I want to share a story with you that is very near and dear to my heart.  It is about my second ever design project.  Here’s a little backstory:

I grew up on a farm in Western Kansas.  I am incredibly grateful for the way I grew up and loved our small town relationships.  One of those relationships was with the pastor of our church.  He was a fun pastor to have as an adolescent and his family was great too.

11 years ago, his wife suffered a stroke.  It was a long intense road to recovery.  7 years after the stroke, the church asked me if I would be willing to help them with a design plan to remodel the bathroom at the parsonage.

I was happy to help but I was also shocked to see how they had been getting by.  The door to the bathroom was the first barrier.  A measly 24 inches wide followed by a narrow cabinetry lined hallway that led to the main part of the bathroom.  Getting a wheelchair in there was impossible.

It was outdated but that wasn’t the point.  The aesthetics were low on the totem pole of importance when considering all of the barriers they had to overcome.  I’m not going to go into all of the functional design issues here.

One of my biggest pet peeves as a designer is how functional design is often generalized and simplified into decorating and beauty.  Extraordinary design is a beautiful marriage of art and science and functional design is the science part of that equation.

I could have easily created a design plan that gave my former pastor and his wife a beautiful bathroom but the call was far beyond that.  The call was to design for dignity.

For almost 7 years he carried his wife into the bathroom and helped her with her needs even though she had recovered enough to be able to somewhat care for herself.

You can imagine how full my heart was when the project was complete and she said with tears in her eyes, “I LOVE my shower and I never want to leave the bathroom.”  He jokingly commented that even though the fixtures were low flow, they would have to get a loan for the water bill because she loved it so much.  I gave her body sprays and a hand shower on a slider so she could do everything from the seat.

I keep this photo on my pinboard to remind me (if I ever forget) why I do what I do.











She also shared that for the first time in 7 years she was able to bath on her own!  That’s designing for dignity.

This is how their daughter felt about the experience and what I did for her parents:

I want to give some love to Rhea Mader and her awesome business Tumbleweed Interiors! She masterminded the much-needed bathroom overhaul at my church’s parsonage (aka my parent’s house!) and delivered much more than anyone could have asked for! I know it will be enjoyed by many more years of minister’s families, but most importantly my mom has a handicap-equipped and safe place to bathe! That peace of mind means more to me than you will ever know, Rhea!!

As a compassionate designer and a CLIPP (Certified Living In Place Professional), I wish for all people that live with physical and mental challenges the utmost dignity in their lives.  Sometimes all it takes is tweaking a few functionalities of the design.

Could your senior living community offer more independence and dignity?  Is your healthcare or wellness space difficult for those with physical challenges to move through?  Contact me, I’d love to hear how your home and/or healing space addresses functional and accessible design.

Grace and Peace,



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