Senior Living Interior Design Evolves to Meet Boomers’ Tastes

Over the past decade, designing for the senior living industry has changed a great deal. Much of the senior living industry has moved away from institutional features, and instead embraced upscale concepts such as destination fast casual eateries or larger living units.

That evolution in design and services has forced many interior designers to start thinking outside of the box more often, according to Dean Maddalena, president of studioSIX5, and LuAnn Holec, principal of Thoma-Holec Design.

“Well-traveled, tech-savvy, affluent baby boomers will choose communities that target their goals and dreams and demonstrate flexibility to keep the lifestyle current and interesting,” Holec told Senior Housing News. “Interiors will need to reflect the diversity of this group, and provide a multitude of amenities that offer convenience, challenge and extreme comfort.”

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More senior living providers these days are moving away from especially trendy designs that might become obsolete in a few years, according to Maddalena. Themed interiors, such as communities made to look like Tuscan villas, are outdated, he said. Instead, more developers might start to embrace “destination” designs, where each space looks different than the rest of those in the community.

“The restaurant can be very different than the theater, which can be very different than the game rooms and wellness areas,” Maddalena told SHN.

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Harborchase West Palm Beach Florida, photo copyright Kim Sargent, courtesy of Thoma-Holec Design

It may soon become commonplace in senior living to see a wider variety of dining venues, for example—and not just bistros or pubs. Steakhouses, whiskey and martini bars, sushi joints, Italian grottos, artisan ice cream shops, delis and patisseries are just a few examples of that budding trend.

“Residents want choices … and we attempt to provide it for them by creating several unique dining venues within a community,” Holec said. “The number of venues is irrelevant to the size of the community. It doesn’t have to be a large campus or a life plan community.”

While natural-looking designs are also trending in senior living interiors, those designs may or may not include synthetic materials. Manufacturers are releasing better-looking, more durable materials that meet providers’ moisture-proof and antimicrobial needs, for instance. Smart fabrics and flooring are also gaining steam in senior living.

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“Mother nature is the greatest designer, but you can provide that design with alternate materials that are more affordable and durable,” Maddalena explained. “More and more [senior living communities] are utilizing luxury vinyl tile in apartments in lieu of carpet … and people can’t tell if it is real wood or not.”

Similarly, natural patterns and color blocking are popular, along with solid textures.

TUK Cafe at LivGenerations Ahwatukee, photo by Mark Boisclair Photography, courtesy of Thoma-Holec Design

Rockwood South Hill, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Spokane, Washington, that won a 2016 design award for best repositioning, exemplifies this design trend. The community’s design includes natural-looking materials and fabrics, with shapes and patterns evocative of nature, such as leaves or fractals. The project is meant to evoke a “biophilic” design, another trend that is gaining favor among senior living designers.

“I see the future involving biophilic principals that promote healing by incorporating nature in a more scientific way to urban environments,” Holec said.

Regional colors will continue to reign supreme among senior living providers, with neutral designs getting warmer in color in the near future.

“They provide a cheerful, upbeat environment for seniors as long as they are used carefully,” Maddalena said. “But the aging eye will always cast a yellow tint on colors, so you have to be careful that the colors you use do not muddy out.”

White cabinetry, coordinated with gray or silver paint colors and finishes, are also becoming more common in senior living. Many new projects and renovations incorporate neutral base palettes with pops of dramatic jewel tone colors, Holec noted.

The Arbor at BridgeMill, photo courtesy of studioSIX5

“Specific design trends include the use of neutral, lighter color palettes that appear lighter and cleaner. When accented with jewel tone pillows and accessories, the spaces feel fresh and airy,” she added. “Incorporating natural finishes to represent the outdoors helps us bring the outside in as much as we can.”

Rosemark at Mayfair Park, a community near Denver that won a 2016 Senior Housing News Design Award for assisted living design, incorporates bold, botanical colors, both for aesthetic reasons and because the colors can help guide seniors living with vision challenges. Specifically, the community uses blues and greens with pops of color throughout the campus in order to create a lively, bright environment.

Bringing new interior designs to life won’t always be easy, given the current economic climate. The rising cost of building materials and labor will force interior designers to come up with senior living environments that don’t rely heavily on expensive materials or furnishings, for one.

“This will be a challenge to continue to meet the baby boomers’ desire for increased amenities and high level of finishes,” Holec said. “Due to the current climate of uncertainty with projected tariffs on overseas products and materials, this could change our industry in the near and distant future.”

Transformational technology 

Many new technology trends also have the potential to change the way senior living communities are designed.

For instance, Lennar—one of the largest homebuilders in the U.S.—is partnering with online retail giant (Nasdaq: AMZN) on “Wi-Fi certified” home and active adult community designs that allow residents to control their lights, front door locks and thermostats by talking to Amazon Alexa.

At the same time, many senior living providers are also experimenting with the voice-activated devices. Senior housing provider Front Porch recently completed a pilot program involving Amazon Echo devices at a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Carlsbad, California. And Ascension Living, the senior services arm of St. Louis-based health system Ascension, is ramping up its own use of Amazon Echo devices after two successful pilots.

In the future, this integration of Alexa or other voice-activated technology could force interior designers to plan rooms differently.

“This will not only support a smart-home system, but also possibly safety features and other unknown future inventions,” Maddalena said.

“Tuneable” LED interior lighting that can change colors based on the time of day is another trend that could influence senior living interior design. Those lights would mimic sunrise or sunset times throughout the year, and help encourage better sleep habits among residents.

On-demand delivery for food or groceries and ride-sharing apps are two other technology trends that could also change senior living community interiors. Overall, designers will need to embrace concepts that help residents use services that lie outside of the communities in which they live, and that help bring more people inside the community.

“Common spaces will need to accommodate the residents and members of the surrounding community,” Maddalena said. “We believe senior communities will become more outward-looking, and will need to appeal to multiple generations.”

Written by Tim Regan

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