Like most creatives, designer Keia McSwain loves a good challenge. So, when the leader of Denver-based Kimberly + Cameron Interiors and president of the Black Interior Designers Network received a message through the network about a project one family needed help with, she couldn't resist taking it on herself. They had some specific requirements: The military family was set to move to New York from Montana and needed a home completed, "like, yesterday," the designer recalls. They had a tight budget and three young children—one of whom is wheelchair-bound due to a rare form of Cerebal Palsy. Keia knew it could be hard to find a designer willing and able to jump into a tight-turnaround project with such demands but, she recalls, "I wanted to be able to provide something for this family, because I knew they wanted something specific in a short period of time." After a bit of thinking, she tells House Beautiful, "I said, 'you know what? I’m doing this project'—and it’s been all uphill from there."
Working with the family, Keia created a cheerful, inviting space full of bold and happy color. But this isn't just a pretty decor job—its happy ending is the result of solving some serious design challenges.
Most important? Accessibility. In order to accommodate the younger daughter's wheelchair, the home had to be completely ADA-compliant, something Keia had never experienced before. "It was something I was nervous about," the designer confesses. "So I began doing my research. If there was something I didn’t know about I’d try to find a book, articles on accessibility, and I worked really closely with my vendors."
A rep from Kohler advised Keia on specifics for the kitchen and bath, and numerous books and articles helped to outline best practices for size and spacing. But beyond that, Keia wanted to make sure the home was a place where the whole family felt comfortable.
"In my initial questionnaire, I write down all the family’s needs," the designer says. "Those are No. 1, and then their wants, what they will not tolerate in terms of color, in terms of space, functionality for the kids. Will the kid be doing homework in their rooms at a desk? At a countertop?"
While the younger daughter's needs may have been a little more specific in this case, Keia worked hard to find ways to marry them with those of the rest of the family. Hard to get a wheelchair around a long dining table? Use a circular one, with mismatched chairs that can be moved around, depending on the wheelchair's placement. Need a spot for the whole family to lounge? Get a good sectional, where parents and older kids can sprawl out while the younger daughter plays on her specialty mat that fits squarely inside its L-shape (the choice of a round coffee table makes it safer for her to play on the floor nearby, while a bay window contains built-in storage for toys).
Of course, the family's tight time frame also made for some limitations in sourcing. The designer found shorter lead-time options from the likes of Basett, Wayfair, and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
Despite these "off the rack" items, the home feels deeply personal. One big reason for that is the art, which Keia sourced ("I like to say that I’m also an art agent on the side," she says). "She wanted art of young black children in the home, so that's where I started my search," the designer explains. "What art is most reflective of your children, your personality?"
She picked works by artists Tawny Chatmon, Jordan Casteel, and more, which add both a visual interest and a narrative to a new home. "She didn’t want her home to be something where it felt sterile," Keia explains. "She wanted her kids to be able to show personality and enjoy themselves and have fun."
And so they do—which to Keia, is the whole point of her work. "For me, positivity is core," she says. "The home is the core. It’s where you draw energy, positivity. So if home is off, you’re going to be off." And here, home is most certainly, jubilantly, refreshingly, on.
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