Photo by Estefania Cavazos
Meet an Arizona interior designer putting accessibility first
April 03, 2020 3:44pm Updated
When you’re a kid, you dream about what the future will hold, what kind of job you’ll have when you grow up. Many imagine themselves as football stars, veterinarians or teachers. For Maegan Blau, it was always interior design.
“As a kid I was always changing my room around,” she said, “and I painted my bathroom multiple times. I begged my parents, and they were like, ‘Horrible.’ It was not a good paint job, but I just was always into it.”
Some of her love of interior design stemmed from her family. Her grandfather started a furniture business in the Valley, and almost every one of her family members worked there at some point.
The person that really fed Blau’s creative spirit was her aunt, Kim Kulpins, though.
“I think a lot of Maegan’s eye for creativity as well as her passion for design comes from her aunt,” her husband, Chris Blau, said. “They’ve always talked about projects and paint colors and carpets for this room and rugs for that room.”
When Blau launched her own interior design firm, Blue Copper Design, in Phoenix, her aunt continued to be an important source of inspiration. Kulpins redesigns her house quite a bit, and Maegan bounces ideas off of her all the time, Chris said.
Building Blue Copper Design
Blau started out in retail after getting a degree in environmental science from Arizona State University. But even there she was drawn to design. She worked in visual merchandising, arranging the clothes and the layout of the store.
At the same time, she was working on renovating and redesigning the first house she bought with Chris. It was her first true taste of interior design.
“From there it became kind of a hobby,” Chris recalled. “Just a way to flex that creative muscle.”
It got to the point where her interest in visual merchandising began to wane, and interior design was always on her mind. “I was like, ‘I don’t really want to deal with that. I just want to design the store.’ And then I would go home and design my house,” Blau said.
That’s when it clicked. She remembered thinking, “Wait a minute, I love design. That’s what I want to do.”
So Blau took a break from retail, married Chris, purchased a retrofitted travel trailer and took off on a ten-month cross-country road trip.
While they were traveling, Blau was researching what it was going to take for her to break into the interior design industry.
When she returned, she enrolled in a program at the American Institute of Interior Design in Fountain Hills, Arizona, got her six-month design certificate and began working for design agencies around the Valley. While she got a lot of valuable experience, Blau couldn’t help but think she had a unique perspective she could bring to the design community.
“I’m happy to be in the field this way because I feel like I have a strong why. I have a stronger perspective, and I have something a little different to bring to the table,” Blau said. “I’m pretty proud that I found a way to still incorporate that love for design with my disability and actually make it my strong suit as opposed to my detriment.”
So she founded Blue Copper Design in 2019.
“I think she always thought that might be an option as a business, but wasn’t really quite sure if the income was worth the work,” Chris said. “I don’t know if it really hit her until design school, or until she decided to jump in with both feet, that there’s a big market for that, especially with her wanting to do adaptive design.”
Blue Copper Design is one of the few design firms in Arizona that specializes in adaptive design.
“I feel like what catapulted me into design was being in a chair,” she said, “and being forced to make your home work for you, either by finding an adaptive home or making an adaptive home.”
Blau has completely redesigned her own home, making it 100% wheelchair accessible without feeling “hospital-like.” She lovingly describes it as “casual desert” style.
One of her other accessible design projects thus far has been her work with her longtime friend Mari Algarin. The ongoing project has focused mostly on furniture — adding a sleeper sofa that’s easy to transfer onto, utilizing lower bookcases that Algarin can access in her manual wheelchair and a craft room where Algarin, a florist, could store all of her supplies.
The biggest challenge for Blau in any design project is being able to take a client’s unique taste and ideas, and make it a reality in their space. Like balancing her own Southwest style with Algarin’s “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” theme.
Blau doesn’t just work on adaptive projects though.
“Even my nonadaptive clients have asked me questions because they see me, and they are like, ‘Oh how would it be for her?’ And it gets them thinking,” she said. “So they’re like, ‘What am I going to do when I get older? Can you fit in there, because what if I have a wheelchair in like 20 years?’ It’s really cool to see someone else get your perspective just from being you.”
Blau will continue to share this perspective and pursue her passion, helping people in the Valley access their design dreams.
Maegan Blau’s 5 tips to freshen up your space for spring and make it more accessible
1) Know your dimensions
It is important to know how much room you will need while utilizing all of your devices. Use this number to determine furniture placement, hallway widths, doorway measurements, turn radius clearance and room for transfers. If you use multiple devices, allow enough room for the largest device. Find what is important to you and make room for it.
2) Rugs can be your best friend
Hard flooring is typically preferred among those who use wheels to get around, but rugs can be our friend, too! Utilize rugs in places where you transfer to add more traction and stability to your wheelchair, walker, or other assistive devices. Look for a heavier rug so it stays in place or extra security use rug grips, rug tape or a rug pad to minimize shifting.
3) Getting outside!
Spring is the perfect season to enjoy the great outdoors, so let’s make it easier to get outside. I know a lot of you are daredevils who like to pop wheelies and jump curbs to get in and out of your homes, but adding ramps to your main points of entry can reduce stress on your body and mind. Concrete ramps are a great permanent option, and can be done by a trusted contractor. If you are not ready to commit to a permanent ramp there are also great portable options out there.
4) Invest in a robot vacuum
A clean home is a happy home, and there is no better time than Spring to get cleaning. I don’t care who you are, vacuuming can be a pain therefore we may not do it as often as we like. Investing in a robot vacuum can clean up the daily dust, debris, and pet hair so you can vacuum less and live more. There are so many options now for robot cleaning tools that accommodate a wide range of budgets and features. Look at the specifications online to find what is right for you.
5) Try out your green thumb
Now that we have easy access to our outdoor spaces, let’s utilize them! Gardening can be so fun and therapeutic at times, and spring is the perfect time to get planting. Whether you are looking to grow some produce or herbs, or still trying to keep your cactus alive, gardening is a great way to get outside and create something beautiful. Look for raised planters online or at your local hardware store to bring your plants off the ground and up to you. You can even commission a contractor or woodworker to build some simple wood planter boxes if you are looking for a more custom size or height.
Writer / Photographer
Sarah Farrell is a Texas native, digital journalist, avid hiker and tennis fanatic. She recently finished her master’s in sports journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
Read more by Sarah Farrell.