Aging but active baby boomers play an increasingly integral role in their own healthcare. As they explore senior living options that fit their engaged lifestyle, they are driving big design changes in the market as a result. In fact, disappearing are the days of the institutional “old folks” home. Today’s agile boomer wants residential-style floor plans and walkable communities with urban, multicultural and multigenerational vibes. They are also looking for amenities such as access to nature and parks, shopping, dining, spas, recreation centers and state-of-the-art healthcare facilities that span the continuum of care.
Senior living designers are responding to these demands with healthy, multi-purpose and visually appealing spaces that take cues from the hospitality market’s boutique aesthetic and blending the line between senior living and hospitality spaces.
“No one thrives in an institutional environment,” said Cindy Kaufman, director of marketing, Interface Hospitality. “Everyone deserves to have that feeling of well-being. The invitation is to come in, sit down and feel welcome. That’s a beautiful thing.”
As younger boomers become empty-nesters—still working but traveling, thriving and hitting their stride with greater financial independence — they are adopting what Kaufman termed a “lock and leave lifestyle:” just lock the door and go. Consumers in this niche are using their spaces in different ways, and similar to the hospitality space they are looking for a concierge experience with a resort feel — complete with luxury amenities like pools and pergolas.
Condos and high-rises located near public transit, airports and ample healthcare options are hot right now. One emerging trend among independent living community developers, for example, is to locate those facilities near colleges and universities, making good use of existing infrastructure, convenient cultural events and services like daycare for the whole family, not just grandma and grandpa, noted Ana Pinto-Alexander, health interiors principal, HKS, Dallas, Texas.
She added that today’s senior living clients want new design elements that function for the whole family, such as guest quarters that can be used as “mini hotels” for family members. Inclusive communities with all of the bells and whistles are also a draw for families that want to visit their senior loved ones more often, which helps with senior health issues like depression, according to Di Anna Borders, director of design, healthcare, senior living, education and resilient, Mohawk Group.
Even indoor spaces are getting a conceptual makeover with more family-friendly communal areas where people can gather in coffee shops, lobbies and computer lounge areas, and flooring is playing a huge role in these new settings, which presents a fresh set of challenges for designers, Borders said.
More flexible, multipurpose spaces mean that flooring is playing a key role in the functionality of different rooms. Spaces need to be adaptable to meet the needs of changing activities throughout the day. “An art class in the morning could be followed by a yoga class in the afternoon, and the flooring choice must support these different activities while also ensuring it is safe, provides comfort and is easy to clean,” said Kieren Corcoran, director of performance market, Patcraft. “Additionally, flooring without transitions can be used to further define the uses of a space.”
Today’s seniors are also a lot more educated about design so the look has to be sophisticated and high end, which can be tricky when the special needs of seniors become part of the equation. “We need to be able to create this holistic portfolio that crosses platforms and seamlessly spans that continuum of care, whether that is dependent or skilled nursing, so you have a cohesive look and not this stigma separating independent from dementia care,” Borders said. “It all looks cohesive in design and style.”
In lobbies and common areas, specifiers are going for more sophisticated statements while the preference for patient care areas prioritizes touches of home — warm, inviting looks and decorative touches that are a far cry from medical facilities of the past, said Lindsey Waldrep, vice president, marketing, Crossville.
LVT — like carpet and area rugs for use with hard surfaces — is hugely popular in the senior living sector as well for its acoustic qualities, which is paramount for controlling sound transfer between floors, particularly in high or mid-rise buildings. LVT and carpet tiles that work together seamlessly with no transition strips are also a great way to incorporate the look of hardwood, stone or concrete without the hard, non-forgiving surface. Ease of maintenance also makes flooring choices such as LVT ideal for areas like apartment kitchens and dining rooms and it helps with mobility for residents with walkers or wheelchairs, Borders said.
Senior settings also require flooring that is high in chemical and scratch-resistance, low on maintenance and take the health of residents into consideration. Options like rubber flooring, for example, promote good indoor air quality, repel dirt and bacteria, provide comfort underfoot and protect valuable equipment.
While the senior living and hospitality spaces may be the last sectors to become adopters of sustainable products, the demand is growing, industry leaders noted, and boomers are likely to be the drivers of that change as well. This change will force all manufacturers, if they haven’t already, to create more affordable and performance-driven products, according to Borders.
“Designers are extremely in-tune to creating soothing, modern environments with products that are superior in quality and aid in the health of the residence,” said Nicolette Grieco, vice president, regional sales manager, Teknoflor. “Products that are organic or manufactured from virgin vinyl are preferred, as well as designs that are biophilic in nature.”
The scientifically proven advantages of biophilic design in healthcare settings are well documented and beneficial to everyone who engages in the space, including building owners who see great returns on their investments. Biophilic design has also become more important with the organizational shift from income-driven to patient-centered facilities taking place, which is creating renewed interest in interior design safety and finishes.
Color and texture are key elements in human-centered design, and, as facilities begin to utilize more open floor plans, flooring can be used to foster wayfinding and assist with smooth transitions from one material type to the next, according to Sandi Soraci, marketing strategy lead, healthcare and education, Interface. “With side-by-side flooring installation that don’t require the use of transition strips seniors are less likely to experience slips, trips and falls,” Soraci added.