ADAPTATIONS - FURNITURE
Like most things in a world not designed for specific needs, finding furniture that functions as needed, is comfortable and looks good is just another challenge people with dwarfism encounter. Most people will try to modify furniture designed to fit a person of average size. This might include adding additional cushions, taking off the legs of the furniture or have an element added or nearby like a steel stool. Others prefer something that better fits their concerns and surroundings.
I have been a furniture designer for over 15 years and after seeing a TV special on people with dwarfism, I created a line of upholstered furniture specifically for people of short stature called Little People, Big Design. I met with people with dwarfism who told me of their concerns and problems with existing furniture and set out to design pieces that not only look stylish, but are also comfortable to sit in, will relieve and prevent pain, and give the user the dignity that they deserve.
Because the bodies of people with dwarfism are not the same proportion as average people, typical children’s furniture will still not fit them properly. The seats are still too high and too deep for most. Also, children’s furniture is not built to hold the weight of a grown adult with heavier bone and muscle mass, regardless of size. The look of children’s furniture will not suit the tastes of an adult and is an important factor to consider.
In furniture with a seat that is too high, people with dwarfism can experience numbness and poor circulation in the legs if the limbs are not supported. A low seat height (about 10” from the floor) or a footrest can help to relieve this problem and makes it possible to sit without having to climb into the piece of furniture.
Chair arms, that are higher that average, can accommodate the shorter upper limbs of little people. Yet in order to rest the elbows to read a book or sew, the chair arms also need to be closer to the body. If the body is wide, a wide flat top to the arm is useful and allows for the person to sit comfortably between the arms and still be able to reach them.
People with dwarfism have a center of gravity that is higher in the chest than average people, so leaning back can cause undue strain to the neck and shoulder muscles. I have learned to make furniture with straight backs to support the neck and alleviate the feeling of tipping backwards. The straight back and short seat depth prevents slouching, creates better posture, and leads to less back pain.
Another important aspect of designing furniture for people with dwarfism, is remembering that most of them have average height people in their families or as guests in their homes. When mixed company is seated, it is desirable to keep the eye level the same. A chair with an average seat height and a foot rest can accomplish that. Often, dining chairs are requested to sit at average height tables. I make them to match the other chairs at the table but with a short seat depth and a foot rest. This way, all the chairs look the same around the table. Once a person with dwarfism is seated, they are unable to plant their feet on the ground to move the chair closer to the table. I addressed this problem by designing a chair in which the seat slides forward, separately from the base.
People of short stature should be able to have the same options in furnishings as everyone else, made to their proportion and needs. By making furniture with short seat heights, shallow seat depths, straight backs, and tall arms, Little People, Big Design has found a few ways to help do this.
Little People, Big Design