POST-PANDEMIC PRIORITIES: Interior Design Strategies for Senior Living

various spaces in a senior living community For both the near term and into the future, senior living is going to look, feel, and function differently. An intensified focus on infection control has drastically altered day-to-day operations which are now viewed through the lenses of health, density, and safety. We are taking a different approach to senior living design strategies, such as space layouts, finish materials or furniture and equipment selections, to help senior living communities respond to changing priorities.

Weighing Long Term Needs While Addressing Short Term Realities

From a space planning perspective, this means implementing measures that allow communities to quickly respond to changing needs—during times of shelter-in-place, limited visitation or the annual flu season.  When it comes to finishes, we are taking another look at available options—not just from the standpoint of antimicrobial properties. Our interior design team also evaluates how easily these materials can be cleaned and maintained.

senior living design strategies used for social distance cueing
RLPS Interiors is working with clients to find ways to make environmental quarantine changes look normal. For example, social distance cueing can be indicated by accent tiles or artful wall treatments (like the wall columns above) rather than temporary signs and floor stickers.

Balancing Infection Control and Quality of Life Considerations

The RLPS Interiors team is continually monitoring evolving guidelines, taking a look at new products being developed, and speaking directly with life plan community sponsors. The lessons learned each day inform new senior living design strategies. Moving forward, sponsors need to find new ways to recapture the many benefits and enriching life experiences offered to those living in community. This begins by answering a myriad of questions for adapting senior living design to address changing realities and new priorities.

Campus Entry – How do you create inviting, but controllable campus entry points? How much space do you allocate for visitor screening at the front door? Can you create comfortable visitation rooms for safe interactions that can be used for other purposes when not needed for infection control?

outdoor spaces provide opportunities for social gatherings when physical distancing is needed
When the climate is temperate, we must further activate outdoor spaces for social connections that allow for distancing. Considerations for fireplaces, heat lamps, fans, awnings, and/or screens will extend use into cool and warm weather seasons.

Outdoor spaces – How can you create more outdoor venues for dining, entertainment, reflection and wellness? What features can be added to extend their use?

marketplace venues provide greater safety and convenience for resident shopping during quarantine
Marketplace venues, either stand-alone or integrated into a bistro area, are likely to become more of a priority.  The convenience and safety of not having to use a public grocery store is highly valued, particularly during quarantine periods.

Dining – How do you provide adequate space and flexibility in multiple venues that allows for variable social distancing needs? How do you adapt processes and systems for more take out or delivery options?  What do you do with the salad bar when self-serve is expected to become a thing of the past? Do you have a marketplace venue to provide residents with a convenient and safe shopping alternative?

These are just a few of the questions facing senior living communities right now.  Our responsibility is to help community sponsors implement appropriate measures that will reinforce positive life experiences.

senior living design strategies avoid a clinical or cluttered approach to PPE and handwashing stations
Hand-washing and PPE stations are expected to be a long-term priority. This need should be addressed in a design-forward approach to avoid a clinical or cluttered appearance. This example is from a senior living wellness center design.

Biophilic Design Meets Infection Control

Rather than an after-thought, sanitation and PPE stations should reflect design-forward strategies that reflect the community brand and values. Design concepts for the wellness center pictured above focused on integrating infection control strategies in ways that would not feel clinical. Instead we focused on design finishes and decorative elements to reinforce health and well-being. The addition of a hand washing station at the entrance is presented as a hospitality gesture. A green wall and nature artwork are the focus, serving as positive distractions from the more functional elements.

The hand washing station features an automatic faucet and soap dispenser, along with a C-fold recessed towel dispenser and a more sanitary trash chute built into the countertop. The adjacent sanitation station provides an automatic sanitizer dispenser and convenient access to masks and tissues.  Finally, rather than a water fountain, we included an automatic bottle filler.

dining niches are a trend likely to continue based on current social distancing priorities
The appealing dining niches in this renovated cafe provide built-in social distancing from other groups.

Maintaining Social Connections by Providing a More Intimate Scale

While social distancing may be a temporary necessity, the current infection control priorities and corresponding desire for more physical separation between groups is expected to continue. This requires design strategies to create more intimate dining and social spaces with physical divisions. Modular strategies provide flexibility, but permanent screening structures and space divisions offer aesthetic, acoustical and safety benefits. Adjacent spaces should be designed to enable pop-up dining venues when additional social distancing is advised. We were already seeing a trend toward more booth seating and private niches pre-COVID. We anticipate these will become increasingly prevalent with an even higher level of separation between dining groups.

AIA Reopening America Strategies for senior living dining
As part of an American Institute of Architects workgroup, RLPS helped to formulate recommendations for safely reopening dining venues through a multi-phased approach.

This crisis has punctuated the critical role that social connection plays in the quality of life within senior communities. Reinforcing the safety and social connectivity experiences provided by a life plan community is a marketing imperative for the foreseeable future.  Finding ways to integrate forward-thinking senior living design strategies for infection control while maintaining positive life experiences, even during quarantine periods, will reinforce a community’s position as a safe haven of senior life in the future.

Blog Editor:  Jodi Kreider, LEED AP

Additional Design Strategy Resources for Senior Living:

Where Do We Go from Here?  Read the COVID-19 Sentiment Report

As we look to the future, there are many questions about how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is going to impact senior living communities. RLPS was one of the sponsors for this survey of independent living residents, prospects and staff provides valuable insights to help reshape communities and services for market strength and resiliency.  Click on the above link to download the complete survey, including results analysis and recommendations.

Monitor Best Practices:  Follow the Adaptive Living Task Force

Stacy Hollinger, RLPS Partner and Interior Designer, is a member of The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Adaptive Living Task Force. This group will study changes in senior care, adaptive and multigenerational family living resulting from challenges faced by nursing homes and long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The task force will also study best design practices for quarantining family members within the home/family living structure whether they be ill, a healthcare worker exposed to disease or a person with immunodeficiencies, among other issues related to adaptive building use.

Design Strategies for Safer Senior Living Communities:  Read the Report

As states began reopening communities, AIA embarked on an initiative to explore how design strategies, backed by science, can be a public health solution. “Reopening America: Strategies for Safer Buildings,” is intended to provide design professionals, employers, building owners, and public officials with tools and resources for reducing risk when re-occupying buildings during the pandemic. Eric McRoberts, RLPS Partner and designer, served on the advisory group for the senior living guide. The aim of this report is to help senior living communities pivot toward a more sustainable set of strategies that may reduce the risk of infection for residents and staff while re-creating the fuller and comfortable life that America’s seniors deserve.