3 Hot Selling Points for Independent Living Units

Flashy amenities like wine bars, theater rooms, and rooftop terraces dramatically demonstrate how senior living has evolved. But residents spend much of their time in their own units, so it pays for providers to think about what design features are differentiators not only in public but private spaces.

That was the thinking that led D2 Architecture to host its first-ever Floor Plan Summit in Dallas, where the senior living-focused firm is based.

D2 Principal David Dillard
D2 Principal David Dillard

Independent living residents spend 70% of their time in their unit, according to an informal survey that D2 did in advance of the event in late March, the firm’s founder and Principal David Dillard told the assembled crowd of providers, designers, construction specialists, and other stakeholders.

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The following four features are current selling points for independent living, in the estimation of Dillard and his colleagues:

Built-Ins

Generally, the thinking has been that senior living residents might like to bring their own furniture, to re-create something of their long-time homes in their new digs. While Dillard previously was in this camp, his thinking has evolved.

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“Three years ago I was saying let [the resident] keep her furniture, now I’m saying build it in, make it part of the sales program,” he said.

For example, a design might include a small, built-in desk. Built-in shelving also is part of this trend.

In part, Dillard is seeing appreciation for built-ins on the part of residents and prospective residents. This also is an idea that goes beyond senior living. A few years ago, the hottest book at the American Institute of Architects conference was “The Not So Big House” by Sarah Susanka, Dillard noted. Greater use of built-ins to maximize how space is allocated is one principle of that book.

Pantries

“Pantries get a C-minus in the overall scorecard in terms of how most architects are doing independent living units,” Dillard said.

Two pitfalls to watch out for: pantries that are too deep or too minimal.

More expansive pantries are a selling point because residents find other uses for them, Dillard pointed out. And a shallower pantry enables the architect to make more use of the opposite side of the wall, in addition to being friendlier to residents who don’t have to reach far back for items.

“I’m going to be struggling over the months and years to be [designing] something wider and shallower to give more storage,” Dillard said.

Split Bedroom and Bed-with-a-Den

Taking stock of independent living projects in the Dallas market, two-bedroom layouts are most common. But this might be changing, Dillard said.

“Anecdotally, currently, what I’m hearing is the one-bedroom [with a] den is the hottest ticket in town,” he said.

Split Bedroom Floor Plan
Split Bedroom Floor Plan

This is an attractive option because residents have flexibility in how to use the den space—Dillard used the term “swing room.” The space could be a TV room, exercise space, or an office, for example. It also plays into seniors’ desire to age in place, as it can be turned into a de facto bedroom for a live-in home health aide, some Summit attendees suggested.

Like built-ins, split bedroom floor plans might become more popular in independent living as residents and operators discard the idea of simply creating smaller versions of the homes that people have lived in perhaps for decades. It’s commonplace for older couples to no longer share a bedroom due to issues such as snoring and divergent sleeping patterns, Dillard noted.

“We’re selling split bedroom units to couples,” he said.

While it may be helpful to know what the current design trends are, the Summit discussion also repeatedly raised the point that there’s not a one-size-fits-all layout. One case in point is the powder room—it’s a feature that would be in demand for residents who frequently host guests or have a home health worker, but for other types of residents the space may be better dedicated to, say, a small home office. So, senior living companies need to be attuned to the desires of their markets and particular resident groups.

Written by Tim Mullaney

Editor’s Note: D2 Architecture sponsored Senior Housing News’ attendance at the Floor Plan Summit.