“Understanding age-related change and impairment is the first step towards living environments which support the needs of older people and those with Dementia, keeping them safe from dangers such as falls, which can have a devastating effect on an older person, allowing them the freedom and confidence to use their abilities to the fullest extent, in all things from the mundane to the creative, aiding memory in day to day living and reinforcing personal identity”.
This statement on the DSDC (the Dementia Centre) website is directly aimed at those with Dementia but I think it sums up how Care Homes and Senior Living should be approached when it comes to designing the Interiors.
I am sure we all have at some time been to visit a friend or relative in a Care Home and remember the miss matched chairs pushed against the walls in the lounge, the lack of conversation and the smell of old boiled cabbage and bleach. The term “God’s Waiting Room” springs to mind on entering one of these establishments, but it does not need to be like this. People are living longer, have more disposable income and have probably had a career, therefore expectation is higher than it once was and although we are addressing the balance, we still have a very long way to go.
A space designed well and fit for purpose stimulates and encourages interaction and wellbeing, we should expect this for our relatives and ourselves when the time comes.
There are certain rules to follow in the design of Care Homes but this should not limit the overall finish. Avoid large patterns in wallpaper, carpets and furnishings, did you realise for example that stripes in a curtain fabric can be perceived as bars at a window for someone suffering with Dementia. Architraves, skirting boards etc. should be in a colour that is a good contrast to the colour on the walls. LRV, or Light Reflectance value is now the accepted standard in making sure that the required contrast is achieved. Some material manufacturers are now printing the LRV value on the labels. However, a Designer that understands the language of LRV is paramount in helping managers and owners of homes or retirement villages understand how to use the information. Primary colours for doors aids recognition and can make a corridor look fun. Make sure the lighting is good and layered throughout the space. Fish tanks in lounges provide a focal point – too often the television is the only focal point, it just encourages people not to interact and take in their surroundings. Make sure the seating is a good height and sturdy so that the arms can be leant on. These are just a few guidelines, there are more if the home is Dementia specific but don’t forget if the resident is there for a number of years then their needs are likely to change and future proofing the building is a good idea. There are some villages now which offer all levels of care, so that as a resident becomes in need of certain services, this can be easily accommodated without the resident moving to a new home which can be very distressing.
Requirements are changing, residents now want a well-designed environment, more on the lines of an upmarket hotel to include a gym, spa, hairdressing – these should be standard rather than luxuries and of course a nice lounge, dining room with a varied menu and multi-use spaces so that a variety of activities can be enjoyed. A coffee and tea bar with grouped seating is also popular, where the residents can go and make a drink for themselves if they are able.
Doors and handles should be easy to see and use, try to bring the outside in with uncluttered views from the windows. Gardens that encourage sitting and maybe some interaction are to be applauded and should be included in any Care Home or Senior Living design, sadly I have seen too many overgrown depressing outside spaces that do not encourage anyone to go and sit in the fresh air.
We need to change perception and insist on well-designed beautiful spaces.
It isn’t that difficult to do, the tools are out there. We do not need to upholster furniture with vinyl fabric, there are beautiful impervious fabrics available now which are tactile and far nicer to sit on and stain less easily than vinyl.
It takes imagination and skill to design for this market but it can be done!
Koubou Interiors are the winners of several Healthcare Design awards.