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CUSTOM : Tall People Can Tailor Furniture to Fit Their Size

June 23, 1990|SHERRY ANGEL | Sherry Angel is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Clayton Olivier once bumped his forehead in a doorway with such force he knocked himself out. Guy Earl used to shave on his knees to avoid back strain from bending over the bathroom sink.

Both are well over six feet tall, and they are among many who live rather uncomfortably in a world structured for people of average size who must strain their necks to establish eye contact with the likes of Olivier and Earl.

A standard-size home can be a real threat to the health and safety of tall people, who are constantly bruising their knees on the edges of coffee tables, banging their heads on ceiling fixtures, bumping their elbows in showers and straining their backs as they bend to do routine tasks most can accomplish in an upright position.

Some sleep in the fetal position so their ankles won't hang over the edge of the bed. And they may not risk taking a bath unless someone is around to unfold them when it's time to get out.

In self-defense, they avoid small spaces, try to stay limber--and learn to duck.

And if they can afford it, they may take more drastic measures.

They remodel, bringing parts of their homes up to their level. And they order custom furniture so they can experience the pleasure of sitting or lying in something big enough to provide comfort from head to toe.

Their choices in custom furniture are wide open, says Laguna Beach interior designer Kent Roberts, who has helped a number of tall people redesign their homes.

"We're living in a nice era. If you have enough time and money, anything is possible," he says. "Twenty years ago, they didn't do as much custom work, except at the extremely high end. You don't have to be a Vanderbilt or Getty to be able to afford custom work today."

Sofas, coffee tables, chairs and beds can be ordered in just about any size specified by a designer or customer, he says. And for those who want a bathtub big enough to stretch out in, a wide variety of shapes and sizes is available.

Olivier and Earl have made a number of adjustments so they won't have to feel like giants in their own homes.

Olivier--who is head basketball coach at Los Amigos High School in Fountain Valley, where he once played center--is 6-foot-10 and says he has made the doorways in his Laguna Hills home an inch higher "so I don't have to duck too far." He also raised his bathroom and kitchen counters about an inch, and he's designing a bigger shower so he'll have more elbow room and won't have to bend over to wash his hair.

He has a large sectional couch that he can stretch out on and uses remote controls for his TV and stereo to minimize bending. Still, he says, he sees a chiropractor once a week.

"A lot of tall people have back problems," he says.

Guy Earl, who is 6-foot-5 1/2, has had his share of back pain from too much bending over. But the Costa Mesa resident suffers less now that the counter in his bathroom is 42 instead of 30 inches high and his shower head is high enough so he no longer bumps his chin on it.

"I also raised the ceiling in my family room so I could hang a fan without anybody hitting it," he says, noting that his roommate is 6-foot-7, and they have a lot of parties for friends in the Tall Club of Orange County.

Earl also added ceiling-level cabinets in his kitchen and raised the doorway leading into his family room because he and his friends kept bumping into it.

Not everyone wants to make structural changes that will be inherited by the next owner of their home, who might have to stand on tiptoe or even on the countertop to reach those high kitchen cabinets.

Gary Waikle, who is 6 feet, 9 inches tall, and his 6-foot-1 wife, Karen, raised three basketball players in their Mission Viejo home--Connie and John, both 6-foot-9, and Jim, 7-foot-1. But they did not modify their home to accommodate their height.

"We all learned to duck," Gary Waikle said. "We learned to cope with what most people call average things because if we wanted to sell the house, we'd have to redo it. Very few people want their sinks raised to the height that's comfortable for tall people."

Mary Anne and Robert Emett aren't concerned about the resale value of their Bay Island home, and they've had it completely remodeled to fit their height--she's 6-foot-2, and he's 6-foot-5.

"Somebody set up standard heights for bathroom sinks and kitchen counters . . . and if you're as tall as we are, you're bending way down to wash your hands," Mary Anne says. "God forbid you should have to wash your face. You get water all over your lap."

Little aggravations like that--and not-so-little back problems--prompted the Emetts to remodel.

They not only had new counters and cabinets installed at a comfortable height in their bathroom and kitchen, but also had all their light switches and door knobs moved up to their level. They moved up their shower heads, handles and even soap dishes. And the bars in the closets were raised so Mary Anne's clothes wouldn't drag on the floor.

A custom desk was also built for Mary Anne, who is an artist, so she could fit her knees under the desktop. And the Emetts had two special "Papa Bear's" chairs custom made to give them the back support they can't get in a standard chair.

They're thrilled with the comforts of their oversized home.

"It's a joy," Mary Anne says. "We've become so used to it that when we stay overnight at other places, we get a good giggle."

She admits that some guests find it a bit awkward to use her large-scale bathroom.

"They come back with their bosoms all wet," Mary Anne says.

But she isn't worried about her home's resale value, because, she says, "we don't intend to ever sell it."

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