Based on our project experiences, industry research and, perhaps most importantly, numerous post-occupancy evaluations over the years, we have developed very specific guidelines for our designers to reference when making seating selections. These considerations, designed primarily to support older consumers, can be useful for a wide range of commercial applications such as restaurants, medical office waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and other public spaces.
Embracing the concept of universal design to accommodate individuals with temporarily or permanently reduced abilities often results in more comfortable, inviting and user-friendly spaces for all. For example, our designers primarily specify seating with arms since this makes it easier for an elderly person who may have diminished mobility and upper body strength to get up from the chair. Most people, not just seniors, find chairs with arms easier to “exit.” Likewise, a back recline from the seat of less than 100 degrees is typically comfortable for people of all ages.
The first consideration when selecting seating is the dimensions. Public spaces are not the place for overstuffed or oversized chairs that can be difficult to get in or out of and are often tempting for young children to climb. However, it’s important to note that it is also a good idea to specify 10 to 20% of seating in bariatric sizes which are different from what we’re showing here.
Pull up a Chair
Especially in dining venues where chairs are moved constantly, it’s critical to specify the appropriate glides based on the flooring types. We recommend casters, preferably two in the front, on carpeted surfaces to aid in moving chairs in and out. Cross-support stretchers between legs provide stability and help prevent the legs from loosening due to the constant pushing and pulling by diners.
The seat should be removable for ease of cleaning and made of a firm foam material rather than using down fills. Supportive cushions prevent the bottom of the seat from sinking much lower than the height of the occupant’s knee to maintain comfort and ease of mobility when exiting the chair. There are a wide range of moisture-resistant fabrics available to provide the desired durability and easy care without compromising comfort or aesthetics.
Perhaps the most important universal design consideration when making seating selections is recognizing the one size will never fit all. Therefore a variety of options should be provided whenever possible. For The Harvest Table at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, Pennsylvania we incorporated seven types of seating options. This includes traditional two and four-top tables, a 12-seat farmhouse table, traditional booth seating, banquette seating, circular booths and comfortable “hip-height” bar stools at the ice cream counter. And that’s not even counting the comfortable chairs and sofa by the fireplace leading into The Harvest Tables or the café tables along the main street corridor.
Some good resources that provide more information on this topic are: Beautiful Universal Design: A Visual Guide by Cynthia A. Leibrock and James Evan Terry and Residential Design for Aging in Place by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas.
Derek Perini, IIDA, Senior Interior Designer, has 17 years of experience providing interior design solutions that support the needs of those with physical challenges. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a jury member for the Environments for Aging Design Showcase and a grader for the International Interior Design Association, National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.