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Let there be light in busy decors

Published Oct. 8, 2005

(ran HP, HL editions)

Not everyone can bear the combinations of miniprints, stripes and gargantuan checks, flowers and plaids that seem to be all the rage these days. Such visual abundance can be overwhelming even in some high-ceilinged, traditionally detailed rooms _ which is where these busy displays used to be seen most frequently.

But what else is one to do in a setting that seems to beg for such a treatment?

It's difficult to imagine how the wing chairs shown in the photo could be made lovelier than with that colorful floral upholstery. And those dark wooden floors _ could there be any choice for them but an Oriental carpet?

But not every element here is treated in the predictable manner. Instead of the usual swag draperies and floor-length curtains, we see contemporary Conrad shades woven with natural grasses. This simplified window treatment gives the room a cleaner and crisper look while also helping to mute what might otherwise have been a cacophonous clash of patterns.

The wonderful architecture and detailing of a space like this can be complemented effectively without resorting to standard design solutions, such as the mixing of patterns.

For example, the walls, if painted, don't have to be glazed or given a faux treatment resembling some decorative texture. A straight paint job will be sufficient, preferably with the woodwork done in a lighter, contrasting color.

Paint can play an important and simplifying role in the window treatment as well. To eliminate the void of night as seen through a bare window, hang a set of recessed shutters that have been painted in the same color as the window frames. They will also permit a range of light control options during the daylight hours.

Look again at the photo and you will see that the floor-covering, too, is not exactly what would be expected. The designer of this space chose to emphasize the seating group by adding a small-sized Oriental rug, as opposed to a full carpet.

That selection is more in keeping with the room's uncomplicated background. By downplaying the floor-covering, the large-scale furniture and the tasteful accessories are permitted to retain their importance in the setting.

What we see here is a fine example of inventive design. It's clearly contemporary in its inspiration yet made up of a number of traditional furniture pieces, fabrics and accessories.

Wheelchair configuration

Question: I recently became a wheelchair user and will probably spend the rest of my life having to perform most tasks from this seated position. Cooking is one of my greatest loves, so I plan to be in the kitchen much of the time. What adjustments in the cabinetry, countertops and overall layout will be needed?

Answer: The planning process should begin with a review of how you usually prepare meals. First, the food is removed from the refrigerator or a cabinet. It is then usually washed in the sink, prepared at a counter, and cooked on the stove.

To make the entire process easier and more efficient, the sink should be placed between the refrigerator and stove, allowing at least 3 feet of counter space on either side of the sink. Note, too, that the optimal countertop height for a person in a wheelchair is generally 29 inches, including 2 inches for the normal thickness of a counter.

For a more sophisticated installation that can also serve a standing person, part of the counter can be outfitted with a motor to adjust the height.

In any event, you should consider installing slide-out shelves at various levels below the counter. They can be pulled out next to your wheelchair to give easy access to bowls and utensils while you are working at the stove or sink.

I would also recommend a smooth, heat-proof countertop so that pans can be slid from one side to another. Preferably, the surface will feature a texture-like pattern of some kind in order to conceal scratches. Granite would be ideal, but it's an expensive material that may not fit your budget. Alternately, many plastic laminate tops come in patterns that will camouflage all but the deepest and widest scratches.

The photograph shows a wheelchair-accessible sink manufactured by Kohler. It's actually more a work station than a simple sink. In addition to the convenient double basin, this unit includes a removable polyethylene cutting board, a colander and a drain board.

Because of the location of the attached plumbing, a wheelchair can glide right under the sink, making dish-washing as pleasant as it ever gets. The single lever faucet, with its pullout spray nozzle, also helps take the hassle out of most sink tasks.

Please note that my suggestions, especially those involving measurements, are meant as guidelines, not as specifications. The height of countertops, for instance, may vary depending on the length of your arm reach and your particular comfort level. Cushions placed on a wheelchair seat can also affect the desirable height of a countertop. Your own body size must, of course, be taken into account as well.