Furniture in the senior living universe has an allure and a purpose that transcends design, utility and function. It has the ability to provide residents with a sense of warmth, a pleasant memory of home and a social structure that builds relationships.
It is an integral, organic part of every room, and understanding how it creates the best environment possible for residents is paramount for every community operator. Furniture is much more than just sticks and pieces that fill interior space.
“Furnishings set the stage for an environment,” says Jadi Endl, senior product consultant, furnishings, for Direct Supply. “The style, the fabrics, the way furniture is arranged — it all plays a role in making a space inviting and home-like. Furniture can tie in design elements from the building to complete a look, bring in fun patterns and colors or make a space feel more ‘lived-in’ and like home.”
Furniture’s first impression is essential, with residents and their families typically assessing the environment from the lobby and surrounding common areas. It is a pivotal moment in deciding the livability of a community, says Mike Schwarzwalder, director of long-term care product strategy for Drive Medical.
“The look, the style, the smell, and, yes, the feeling they get experiencing a major life change,” he says. “Is that area welcoming or is it confusing, worn and outdated? Furniture plays an important role because it is a point of contact and daily interaction.”
Aesthetically, furniture design creates an eye-pleasing environment when it fits within a design scheme and complements the rest of the property, Schwarzwalder says.
“It must not only be functional but support the mood or feeling, and to a certain degree, showcase the personality of the property,” he says. “If you are unsure or a novice in the field, try working with a designer, especially one who focuses specifically in long-term care.”
Upholstered pieces such as sofas, loveseats and lounge chairs add color and patterns for a textured look, says Linda Nash at Invacare Interior Design.
“Furniture can soften the room if there are a lot of hard surfaces,” she says. “A variety of styles can add interest and make the room homier. An example of this would be using club chairs with high backs. The chairs are different heights and break up the space.”
As owners and developers decide to build new or renovate existing facilities, there are several important trends to keep in mind, says Natalie Faulkner, director of marketing communications for J&J Flooring. Each trend “speaks to the power of design to attract residents and help them to be happy and healthy in their new home,” she says.
“Design details matter to seniors and their adult children who are looking for a senior living residence or community — particularly at the mid-to-high price range,” Faulkner says. “Most of these prospects are design-savvy and well-educated. They know what they like and what they don’t like in terms of décor, materials, color, pattern, lighting, flooring and accessories. And many understand the basic principles of senior living design when it comes to contrast-color, slipping-falling and mobility. Floor patterns should complement the other interior finishes while keeping safety at the forefront.”
Today’s senior living residents are more active than previous generations, and furnishings can assist them in their pursuits.
Kwalu CEO Michael Zusman believes furniture for outdoor spaces is just as important as it is for the interior setting and can play a key role in encouraging activity.
“It is very nice to sit in a shaded area in a comfortable rocking chair, but with the addition of potting benches and planting tables outside or in a screened-in porch, residents can experience the joy of gardening,” he says. “Make sure the planting tables accommodate those in wheelchairs and have lots of storage for seeds, pots, soil and tools. This provides an opportunity for staff to assist in an activity, the benefits of which everyone can enjoy.”
Anna Chaney, lead contract designer for Flexsteel, has seen an increased demand for tablet chairs because residents can easily be a part of the property’s social scene while still working on individual projects.
“These likely help staff in their jobs as well, since the versatility is limitless,” she says. “They can be used in common areas or theaters but also in libraries and resident rooms. They are mobile, cleanable and bring a huge amount of options where needed.”
As important as the furnishings themselves is the layout of each room, which should account for residents’ special needs, Endl says. “Consider how residents will move throughout the space — especially those with walkers or wheelchairs,” she says. “Make sure to keep pathways clear, and add stable, arm-height furniture that can be grasped for added balance. It helps the staff by keeping residents safer and preventing falls, giving them more time to focus on activities of daily living.”
Every community has the basic furniture components to enhance each room, but industry specialists say some selections tend to get overlooked. For instance, the utility and versatility of benches should draw operators’ attention, Chaney says.