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.
Recently during focus groups at a senior living community, we were somewhat surprised when an elderly woman living in personal care pulled us aside to share her desire to have a designated space for happy hour so she could enjoy a drink before dinner. In retrospect, it probably should not have come as a surprise that someone would simply want to continue a cherished tradition she had enjoyed throughout her adult life. While health issues or medications can be an issue for some older adults, many are increasingly expecting appealing bar options in senior living. This upward trajectory is expected to continue as the Baby Boomers reach typical move-in ages. A growing number of active adult and senior living communities are introducing sleek bars, cozy pubs or flexible lounge spaces to respond to the demand. Some communities are also incorporating specialty coffee and tea selections into their bars to provide something for everyone.
Breakfast bars are the perfect complement to today’s popular open floor plans by allowing for easy interactions and casual gatherings. Whether considered a breakfast bar, island or peninsula, this extension of cabinets, countertop and sometimes sink or appliances, serves as a visual foil between the kitchen and other living spaces while maintaining a sense of openness. This kitchen workhorse also provides much needed storage and counter space in what is arguably the busiest room in the house from both a functional and social standpoint. And of course, the breakfast bar serves as an additional eating area, particularly for quick and casual meals – like breakfast!
Interior design for senior living has changed significantly in the last several decades. While many people associate senior living with the sterile environments of the mid-century nursing home, the reality is that today’s senior living facilities are more closely linked with hospitality design than with hospital design.
As we approach the time of year when baking and family dinners are a priority, let’s take a look at the epicenter of activity – the kitchen. Once relegated to function behind the scenes, the kitchen has benefited greatly from today’s open concept floor plans. Kitchens are now a gathering hub, used for both cooking and entertainment. Even if you won’t be hosting any family dinners or consider yourself more of an eater than a chef, don’t overlook the importance of melding form and function to create an appealing and accessible space you will likely use several times a day every day.
Color Trends: When it comes to color, today’s cabinet selections represent opposite ends of the spectrum. White cabinets are still popular and pair nicely with today’s dark wood flooring options. We have found some great ceramic tile and vinyl options that provide the look of wood but easier maintenance and durability, particularly for commercial applications. In recent years, darker wood cabinets in natural cherry, walnut or mahogany and dark stains like espresso and clove, have become increasingly popular. These are often paired with white countertops and lighter flooring selections.
Based on our project experiences, industry research and, perhaps most importantly, numerous post-occupancy evaluations over the years, we have developed very specific guidelines for our designers to reference when making seating selections. These considerations, designed primarily to support older consumers, can be useful for a wide range of commercial applications such as restaurants, medical office waiting rooms, hotel lobbies and other public spaces.
Embracing the concept of universal design to accommodate individuals with temporarily or permanently reduced abilities often results in more comfortable, inviting and user-friendly spaces for all. For example, our designers primarily specify seating with arms since this makes it easier for an elderly person who may have diminished mobility and upper body strength to get up from the chair. Most people, not just seniors, find chairs with arms easier to “exit.” Likewise, a back recline from the seat of less than 100 degrees is typically comfortable for people of all ages.
The first consideration when selecting seating is the dimensions. Public spaces are not the place for overstuffed or oversized chairs that can be difficult to get in or out of and are often tempting for young children to climb. However, it’s important to note that it is also a good idea to specify 10 to 20% of seating in bariatric sizes which are different from what we’re showing here.
Pull up a Chair
Especially in dining venues where chairs are moved constantly, it’s critical to specify the appropriate glides based on the flooring types. We recommend casters, preferably two in the front, on carpeted surfaces to aid in moving chairs in and out. Cross-support stretchers between legs provide stability and help prevent the legs from loosening due to the constant pushing and pulling by diners.
The seat should be removable for ease of cleaning and made of a firm foam material rather than using down fills. Supportive cushions prevent the bottom of the seat from sinking much lower than the height of the occupant’s knee to maintain comfort and ease of mobility when exiting the chair. There are a wide range of moisture-resistant fabrics available to provide the desired durability and easy care without compromising comfort or aesthetics.
Perhaps the most important universal design consideration when making seating selections is recognizing the one size will never fit all. Therefore a variety of options should be provided whenever possible. For The Harvest Table at Garden Spot Village in New Holland, Pennsylvania we incorporated seven types of seating options. This includes traditional two and four-top tables, a 12-seat farmhouse table, traditional booth seating, banquette seating, circular booths and comfortable “hip-height” bar stools at the ice cream counter. And that’s not even counting the comfortable chairs and sofa by the fireplace leading into The Harvest Tables or the café tables along the main street corridor.
Some good resources that provide more information on this topic are: Beautiful Universal Design: A Visual Guide by Cynthia A. Leibrock and James Evan Terry and Residential Design for Aging in Place by Drue Lawlor and Michael A. Thomas.
Derek Perini, IIDA, Senior Interior Designer, has 17 years of experience providing interior design solutions that support the needs of those with physical challenges. He has also served as an adjunct professor at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, as a jury member for the Environments for Aging Design Showcase and a grader for the International Interior Design Association, National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam.