Designing your home for your body type

We spend a lot of time thinking about pretty colors, fabrics, floor plans and budgets and all the other fun stuff that goes into designing or redecorating our homes. But, how often do we think about our body type? Huh? No, I am not talking about which colors will make us look slimmer or taller. I’m talking about how our height and body size should be taken into consideration when making big purchases. After all, we have to live here, don’t we? Now, naturally, if we live with others, as most do, there can be a big difference in body type from one person to the next. But, it’s an important aspect that often gets overlooked amidst all the other important details.

Julia Child in her kitchen body type

6’3″ Julia Child famously raised the height of her kitchen counters in her Cambridge, MA kitchen (now ensconced in the Smithsonian) to accommodate her size.

Julia Child Kitchen body type
Julia Child’s Kitchen
Linda Merrill design white kitchen new hampshire farmhouse counter heigh body type
Linda Merrill, designer | Michael J. Lee, photographer

In this antique farmhouse project I worked on in New Hampshire, my petite client, who loves to bake, opted for a lower space at the end of her center island. She did this so she could more easily roll out bread dough and other tasty treats.

Restoration Hardware Barclay sofa 42 inch body type

A few years ago, I was working on a living room project with a client and we went into Restoration Hardware to look at sofas. This Barclay sofa is lovely. But, it’s 42″ deep. This was when RH was doing truly over scale pieces that required cranes to get into their new homes. So, my client and I – both about 5’2″-  tried out this lovely English arm sofa.

Lily Tomlin Edith Ann body type

Yup. While the sofa would be comfy to lie down and nap on – with the entire family – it was ridiculously deep and uncomfortable to sit in. If we leaned back, our feat didn’t touch the ground, or we were perched on the edge. Not good.

Now, you might be thinking – well, my partner and I have a completely different body type. He’s tall, I’m short – what to do? As with everything – it’s all about compromise. Perhaps instead of a 42″ sofa, you select 36-38″ and add some larger, plump pillows for the shorty in the family to lean back against. I recently had clients who don’t particularly like throw pillows and actually didn’t want any on their new sectional. But when shopping, I pointed out that while she is tall and most sofa and chair depths would be comfortable for her, she probably has friends (including her petite daughter) who would appreciate a little boost that a well-placed pillow would provide.

Linda Merrill design chandelier pink dining room
Linda Merrill, design

How high to hang a chandelier over a table is always a big question. General rule of thumb is about 30″ off the top of a table for best lighting. But, in the case of the room above (sorry, I don’t have a better photo!) we installed this gorgeous antique French crystal and bronze chandelier more like 40″ over the table. The reason was because my lovely client K. is nearly 6′ tall and she didn’t want to feel like she was looking down on the fixture.

Designing for body type not only includes height but it also includes width. And let’s face it, we’re all over the map when it comes to body size these days. So, for those who don’t know me, I’m a “person of size” which is a vaguely PC way of saying that my tush takes up more than its fair share of space.

Kari McIntosh Dawdy interior design John Merkl photography dining room spanish revival leather chairs body type
Kari McIntosh Dawdy, designer | John Merkl photographer via Traditional Home

A few months ago, this lovely dining room, in the home of designer Kari McIntosh Dawdy, was featured in Traditional Home magazine. TH featured this room as a pin of the day on Facebook. This room wasn’t to everyone taste, though I really like it and her whole house. But, I couldn’t help notice that the gorgeous leather chairs look narrow. Very, very narrow. It could be an optical illusion, of course. But I’d be really embarrassed if I was sitting down to dine only to not fit comfortably, or at all, in the chairs. Many dining chairs have arms, but they often have open sides, which allows for a little extra space. Of course, I’m not suggesting everyone’s homes should accommodate the needs of my body type. But I am saying that it might make sense to give it a thought.

Larger sizes also effect wear and tear on furnishings as well. Cheaper chairs and sofas (hello, IKEA) may not hold up well under the extra weight that a heavy, or simply a very big and tall person. I once had a client who was average height but she was fairly slim. She ended up buying a less expensive sectional for her tv room because she wouldn’t have added undue stress to the piece. But a larger person would probably find that the same frame is sagging over time.

Linda Merrill design Michael J Lee photo New Hampshire farmhouse kitchen body type
Linda Merrill, design | Michael J. Lee, photographer

Going back to my farmhouse project, my client ordered these beautiful custom-made Windsor chairs from Windsor Chairmakers in Maine. My short client had them make the legs a little shorter which made the sit easier and more comfortable for her. But, I also wanted to point out that wood chairs such as these with stretchers receive a lot of pressure when a larger, heavier person is sitting on them. The downward pressure pushes the legs outward in all directions (hence the addition of the stretchers). Now, this wasn’t a concern for these clients and these are very well-made chairs which are structurally very sound. But, chairs of lesser quality in this style will eventually loosen up and the stretchers will pull out of their holes, causing the legs to splay even more. This effect can be mitigated by using a rug underneath, which holds the legs “in place” better. But place a cheaper chair on a slippery wood or tile floor with no “grip” and gravity and downward pressure will take its toll.

Anyway, I could go on and on about how height and weight – body type – effects how comfortable we are in our furnishings and how well they hold up. There was the time I was at a spa in Bermuda and almost drowned in a soaking tub because my feet didn’t reach the end and I accidentally kicked off the removable foothold. That was embarrassing!

Do you have any stories of how different body types effect your design decisions?

xoxo Linda Would you like my Favorite Tips for a Well-Decorated Home? Click here!

1 thought on “Designing your home for your body type

  1. oh you know I have to weigh in on this (and every other post you write – wink). Once I went into a furniture store with my 6’4″ husband – he’s not fat, very athletic and just tall – and the sales guy jumped on us immediately and said “hey, do I have a sofa for you!”. He grabbed our hand and took us to one of those U.G.L.Y. (and if you have one out there, that’s my opinion, sorry but true) overly poofy leather recliner sofa, You know the one with the handle on the sides and the pillow ends AND the beer holders (as God is my witness!). Guess what? I was mortified that this guy would even THINK that I would have a sofa in my house like that and we immediately walked out with me exclaiming “you just missed a sale”. We have a regular sofa, not too small and not to big in our family room. My husband sits there and, when he wants to put his feet up, there’s an ottoman available in the room. That’s it – period! Just because a man is tall does not mean he sits unshaven wearing a baseball cap in a recliner all day – although my husband does like a good bottle of cold Corona on the weekends but he puts it on the end table between sips. He does not need a built-in beer holder! Hope you don’t mind me sharing. Great article too and oh so true. But if you’re a furniture salesman be careful “judging” your customers.

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