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Maria Montessori and Universal Design

My husband and I welcomed a very special Mother's Day gift this year; our son, Oliver Lincoln was born on May 12! This hopefully explains why I've been quite neglectful in posting, but pregnancy and parenting reintroduced some design philosophies to our new lives- namely universal design.

Universal design is intended to be any design flexible for use by people of all ages, sizes, and abilities. Pregnancy was a huge reminder to me to think about all potential users when designing, because I had no idea how much for granted I took my usual physical abilities. Universal design means, in practice, that hazards are minimized, low physical effort should be required for essential operations (like opening a door), information is communicated clearly, use is equitable and flexible, and that there is enough space for users of differing abilities to maneuver freely.

(My biggest pet peeve in commercial design is lack of wayfinding. If you're having trouble figuring out where to go in a building, or even if the door is push or pull, that's the designer's fault, not yours. There should be signs- pictorial, verbal, and tactile) and maybe even colors directing you to where you need to go, and the layout should be intuitive. Or if a door has a vertical handle and you're supposed to push it, don't feel stupid when you pull instead!)

Nursery Mood Board

With my background in design, when planning Oliver's room, I was drawn to the Montessori approach, mostly because I appreciated how some of the philosophy related to universal design in its focus on the end user of a space- a kid!

In Montessori rooms, furniture is child-sized, art is placed low on the walls- within a kid's range of vision, toy shelves are accessible, and beds are on the floor to foster independence.

Acrylic Nursery Bookshelf

In adapting the Montessori philosophy for our family and home, our version of universal design meant we do have artwork at adult eye level, but we also used acrylic shelves along the base trim for Oliver's books and art cards for him to see and access independently of us.

His toy shelf is two-tiered, so the toys he will like when he's younger are on the bottom, while things he may need to grow into are on the top row, just out of reach for now. (Please forgive the crummy images- they were works in progress and taken on my old phone!)

We have a dresser for his clothes that will take too much force for him to open, so it's for things adults will access. When he's old enough, we'll have an open wardrobe within his reach so that he can dress himself, and hopefully put his own clothes away.

We do have a floor bed for him, though we're not full Montessori and he's still in his Nuna Sena (a design-lover favorite, because it's gorgeous, but also Oeko-Tex certified) in our room for now. He does do well with his floor bed at daycare though! We also still have an adult-sized glider in his bedroom for feeding him or reading to him, but once he's mobile, that will be swapped for something better scaled to him.

The original plan for our chair was an Eames lounge chair that we could reuse in the family room later, but we ended up using my husband's old nursery rocker. I'm thinking about swapping it for the kid sized Womb chair I talked about here. You can also see Oli's bed as it is now; we're using it with the Skip Hop mats as his diaper changing area. Eventually it will have a minimal frame so it'll look nicer, but he'll still be able to get in and out on his own.

I fully believe design is more than just decorating, and thinking through each use of a design can directly impact the well-being of an end user. For a nursery, that means both the baby and the parents, so hopefully Oli's room helped show some easy ways to accomodate both!

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