Workroom
The great workroom at The Johnson Wax Company, Frank LLoyd Wright

Designing for Age

By Kelly LaPlante

As a designer with 20 years under my belt, I’ve fashioned hundreds of areas for people to sit, recline, repose or otherwise take a load off. So as I’ve come across study after study, calling sitting “the new smoking” I can’t help but think: “Yikes! Am I the Philip Morris of furniture?!

Like in so many other facets of our daily lives, trends in interior design from 30 years ago are being challenged today, with some serious benefits to our longevity. Doctors and scientists are exhorting us to pay attention to the damage we’re doing to our health every time we sit for more than a brief period. Like smoking, said damage is irreversible — meaning that while exercise is still vitally important to your health, it will not undo the adverse effects (heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc.) that are linked to a sedentary lifestyle. Don’t believe me? Just do a quick internet search for “sitting, health studies” and follow the yellow brick road.

Outdated?

There are plenty of factors to consider if one wants to form an educated opinion, and not just take the research at face value. But in the interest of brevity, let me just say that I’ve factored in a healthy dose of cynicism and I’m still convinced that there are some things that are worth rethinking, specifically with regard to how I design spaces.

Currently, I’m working on the new HQ for a high stakes (high stress) organization. A large percentage of the employees sit at a desk all day. Consistent stress plus prolonged periods of sitting is a deadly combination, so I appropriated a massive portion of the budget to adjustable height desks, with the hope that employees will choose to stand for at least a portion of the day. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be inspired to put treadmill desks in the budget for the next office upgrade.

If chairs and sofas are cigarettes and cigars then the treadmill desk is a nicotine patch — not a perfect solution, but a major step in the right direction. You see, to be at our optimum, it’s not enough to just get off our seats, we need to be moving.

While we exist in the modern era, we’re starting to embrace the reality that our bodies function best if we behave like cavemen. We spent hundreds of thousands of years hunting, gathering, bending, stooping, jumping and running, so that’s what we’re designed to do. To help our bodies cope with our newish non-caveman activity levels, a couple of eye-opening trends are just on the horizon. Here are a couple I’m thinking about:

• I predict treadmills are going to become a bigger part of any activity that formerly required relative stillness. Mark my words: we are about to see a trend of home theaters (maybe even commercial theaters) outfitted with rows of treadmills, complete with popcorn holders.

• And why just walk when we can climb? I once had the privilege of working with renowned treehouse designer Roderick Romero on an almost-six-figure treehouse for an (adult) client. It was awesome. Not everyone gets excited about the idea of adults hanging out in trees, but, minimally, we can all start looking at the stairs in multi-level homes as an asset rather than obstacle.

• I think we’re also going to see some alternative eating positions. The jury is out on standing while eating; standing can make you eat faster, which can lead to overeating, but it’s easy enough to address this concern by not over-serving yourself. This morning I ate breakfast while walking around looking at the art on my walls. Pretending my living room was a gallery helped me slow my meal far more than sitting would’ve.

At lunch, I sat on the floor, criss-cross apple sauce, with a bowl of sweet potatoes in my lap. I actually like floor-sitting, but even if I didn’t, I might talk myself into it occasionally. Unlike chair- sitting, it requires some core strength. Also, it looks cool.

As for how I’ll atone for my years of slowly killing people with chairs, I’m generally placing less importance on spots to sit and more importance on spaces to move, like walking paths and pools. In instances where nothing but a chair will do, I’m encouraging things that swing, swivel or rock (like this little number I just talked a client into), because I figure some movement is better than none.