Interior design for wellness spaces allows our team to encourage physical activity, especially for the older adults living in the senior living communities we serve. The benefits of physical activity are well documented, along with the fact that most people need more of it. This is especially true for older adults. A multi-year study by Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging has documented that people living in life plan communities report more healthy behaviors than other older adults, in part due to the ready availability of resources. In recent years, we have seen a number of life plan communities place renewed emphasis on resident health and well-being by expanding or updating their wellness facilities.
Interior designer credentialing reflects a commitment to the highest professional standards. Our firm focuses on senior living and educational facilities. Interior designers must put the health, safety and welfare of the people living, learning and working in those spaces at the forefront of design decisions. As we look forward to a post-COVID future, physical space impacts on health and well-being take on increased significance.
Starting with the Basics: Interior Design Professionals
Although sometimes used interchangeably with interior decorating, the interior design profession requires specialized education and training. Interior design professionals typically earn a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in interior design and/or architecture, have worked in the field for two or more years, and hold National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification. The current exam encompasses seven core competencies of interior design: building systems, codes, construction standards, contract administration, design application, professional practice and project coordination. The NCIDQ examination is regularly updated to reflect current knowledge required to design safe, functional and innovative interior spaces.
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.
Professional interior design melds functional and aesthetic qualities of spaces with current codes to protect public health, safety and welfare. Interior design for people with dementia requires additional considerations to respect each individual without compromising dignity or comfort.
RLPS has been designing senior living communities since the 1950s. Specialized settings to support people with dementia emerged in the early 1990s and demand has increased significantly since that time. More recently, some senior living communities are moving away from a separate setting for people with dementia. This integrated living approach requires appropriate staff training, effective use of technology and community-wide supportive strategies to provide safe and comfortable living spaces for all senior residents regardless of cognitive abilities.
There is no single “right” answer. Our team draws on evolving research, specialized programs, and input from our clients to inform our approach to support the needs of people with dementia through interior design. For example, intentionally designed spaces for programs such as Montessori or Opening Minds through Art (OMA), function as a silent partner reinforcing these research-based initiatives.
While social distancing remains a priority, outdoor venues have provided opportunities to get outside and gather in small groups. Restaurants across the country have been able to open outdoor seating areas prior to dine-in options. Many of the current interior design trends for outdoor spaces reflect their popularity for life plan communities, 55+ housing, school and university campuses and hospitality venues.
Even when we are not experiencing a pandemic, biophilic design principles reinforce the value of spaces that meet our innate need for nature connections. The WELL Building Standard calls for its projects to have a biophilia plan to incorporate nature through environmental elements, lighting and space layout. This includes interior settings as well as porches, patios, courtyards, dining terraces, pool decks and rooftop venues that encourage people to get outdoors.
Change can be exciting, frustrating, challenging, disruptive, refreshing and overwhelming. And as illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be abrupt and unexpected. The present challenges to creating safe workspaces, hospitality venues, educational spaces and senior living communities are daunting. Social connections and the use of shared and public spaces are confined to the parameters of social distancing guidelines. However, the renewed focus on healthy environments and infection control may also yield positive COVID-19 design impacts on commercial interior design. Our interior designers share their professional perspectives regarding COVID-19 design impacts, the current realities and anticipated lasting changes.
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.
January seems like a good time to highlight yellow–the color associated with warm, sunny days. As with any color, yellow elicits a variety of responses and the emotions evoked are typically related to the specific hue and extent to which it has been applied. Lighter, muted tones work well as a soothing background neutral. More saturated, vibrant options can help to brighten spaces and create the illusion of light.
Outdoor pools are associated with warm weather fun, relaxation and low impact exercise. Indoor pools can offer these same benefits year-round in every climate. However, indoor pools require careful considerations by the design team to provide a comfortable and appealing space that will endure for many years. We’ve asked a couple of our designers for their thoughts and ideas to create a successful indoor pool space, also known as natatoriums or aquatics centers, whether for a retirement community, school or college campus, community center, hotel or other hospitality venue.
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!