4 Tools Used in Interior Design for Senior Living Communities

By Lissa Rolenc, ASID, Owner and Director of Interior Design at 4Design

 Valley VNA is in the midst of a multi-stage renovation of its interior design, and my team was given the opportunity to consult with Valley VNA’s leadership team on planning, scheduling, and budgeting this project. My firm, 4Design of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is one of a select number of interior design companies in the U.S. that works specifically in the realm of senior living communities. Our focus is different from that of hospitality and health care facilities like hotels hospitals, and clinics. We make it a priority to design comfortable homelike environments that also help elderly people engage in their interests and confidently find their way around their complex. We pay special attention to the safety of the people we serve and are attentive to budget constraints.

These four specialized tools of the trade will help us bring a fresh look and a new energy to Valley VNA, for its residents, families, and staff:

Lighting: We design using LED lighting to keep a facility’s energy costs down; however, we must make the light appear incandescent; that is, warm and homelike and not like an overly bright hospital corridor. Simultaneously, we need light that is bright enough for seniors to safely see their way and complete tasks. Lighting design for senior housing takes skill, experience—and quite a bit of math!

Artwork: We use color and artwork to create soothing pathways for residents. Coordinated and on-trend colors for carpeting or walls can help seniors find their way, and thoughtfully chosen artwork helps them mark their progress or engage them in thoughts or stories about their interests or memories. We consider the local culture and community as we choose art and sometimes even collaborate with local historical societies to bring in images that residents will enjoy reminiscing about.

Color: In many senior living communities, budgets remain tight and we do a lot of freshening simply by using updated paint colors.

  • We mix warm and cool tones so we don’t prioritize one mood—energizing versus soothing—over the other.
  • We also know from our research that meaningful contrasts in color are necessary because as our eyes age, many colors look similar (as in blue and purple, for instance).
  • Our team pays special attention to carpet color and texture, because certain patterns or specks in the design might cause an elderly person to reach down and try to pick something up off the floor, causing a fall hazard.
  • Another way to use color to increase safety is to choose a contrasting color for chair seats to help older people better see their chair because it stands out from the color of the floor.
  • At Valley VNA, individual apartments are all painted in neutral colors so residents can personalize their homes. They are also given the choice of three accent colors for the living room and kitchen and maintenance staff will paint for them. No matter your age, it’s important to have choices!

Flow: When we are working an established community like Valley VNA, sometimes 20 or more years after it was first constructed, we also make suggestions about the overall layout of the housing complex. Changes in lifestyle preferences and the characteristics and needs of the resident population are key considerations. For instance, we’ve helped clients move their wellness activities into a former dining room, and then turned the remaining space into a more intimate café. In a similar way, we help assign meaningful purpose to common spaces that might otherwise seem like wide hallways filled with furniture. One lounge may be dedicated to table games while another has a large-screen TV for football games or family parties. Residents assign meaning to each space and seek out the specific place and activity where they know they will be joined by friends who share their hobbies or interests.

I love designing for senior living communities because I can directly see the positive impact we make on the comfort, safety, and enjoyment of people’s lives. Thank you for inviting me into your loved ones’ home, your workplace, and your gathering place..

Stacie Clark of Kenton Designs in Neenah is collaborating with 4Design and Valley VNA to refresh and refurbish the lobby area of Valley VNA. New furnishings, paint, and décor are expected in in September. Visit soon and see our fresh new look!