The baby boomer generation is just beginning to enter their golden years. This generation is one of the largest in American history, and there has never been a more important time for them to find senior living options available to them. As baby boomers move out of suburban homes, many are flocking to multifamily rentals, especially high-end apartments in urban areas. Multi-family housing has grown in popularity as a retirement living option for seniors in the 55+ age group. They offer an easier to manage, more flexible lifestyle with lower maintenance costs.
Amenity-rich locations are sought after by these clients because of their proximity to other age groups, neighborhood-friendly amenities such as restaurants, libraries, and entertainment venues, as well as cost-effective on-site amenities such as fitness and community rooms. Senior living design is no longer exclusive to retirement homes but is a new trend being incorporated into multi-family housing and mixed-use developments. At SR/A, every effort is being made to provide well-designed solutions that are safe, supportive, and pleasant for all of our clients.
Older adults may experience joint degeneration, poor vision, decreased spatial skills, hearing loss, and physical frailty, and they are at higher risk for falls and injuries. Layout, color, texture, lighting, and a variety of other elements all play important roles in establishing a supportive environment that is both safe and age-friendly. A few tips for developing a senior living environment are provided below.
To help reduce the perceived risk of slips and falls, vinyl flooring that simulates wood is preferred to apply in the space; it has an appealing look, is very easy to maintain, and works well in a home-like setting. Smooth transitions are essential to prevent trip hazards for seniors who may shuffle their feet as they walk. The joints between vinyl flooring and carpet can be chemically welded, eliminating transition strips and reducing tripping hazards.
Photo: Dock 79 – Washington, DC
Aim With Contrast
In older adults, visual acuity and color perception decline with aging, making it more difficult to differentiate between objects in a room. Similar-toned walls and flooring make it more difficult for aging eyes to distinguish between where one surface finishes and the next one begins. Contrast colors should be employed between walls and floors, stairs and landings, and furnishings and flooring to differentiate between surfaces and planes to help seniors feel more comfortable and secure in their environment.
Photo: Solaire 8250 Georgia – Silver Spring, MD
Despite the fact that incorporating patterns into the space will help to create a vibrant and inviting ambiance, designers should exercise caution when introducing patterns into wall coverings and carpets. For those with aging eyes, patterns can be visually intrusive, and they can also cause unease. If you want to avoid this problem, choose patterns that do not give the impression of visual movement. Designers should avoid large floral designs and hard edge strips that give the impression of crawling or vibrating. Instead of using bold geometric forms or highly contrasting graphics, use subtle patterns that do not distract.
Photo: Solaire 8250 Georgia – Silver Spring, MD
Natural Light & Glare Reduction
Sufficient natural light that is in harmony with the body’s natural circadian rhythm is beneficial to human health. Natural light improves eyesight, lifts spirits, provides operational savings, and helps connect to nature. Designers may consider using skylights or half-walls in their designs to enable natural light to seep through from common areas into internal circulation spaces, in order to promote daylighting.
Seniors also struggle with the impact of glare on the performance of everyday activities. When designing a space for senior living, choose paint and materials that are not reflective, such as matte countertops. Choosing window treatments that provide diffused light while also eliminating glare is another technique for reducing glare.
Photo: Denizen Apartment – Alexandria, VA
Accessible Furniture Selections
When it comes to senior living design, furniture plays an aesthetic as well as a functional role, creating an inviting atmosphere while also avoiding injuries. It should be long-lasting, comfortable, with proper height, and simple to get into and out of, even for people with limited mobility. Mobility should be accommodated by the layout of the furniture, whether people are able to move on their own, need the assistance of walkers, or are in wheelchairs. When it comes to the longevity of a piece of furniture, choosing the right fabric is critical. In order to help avoid discoloration and optimize cleanability from spills and incontinence over time, designers should consider using fabrics made of environmentally friendly crypton material. The use of a moisture barrier to prevent body fluids from penetrating into the furniture assembly may help to reduce the spread of disease.
In addition to the design tips listed above, when specifically designing senior living communities, it is important to keep in mind that helping older adults cope with psychological changes is just as critical as adapting to physical changes. Creating environmental settings that support and provide seniors with the care and comfort they desire is at the heart of our work in the next chapter.
Ge Qin is a design intern at SR/A. She is currently finishing up her Master’s at Marymount University.