The youngest residents in today’s senior living communities grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s – amid mid-century modern décor, with its space-age motifs and pop trends like avocado green appliances and orange shag. Thankfully, the baby boom generation has settled down a bit now design-wise, though not in terms of its ability to shake up traditional stages of life. Boomers want comfort, luxury in their senior housing residences.
Senior living design trends today reflect their residents’ desires for contemporary comfort and luxury. Gone are the institutional colors, the cookie-cutter architecture, the mass-produced accent pieces of the past. In their places are earth and jewel tones, mixed metals, local flavor and outside-facing salons and fitness centers.
“Baby boomers can’t be offered a one-size-fits-all solution,” writes Ben Mandelbaum for McKnight’s Senior Living. “The baby boom generation invented the idea of mass customization, and that’s what its members are looking for in an assisted living community or (skilled nursing facility).”
Studio Six 5 is an Austin, Texas-based company that specializes in senior living design. The firm’s work includes active adult, independent living and assisted living/memory care communities; it identified several trends for 2018 in McKnight’s Senior Living:
• Senior living communities can be integrated into master-planned communities, with salons, cafes and fitness centers facing toward public spaces.
• Designers are choosing art and accent pieces with a local flavor to emphasize pride of place.
• Traditional “multipurpose rooms” are fading; increasing are spaces that can fill two specific purposes, such as a coffee shop that also functions as a bookstore.
• Technology will be even more seamlessly integrated into senior housing developments.
The photography portfolio on the Studio Six 5 website showcases several of the company’s trends. A dining room with Asian influences is complete with bold art, custom lighting and symmetrical plantings. A pub is complete with directors’ chairs and a glass bar lit from within; a communal living area resembles the lobby of an upscale hotel, with rich color tones, sculptural metal accents, and a shallow, contemporary gas fireplace.
Seniors with the means to choose their living arrangements wield an enormous amount of power, says Mark Myers, an executive director at Institutional Property Advisers, in an interview with Senior Housing News.
“It’s an indication of the kind of wealth seniors hold,” he said. “There’s about $3 trillion of net worth that’s being held by baby boomers.”
Environments for Aging (EFA), an online magazine focusing on the senior living industry, created a competition called Design Champions this year in which awards are given for innovations and imagination that have had an impact on senior housing.
They received entries from architects, interior designers, owners, managers and consultants. The end results? Five people “whose work stood out among the rest—particularly for exceptional efforts made within the past two years to deliver a vision for senior living that doesn’t look much like what’s come before,” the magazine says. Those five:
• Renee Anderson, President and CEO, Saint John’s on the Lake, Milwaukee – Saint John’s is a 5-acre continuing care retirement community that includes independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing apartments, all of which share amenities in a Town Center. The skilled nursing design in an upcoming renovation is especially important to her. “As we age, we lose so much: We retire from our life’s work; we move from our family home; our spouse, siblings, and friends die,” Anderson says. “And when our own health changes, well-meaning children and medical professionals trundle us off to a nursing home where regulation, under the guise of safety, dictates what we can and cannot do any longer. No wonder nursing homes are recognized as the place you go to die—who wants to live like that? We want to create a home where residents with advanced medical and cognitive needs can live with dignity, exercising the fullest of their capabilities.”
• Anna Lory, job captain, Pope Architects, Minneapolis – Lory appreciates the “household model,” in which senior living designs are created in such a way as to create the feeling of a typical home rather than an institution. “White Bear Heights Senior Living in White Bear Lake, Minn., is one of my favorite projects because I was able to work with a client to fine-tune their operations while creating a new and innovative memory care kitchen,” Lory says. “In Minnesota, the code requirements for assisted living memory care kitchens are quite strict, more so than even skilled care. Therefore, it was necessary to think creatively about how to design and detail the kitchen so it feels like a space that would be found in a single-family home.”
• Scott Weaver, director of campus services, Garden Spot Village, Lancaster, Pa. – Weaver focuses on outdoor spaces, supervising Garden Spot’s landscaping, greenhouse, and on-site nursery. “We incorporate a variety of things that stimulate the senses, whether it’s sight (flowers, trees), sound (water features), smell (flowers, herbs), art, or calming pieces (kinetic sculptures),” Weaver said. “We like to mix up the sensory stimuli with different themes and focal points in different parts of the campus. Different things appeal to different people, so we work hard to create spaces that feel welcoming but varied.”
• Melissa C. Pritchard, senior vice president, SFCS Architects, Roanoke, Va. – Inspired by her grandparents’ experiences in nursing homes, Pritchard says memory care design is a passion. She’s visited memory-care environments “that were mainly locked areas that were sterile, clinical, institutional, and devoid of comfort, color, freedom, nature, and familiarity,” she says. “I started thinking that in an effort to not ‘overstimulate’ this population, many of these environments had become absolutely lacking humanity, verging on being uninhabitable, and that this could actually be making residents’ lives worse rather than better.”
• Jill Wilson, President and CEO, Otterbein SeniorLife, Lebanon, Ohio – Wilson and Otterbein are beginning work on Union Village, a 1,200-acre, mixed-use, multigenerational development. “Union Village is planned to be a town center anchored at the heart of the Otterbein Lebanon retirement community, linking the two together. This will give our residents easy access to the amenities planned such as restaurants, a performing arts center, and various local retail and service establishments. While Union Village will be a multigenerational community, it will be built to serve the older generation.”
Mandelbaum summarizes the changes in the industry as a whole. “For years, baby boomers have denied that they are going to get old,” he writes. “Now, the defiant generation finally is thinking about the future — especially where and how to live.”