10 senior living design trends to watch in 2016

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The Cottonwood Place Senior Living dining room features biophilic design.
The Cottonwood Place Senior Living dining room features biophilic design.

Team members of Austin, TX-based interior design firm studioSIX5 have created a list of 10 existing or evolving senior living interior design trends to watch for this year.

“Over the last year, we've seen a considerable increase in baby boomers shaping the industry, and as a result, the industry must change with their preferences in order to keep up,” said Dean Maddalena, studioSIX5 president and architect. “Communities today must provide amenities and interiors at a high level or they risk having unhappy residents. The goal is to enhance each resident's daily living environment in ways they may not even know they need. Residents today, nor their families, won't settle for less.”

The trends:

1. Designing with flexibility and the future in mind

Spaces must be open, flexible and able to be used for various activities and gatherings. Whereas activity rooms used to be dispersed throughout a community, layouts now feature a common room that can be modified in several ways depending on the activity for which it will be used at any given time. These spaces also can transform, with minimum renovations, as activities needs change through the years.

2. Boutique amenities

Older adults' preferences are revolutionizing fundamental designs related to daily services, such as dining. Today, they are seeking interactive meal experiences, not just a room in which to eat a meal. Hospitality services, where choice in the dining experience is executed through interiors, are driving this trend. Communities often feature multiple spaces and styles of dining, with flexible hours similar to those of a traditional restaurant. Everything, from the chefs preparing the food or designing the menus to the décor and servers who bring the food to the tables, is meant to cater to these new and changing expectations.

3. Amenity spaces that attract the local community

In traditional senior living models, a separation existed between the residents and the outside community. Now, many developers are inviting the outside community in by positioning community offerings as public services and making them easily accessible. Activity, dining and meeting rooms are open and available for outside parties, meetings and receptions. Businesses such as upscale salons or rehabilitation services are easily incorporated into the community, and professionals are able to operate the businesses themselves; they are not operated by the senior living community. As a bonus, the senior living community earns rent from the businesses, which furthers offset expenses. Other communities have seen success in incorporating a local artist's work into the design of the community, attracting visitors to view the pieces.

4. Strong use of biophilic design and colors stemming from nature

Biophilic design interprets nature through interior or architectural design and can offer a unique, memorable touch to any senior living environment. Natural elements, such as living plant walls, raw-edged wooden tables or oxidized steel, add warmth to a space by bringing nature indoors. Incorporating nature in this way has shown to positively affect those in the space by reducing stress and improving cognitive performance, emotions and mood.

Tying into and enhancing biophilic design is the chosen color palette. studioSIX5 uses colors that are soothing — typically cool tones from nature. The company predicts that the use of gray will be transforming in nontraditional ways this year, through varying tones. Instead of choosing grays that are only warm or cool, studioSIX5 has begun taking bolder colors and dimming them slightly by mixing them with gray. The original color (for instance, blue or gold) remains evident, but instead of a traditional blue or gold, the color is a grayed tone.

(Pictured: The interior of Legacy at Forest Ridge, Shertz, TX, is decorated in gray tones.)

5. Emphasis on wellness programs

Many communities are choosing to add resort-caliber spas and fitness rooms, as their residents are seeking a mind, body and soul interaction all on-site. Some are even opening their wellness programs to outside membership. Communities are responding to the wants and needs of residents by creating spaces for cooking demonstrations, fitness classes and equipment personalized for seniors, yoga and wellness spas.

(Pictured: The Legacy at Forest Ridge, Shertz, TX, includes a wellness room.)

6. Resort-style, short-term rehab

After various elective surgeries, many baby boomers spend time recovering at senior living communities. Communities are finding that these older adults are more interested in hotel- and hospitality-style amenities than are the current residents. Communities will want to recognize and identify the changes that make the next generation of senior living residents comfortable.

7. Influx of 55+ restricted housing

Age-restricted housing styles are luring leading-edge boomers, the first of the boomers to be born and become seniors, because of nearby attractions, resort-style amenities and ease of maintenance. This style of housing has seen a huge increase in popularity in the past year and will continue to be hot into 2016. It offers a carefree lifestyle, with additional services if ever needed. Communities market their locations in dense urban areas close to shopping, restaurants and entrainment. Many of these communities renovate existing properties to meet their goals.

8. Integrated use of technology

Increasingly, older adults are integrating technology into their daily lives, and with the improvements made in tablets in the last few years, they are becoming the fastest-growing demographic on social media. As a result, communities are incorporating USB connections into millwork and Wi-Fi throughout, as well as creating keyless room entry. These additions often negate the need for the once-common community business center. With many residents receiving tablets as a perk of moving in, the connection accommodations are not only necessary; they are a desirable feature beyond tablets.

9. Greater use of LED lighting

studioSIX5 estimates that recently, the initial expense of LED lighting installation has decreased by as much as 10%, which now allows architects and interior designers to use this more powerful lighting source more often in general lighting areas. LED bulbs emit higher lumens than standard bulbs, have lower maintenance costs and offer long-term cost savings, which makes them a perfect pairing with senior living environments. LED lighting with integrated drivers also is becoming a therapeutic tool through the use of color temperatures that can imitate natural daylight, sunrise and sunset. This type of lighting supports the body's natural circadian rhythm, which is especially important for memory care residents.

10. Greater acceptance of modular carpet tiles

Technology has come a long way since modular carpet tiles were introduced decades ago. The benefits of using this flooring always have been there — ease of installation, the ability to change out tiles through wear and tear, less waste — but the actual carpeting has needed improvements to pique the real interest of designers for commercial use. The yarn and materials of the tiles have improved so that gluing isn't necessary any longer; it acts as a floating floor. The dye lots and patterns also have become more sophisticated, so that if a tile is switched out years after it was initially installed, the new tile still matches, because the technology in tiles today means they don't fade. All the new improvements and technology, combined with the low pile height and walkability, make it a no-brainer decision for any senior living community, which especially will benefit from the long-term cost savings and adaptability.

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