficulty opening and closing drawers or cabinets on furniture and getting in and out of reclining chairs.”

Stefanie Remson, diagnosed with RA in 2015

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Pottery Barn’s Accessible Home range

In 2023, Pottery Barn launched its Accessible Home range, which includes more than 150 of its best-selling home furnishings reimagined to better suit people living with disabilities. This meant some products received small tweaks, while others might have needed overhauling.

The products include power lift armchairs, rotating desks suitable for wheelchair access, platform beds, pivot mirrors that adjust for different heights, grab bars in different styles and materials … the list goes on.

The motivation behind this line is laudable. Marta Benson, the brand’s president, discovered that no Pottery Barn products were used in their public bathrooms as they were not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). She wanted this to change and collaborated with experts to design products that would serve more needs.

Pottery Barn also boasts an Accessible Collection for their kids range, designed for students with disabilities. It’s a small range, featuring backpacks and desks, but it has been made with needs and style in mind.

As one might expect from Pottery Barn, these products are incredibly stylish and open up wish lists and dream boards for a whole new host of communities.

Representation matters, and seeing designs for disabled communities advertised in such a stylized manner is a far cry from other offerings.

IKEA’s OMTÄNKSAM and ThisAbles range

Back in 2020, IKEA launched their OMTÄNKSAM range, designed for those with different functional needs. It was developed with ergonomists, physiotherapists, and researchers to help add extra comfort, support, and functionality to their products.

A year prior, in 2019, IKEA Israel also created ThisAbles, which features “add-ons” to currently available furniture.

These are quite literally products that can be added to furniture to make them more user-friendly. These add-ons are open access, meaning anyone can download the design free of cost and get it 3D printed for themselves anywhere in the world, or in any IKEA store.

These designs include sofa-elevating legs to make it easier to stand up, special handles for closets, and enlarged button replacements for easy lighting. IKEA’s ThisAbles, similar to the Pottery Barn range, chose to adapt already existing popular furniture to make it accessible for all.

But roughly 4 years on since both of these IKEA projects, it’s hard to find any information about either of them online. In fact, the only OMTÄNKSAM product currently available to buy on IKEA US is a shoehorn … ThisAbles also seems almost nonexistent, with their open access designs difficult to find.

Nevertheless, these were truly looking to democratize design at a low cost to the consumer, by a very popular retailer.

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Target, Michael Graves, and Design For All

In 1997, Target worked with Michael Graves to launch Design For All. Not only furniture, but this initiative included other household items that were designed for universality.

You can learn more about Target’s approach to design since this initiative in a documentary they produced of the same name.

Michael Graves is one designer who has been prioritizing universal design for some time, working with many mainstream brands to bring greater visibility and accessibility for inclusive products.

A current collaboration with CVS focuses on bathroom products.

Many other products designed with all in mind are also available online from Michael Graves Design.

Sensory-friendly stores and products at Target and Walmart

Companies have also started to create sensory-friendly products and environments.

For example, Target offers a range of sensory-friendly furniture and décor designs for kids, and Walmart now offers sensory-friendly hours in their stores from 8–10 a.m.

For those who are more prone to experience sensory overload, such as those living with anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), leaving the house and entering new environments, such as large retail stores with many people, products, and music, can be difficult.

These sensory-friendly products and environments might encourage a more inclusive shopping experience.

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Resources for finding the right furniture

While furniture can be designed to meet ADA guidelines, there are no certifications to identify a product as ADA-compliant. So, it can be hard to know where to find the right products, or know what the right products even are.

You might not know that your furniture could be a better design until you see it. This is why furniture lines from mainstream brands are so important — with products in store to try, and online to view and access.

When looking online, it can help to use keywords like “mobility” or “accessible” along with the product you’re searching. A number of different phrases are also used to describe accessible furniture, such as universal design, inclusive design, or democratizing design.

Asking others who live with disabilities can often be the greatest and most reliable source of information. If you’re part of a condition community or know others that have adaptive furniture, see whether they have any recommendations.

Finding a way forward with accessible furniture

Just as finding a darker shade of makeup foundation is becoming the norm, and discovering a larger range of clothing sizes is expected of more retailers, accessible furniture is becoming a feature of more design initiatives.

It’s amazing to see more and more mainstream companies offer functional and accessible furniture designs. Some have introduced new products altogether, and some, like Pottery Barn, have adapted their most popular ranges to provide for more communities.

Perhaps you’ve been finding all the furniture you need at a cost and style that works for you? Let us know!

*All quotes were shared with permission.

Medically reviewed on March 15, 2024

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About the author

Chloe Curtis

Chloe Curtis is a freelance editor for Bezzy. She’s a PhD Medical Anthropology student at the University of Oxford, specializing in women’s and reproductive health. She’s inspired by her surroundings and loves to travel and explore, visiting unique museums, art galleries, and fashion houses whenever possible.

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