Top 5 Senior Living Design Features for 2015

High-end hotels, as well as TV shows such as “Top Chef” and programs on HGTV, have led senior living designers to look beyond the industry for design inspiration.

More and more, design firms are thinking outside the box and bringing new ideas to the table, transforming senior living communities into resort-style environments.

One such interior design practice, studioSIX5, has experienced this shift away from traditional senior living designs and is part of the push to take communities to the next level.

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“So much of this industry always looks at how it’s always been done, but there’s a big shift that’s been happening because they realize if they do that, then they’re not going to survive,” says Dean Maddalena, president of studioSIX5, which specializes in the senior living space. “The new senior living companies starting up are realizing they’ve got to really look outside the box to set themselves apart in the industry.”

Maddalena and the studioSIX5 team recently put together a list of design trends taking the industry in a new direction. Here are five of the firm’s top must-have features:

1. Consistent Branding — An operator’s brand doesn’t stop with its marketing materials. Instead, those serve as inspiration for the community’s overall aesthetic.

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“A brand isn’t a static element,” Maddalena says. “We have to build communities with the utmost flexibility to bring their brand to the space.”

Doing so is a twofold endeavor: creating physical branding and creating experiential branding.

For the first, designers look to the provider’s marketing materials, website and logo for inspiration, finding different ways to utilize the color and design palettes, as well as the brand’s overall feel, in their communities.

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All photos courtesy of studioSIX5

For instance, does a provider convey a more traditional, ornate brand, or is it contemporary and modern? Is the provider’s brand more urban or rural? Depending on the answers, designers will treat the spaces differently to create consistent branding.

The second layer of branding involves the experience residents have within the community. Think: Ritz-Carlton.

Providing a warm and welcoming environment, coupled with exceptional service, can make any senior living community a standout among its peers. The keys to creating this experience are choice and flexibility.

For example, instead of building convenience stores that house food and toiletries, some providers are giving residents the choice to order these items from their iPads, Maddalena says.

This not only makes it easier for residents, but creates a personalized experience that reflects the provider’s, or the brand’s, commitment to service.

2. Meditation Spaces — Senior living designers are taking cues from the hospitality industry to create a calming “getaway” for residents — much different from the hospital-like feel of nursing homes that people have come to expect.

Like the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, senior living providers are increasingly incorporating yoga and meditation spaces into their designs.

Photo 3 - Meditation Garden at Vivante on the Coast copy

“Twelve years ago, we would maybe have an apartment that wasn’t selling or renting and [providers] would take everything out, put a few treadmills and bicycles in, and that would be the ‘fitness center,’” Maddalena says. “Now we’re building resort-caliber wellness centers that have full-time staff, yoga studios, and a calming environment to host meditation classes.”

These spaces also are carried to the exterior of the community, with courtyards utilized for tai chi and exercise classes, among other activities.

3. Pet Amenities — From “bark parks” to full-on pet salons, animals are getting more attention from senior living designers, and studioSIX5 says these amenities could “make or break a potential resident’s commitment to a community.”

Enclosed outdoor spaces with walking paths provide two benefits: They serve as a place for dogs to wander and play, as well as a place for residents to exercise.

Additionally, the design practice is seeing a growing need for communities to offer indoor amenities, such as pet salons, mobile pet grooming and pet-sitting services.

While these amenities may be ahead of the curve, they will soon become must-haves at any community, the firm says.

“We haven’t really seen pet salons at senior living communities, but we’re starting to implement them [in our designs] now,” says Maddalena, who would not reveal the first providers to incorporate them in their communities. “You’ll see a couple, then in the next two to three years it will be a standard.”

Building these amenities into a community would be a minimum expense, he says, noting that there is usually leftover space, such as closets or resident storage, which could be converted to salons or pet stations.

4. Hospitality Influences — Post-acute care and short-term rehab centers, in particular, are catering to baby boomers who expect to recover from surgeries at places that have the style and service quality of W Hotels and The Ritz-Carlton, Maddalena says.

The Legacy Williow Bend, Plano 1

To create this atmosphere in skilled nursing communities and senior living in general, designers are rethinking reception desks and providing a more personalized approach to care.

“We’re getting rid of those and having all the caregivers and nurses constantly walking around and engaging with the residents,” Maddalena says. “When you go into the hospitality market, it’s more like Nordstrom — they walk around the counter to give you your keys and receipt. We want that engagement in senior living.”

Television shows also have had an impact on designs and renovations, he says.

“When we meet with existing communities where we’re doing renovations, I can’t tell you the amount of the times I hear, ‘That show on HGTV,’” he says, adding that providers often pull inspiration from certain designers on the network.

5. Restaurant-Caliber Dining — Providers are paying much more attention to building communities around the dining experience as the “foodie” trend sweeps senior living, bringing in celebrity chefs to spice up their dining options and generate marketing buzz.

It’s becoming more common for communities to request display kitchens, which are popular in many upscale restaurants, or to establish farm-to-table food options with local vendors. But an engaging food experience has become the biggest request in lieu of the traditional banquet-style room with limited menu options, studioSIX5 says.

Photo 1 - The Melange at Vivante on the Coast copy

Hiring a veteran chef is one way increase engagement with residents, says Maddalena, who notes that some “foodie” inspiration in senior living also comes from TV shows, such as “Top Chef.”

“You see it not just in senior living, but everywhere. You’ve got foodies who can be 80 years old or 20 years old,” Maddalena says. “The whole foodie [culture] is a direct correlation to the popularity of all these chef programs.”

Whether inspiration is taken from television shows or high-end hotels and resorts, it’s clear the senior living industry is beginning to look outside the box to shift its design style.

From dining to pet amenities to branding, these five design features will usher senior living communities into 2015 and beyond.

“These are really the design directions where we see senior living going,” Maddalena says.

Written by Emily Study

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