SHN Awards: Should ‘Mad Men’ Inspire Senior Housing Interiors?

The hit television series “Mad Men” now has wrapped its final season, but its influence on design is far from over. The show’s meticulous sets brought mid-century modern design back into fashionbut does that mean senior housing should start installing Eames chairs? Whether a provider goes “Mad Men” or adopts a different aesthetic, it’s more important than ever to be on the cutting edge of design. Gain insights from award-winning experts on the latest trends in architecture and design in this ongoing Q&A series from Kwalu, the exclusive sponsor of the 2015 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Awards.

SHN recently spoke with LuAnn Thoma-Holec, principal of Thoma-Holec Design/LuAnn Thoma-Holec, which was awarded the 2014 Senior Housing News Design & Architecture Award for CCRC for its work on Generations at Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona.

SHN: What is the biggest trend you predict to see in senior housing design and architecture in the next 5 years?

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LTH: Everyone wishes they had a crystal ball to see the future; and honestly, no one can reliably predict how the baby boomers will affect the future of senior living. Trends, styles and colors are constantly evolving and changing, and often are reminiscent of the past.

Mid-century modern design has a huge influence on the interiors industry right now, but is not necessarily appropriate for senior housing.  Design will always be influenced by history, politics and entertainment. An appropriate example is the AMC television series “Mad Men” and how it played a major role in influencing the mid-century modern sensibility.

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With over 18 years experience, I have seen many changes in the industry. Eighteen years ago, our designs were focused on leveraging “residential” appeal; making a community feel like home. While that is still certainly the case, design has expanded to include a hospitality approach.  The common public areas of the community are designed to be similar to an accommodating resort, yet the internal lounge areas and hallways are reminiscent of a residential home.  As baby boomers continue to make decisions for their parents as well as themselves, we see interiors requiring increased flexibility.Theaters are being utilized as chapels, auditoriums, and meeting spaces. Bistro spaces are dual-functioning; serving as coffee shops, liquor bars, and microbrew taps. The craft rooms have almost gone by the wayside and have been replaced with true artist studios and hobby rooms.

Exposure to the outdoors is finally beginning to be incorporated into community design. Generations at Agritopia is a great example of how the farm-to-table concept is becoming prevalent in senior housing. Residents have the opportunity to garden and reap the benefits of the fresh vegetables. Open courtyards offering water features, BBQ grills, flowering gardens, dog parks, fire pits, outdoor bars and ample seating are becoming more commonplace.

Wellness spaces have evolved into full-fledged spas featuring massages, physical therapy, fitness programming, resistance pools, tai chi and yoga. Modern fitness equipment is now routinely state-of-the-art and offers the ability to track the progress of each individual user, all with the aid of internal computer programming.

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The biggest change has been in the design of dining rooms. In the past, residents chose their main meal from a display plate featured as they entered the dining space. Today, dining rooms are restaurants; fully menu driven. We see open kitchens, tapas bars, cold stone ice cream slabs, open flame grilling, pizza ovens and traditional panini grills. Mediterranean, Asian, organic, vegan and gluten-free are commonplace accommodations.

SHN: What design element are today’s communities lacking that they need to have?

LTH:  There is still a lack of knowledge and interest in offering sustainable materials in senior housing. Often the utilization of sustainable materials are value engineered out of a project prior to construction. What is misinterpreted are the potential cost savings for operations and longevity of the products.

The industry needs to begin focusing on affordable housing that still can provide choices and amenities for the residents. Not everyone can afford to live in the communities that we are designing, and I believe it will become even more challenging for the baby boomers since many had a tendency to overindulge and not save.

SHN: What are the top three changes you have seen in senior housing design and architecture in the last year?

LTH: First, integration of multiple care levels. To the industry’s credit, some communities provide for independent and assisted living accommodation effectively without physically segregating individual levels of care. This seems to work well in new construction projects where the communities’ social culture can be set from the beginning.

Next, less is more. Thankfully, the days of an overabundance of merchandising accessories and unnecessary clutter are over. Clean lines, straight edges and sustainable materials  are becoming the watchwords of informed interior design for the senior population. Quartz is the new granite. Grey replaced beige. And LED lamps are replacing compact fluorescent lighting sources.

Finally, technology is changing by the second. Residents are using iPads, iPhones, Skype and FaceTime. Charging stations, Wi-Fi with large bandwidth, digital activity boards, in-house TV channels, tracking devices for memory care residents and computerized fitness equipment are on the rise.

SHN: What kind of recognition did your company receive after accepting the award for Best of CCRC Design in 2014?

LTH: Thoma-Holec Design has always been 100% referral based. This past year, after we won Best Senior Housing News Awards for Best Assisted Living for Waterford Grand in Eugene, Oregon and Best CCRC for Generations at Agritopia in Gilbert, Arizona, we were sought out by a large company searching for a new interior design firm. I doubt that they would have found us if not for the exposure that we received from the Senior Housing News awards. SHN became a new referral base for us!

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