All the Comforts of Home

BY DAN RAFTER ON MARCH 7TH, 2016

Countless studies have shown that too much sitting, especially in an office setting, is bad for a person’s health, which is why ergonomics remains a hot trend in the workplace. More and more companies are designing their office furniture and arranging employee workspaces to increase the comfort levels of workers. This may take the form of chairs with better back support, proper lighting and the height of desks. After all, many people spend eight hours or more at work, often sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. Comfort is key to productivity.

But what about at home? In fact, ergonomics – the science of designing and arranging things that people use to be efficient and safe – is just as important at home as in the office. When ergonomic principles are applied to design living spaces, people will be left with fewer bad backs, aching necks and other maladies.

“The disconnect between home and work often occurs because we don’t realize just how much physical work we actually complete at home,” says Carla Jaspers, a designer and ergonomics consultant for Ergo Concepts. “Workplace tasks are often somewhat repetitive over a span of eight hours, while tasks completed at home tend to be much more varied and dynamic and sometimes more physically taxing. The exertion required for activities of daily living and home maintenance can be intense.”

Because of this, therapists and designers have plenty of suggestions for small ergonomic steps that people can take to make their residences more comfortable.

Kitchen Comfort

With more families spending quality time in the kitchen, it’s a good place to start amping up the comfort factor. Christopher Lowell, celebrity interior designer, points to kitchen counters as a prime example. Most counters today are too low, he says, causing homeowners to bend over too far when chopping vegetables or even while sitting at stools and eating their breakfast. Lowell says that by raising countertops just two inches higher than is conventional, contractors can leave residents with a kitchen that requires far less bending. This, in turn, places less strain on their shoulders and backs.

For renters or homeowners whose counters are already built, Lowell recommends that they somehow elevate their cutting boards by two inches, even if it means balancing it on a cookbook.

“You’ll be surprised at the difference it can make,” Lowell says.

Kelly Cleveland, owner of Kelly Cleveland Interiors in Oak Park, Illinois, says that homeowners who improperly store heavy pots and pans in their kitchens can develop back or neck problems, too.

That’s why she recommends storing heavy kitchen items – everything from large bowls and plates to cumbersome appliances – in cabinets that have pull-out drawers or pull-out shelving. This way, items can be easily lifted out of storage spaces without straining back, leg or arm muscles.

Take it to Task

Lowell recommends placing gel mats in kitchens or in master bathrooms in front of the sinks. These mats are basically an area rug runner filled with gel. They’re aesthetically pleasing, but even more importantly, they cushion the feet and relieve back strain in areas where people stand in one place for a long period of time.

Non-Office Chairs

Dining or kitchen table chairs can also be an ergonomic nightmare. Quite simply, they’re often too hard. Lowell suggests that homeowners first purchase a dining room or kitchen table without also buying the set of chairs that goes with them. Instead, homeowners can purchase fully upholstered high-back dining or kitchen table chairs that are far more comfortable. Again, this will reduce the strain on the back over time.

Time to Relax

It’s possible for people to tweak their back muscles when they stretch to turn off table lamps while lying in bed, too. As a solution, Lowell recommends dimmers that can be set on bedside tables well within reach.

“These practices are good for both the aging population who want to stay in their homes longer as well as the younger population to prevent unnecessary injury,” Cleveland says.

These injuries can happen even when people think they’re in a relaxing position. While it’s tempting to come home from a long day of work and collapse into an easy chair or sofa, if these pieces of furniture aren’t designed properly, they can strain muscles.

For instance, Jaspers says that too many love seats and sofas sit too close to the floor. This makes it difficult for people to lift themselves from these seats. A better choice is furniture that is higher off the ground. In general, the angle of a person’s knees when in a sitting position should not be less than 90 degrees. Otherwise, people are sitting on a surface that is too low for their height.

“The extremes of the population are already very aware of the benefit of ergonomics,” Jaspers says. “For example, tall people – over six feet – have difficulty functioning in a kitchen with low counters.”

Jaspers says that she expects more people to pay attention to ergonomics in living spaces in the future.

 

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