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Kaly Ryan founded Capella Design, an assistive furniture company for seniors and people with mobility challenges.
Anti-aging is more than a mantra for skincare routines—it’s a conversation, as a society, we aren’t ready to have. It’s unfortunate, too, because we all grow old. It’s what unites us as humans (like our love for Beyonce or hate for uncomfortable jeans). So why do we avoid it like politics at Thanksgiving dinner? For industrial designer Kaly Ryan, bringing the conversation of aging and disability from out of the shadows and into the light is a goal. That’s why she founded Capella Design, a company creating stylish assistive furniture for seniors and people with mobility challenges.
Like all great business enterprises, the creation of Capella Design came out of a clear need not being addressed in the market. “My grandpa had experienced mobility changes in his late 70s, then he went on to live until he was 97, so he spent a good portion of his life using assisted products. But our family really struggled to find things for him,” says Ryan.
The anti-aging rhetoric in the market is largely to blame, and the Vancouver-based designer wants to change that. “There’s this massive issue where we don’t market for older people, we don’t make things for older people and there’s so much stigma around aging and disability,” she says. Ryan not only wants to make these products more visible but also more appealing to use by incorporating elevated style elements.
The designer says that lackluster design is partly to blame for people avoiding assistive furniture, which leads to more falls. “People not ending up staying in their homes because they don’t have what they need to keep them safe,” she explains.
Ryan’s first creation was a stylish shower stool, the Lotic Shower Seat. It’s a spa-style seat for your shower. The sleek design, ergonomic features, durable and easy-to-clean sustainable material and downright Pinterest-y vibe is undeniable. The product is a perfect representation of Capella’s objective: make assistive pieces that are functional but also gorgeous. “It’s really important to get both the style and function right. If the style’s not there, it doesn’t matter if it’s super functional, people won’t want to use it. If the function isn’t there, it doesn’t actually empower anyone to better use their home.” Ryan also wanted a product that interior designers would want to put in their own bathrooms.
You might recognize Ryan from her work at Willow & Stump, a design partnership that she shared with Bram Sawatzky (WL’s 2018 Future Designers of the Year) for over 8 years until she decided to take on this new venture solo, though they still collaborate together in different capacities. It’s her passion that fuels her decision to go it alone. “I think it’s really important that we start addressing actually making things for people at different stages in their lives,” Ryan explains. “It just seemed like something that was really timely, that was really needed, and an opportunity to make functional furniture that actually makes a difference in people’s lives,” she continues. Her goal is to disrupt age and disability stigma through great design.
When about the differences she had experienced so far, having gone from a male counterpart at Willow & Stump to becoming a solo female founder, she noted the inherent bias and struggle of being taken seriously. “I always had someone else with me. Bram’s presence would often validate my being there,” she says.
“I think the world continues to change, but the amount of times I was asked, ‘Oh, so you help with the business and he designs and makes everything?’—that was very commonly asked of us,” she continues. The takeaway for her was the need for community and the fact that she isn’t really completely alone. “I’m really lucky in that I found a good community of other women entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses, and other people in my life who are doing similar things, so I can talk to about it,” she says. The business is named after a component of the chariot constellation—it looks like one star, but is actually multiple stars together. A pretty apt metaphor indeed.
For Ryan, community is everything, and being able to bring beautiful, functional and treasured home furniture to an aging community, no matter the stage of their lives, is the aim. But the real dream is t0 get people talking about aging. And here we are.
For more information, visit Capella Design and check out the blog for great tips for accessible design and assistive product information.
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