From the time I was a young child, I have been immersed in the senior living environment.
My father, my mentor, has specialized in senior living community development for more than 25 years, creating beautiful, forward-thinking communities that cater first and foremost to older adults. As he was (and still is) a self-designated connoisseur of senior living communities.
We made more than a few diversions to these projects on many of our family vacations, exposing me to dozens of communities across the country. Crystallized in my childhood memories are the images, smells and feelings I got from each of these communities. It was the mid-1990s, and senior living as a field was beginning to boom. The image of “retirement home” was being phased out, and a rapid demand for more luxurious, progressive and evolved communities began to take place.
I was a kid-artist and lover of all things art, and along with the admitted memories of boredom while being dragged through these communities, I have imprinted on my mind the artwork that hung throughout the buildings. While my parents met with sales directors, I would meander through corridors on self-guided art tours.
Even though I was just a young child, I can remember the artwork as if it were yesterday. I never forget a good piece of art, and I especially never forget a bad one.
Popular in those days were posters of old French advertisements; prints of grapes and wine; watered-down, Bob Ross-esque landscapes; and all things jewel tone. The walls always were yellow eggshell, and the art usually was underwhelming.
Fast-forward 20 years. My love of art has prevailed throughout my adolescence and into my adult life. I have graduated art school with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree focused in painting and now run a corporate art consulting business in arts and culture-forward Denver.
My focus as an art consultant falls within the hospitality market, and not to my surprise, senior living communities have very much become a deep passion and specialty of mine.
It has been proven that art and design directly affect mental and physical health, making the importance of a skillfully chosen collection of art impossible to ignore any longer. Art can be used as a powerful tool in many ways, and it’s about time we tap into its potential and stop thinking of it as something that only exists to match the throw pillows on the couch.
Senior living as a field has exploded, and developers are pushing to extremes, with the most extravagant and ultra-modern projects yet. These landscapes focus on socialization, luxury and community, including anything from woodworking shops and full beauty salons to pubs with beers on tap. “Grandma’s house” furniture, with its paisley dust ruffles, is a thing of the past, and adult playground-style accommodations and décor on par with luxury cruise ships are the new standard.
In the beginning stages of my career, I continued to tour projects as a self-education project. Although the majority of the communities were brand-new constructions, I was stunned by the often lackluster, unchanged artwork hanging above beautiful, completely updated furniture. It immediately occurred to me that, although the designers of these projects obviously had spent a painstaking amount of time creating stunning, modernized interiors and concepts, very little time or energy was spent on art selection.
Once again — but this time as an adult and art specialist — I found myself wandering through corridors, looking at faded, outdated posters hung crookedly on walls, some corridors completely void of art all together. The artwork (or lack thereof) I discovered in many of these projects made me feel disheartened. If I, a healthy person in my late 20s, was staring at a mediocre painting that left me feeling uninspired and sad, I couldn’t imagine how the community’s residents perceived the artwork hanging in their forever home.
I have spent the past few years of my career educating senior living developers about the importance of art in their communities — not just generic art hung out of necessity, but extraordinary artwork, thoughtfully chosen themes, local imagery, colorful art, dimensional art and artwork that not only looks beautiful but creates a dialogue among residents and staff members, enriching artwork that instills joy and passion into people’s day-to-day lives.
The feedback I have received from project administrators and owners is overwhelming. Art works! Not only are the residents and employees ecstatic about the art in their communities, but from a marketing perspective, the artwork hung in these projects is an indispensable sales tool.
Like icing on a cake, if wonderful interiors are the base, then art is the element that adds the distinguishing flavor — the element that truly sets apart one community from another and creates a unique, one-of-a-kind environment, specially curated for the residents and staff.
I believe that the senior living field is experiencing a true awakening to the importance of art, and I am thrilled to be on the front lines of the movement.