Design: The Ambassador of the Brand


Our Guest Point of View is courtesy of Dean Maddalena, President of studioSIX5, an interior design firm based in Austin, Texas, which is dedicated exclusively to senior living.  Dean is a licensed architect, and a member of the American Institute of Architects, NCARB and IIDA. He has dedicated a large part of his 28-year career to the research and design of senior living environments, and has worked in all facets of senior design and for all levels of care throughout the United States. Dean’s design success has been recognized with awards from the American Institute of Architects, Starnet and most recently, a first place national design award from NAHB +50. 


Wingate at Needham Dining

The institutional feel found in many communities in the past has been replaced with a look drawn from the hospitality world, resulting in much more inviting spaces.

To understand what makes a senior living community marketable, put yourself in the shoes of the prospective resident, and just as importantly, his or her family. First impressions are vitally important, as they should indicate, both consciously and subliminally, what the service experience in this community will be like. Are the interiors timeless and inviting, or do they have more of an institutional feel? The difference between those two impressions is what will convince your prospects to investigate further, or look for another community.

That’s the reason interior design is one of the most important marketing assets a community will have. The interiors must be an ambassador of the brand.

In addition to being beautiful, the design and layout must support all functions and activities of residents, caregivers and families. They must be operationally friendly and yet meet the special ergonomic needs of the residents so they can experience their daily activities of living with dignity.

Examples of design that contribute to these concepts include minimizing flooring transitions, providing proper lighting, and using contrasting colors for walls and flooring to give additional cues where the boundaries are. It does not take long for prospective residents and their families to sense if a community they are visiting is one that supports these principles.

If your community does not address these issues, you can be certain there is a competitor that does.

The aesthetic must also be familiar and localized; what works in Massachusetts probably won’t work in California or Georgia. Moving to a senior living community is a life-changing event for seniors. The more familiar and inviting a community is, the easier this transition becomes. Having familiar, regional-design touchstones engenders a sense of relaxed comfort in a person making this lifestyle change. Alternatively, having design elements that are unfamiliar creates anxiety and a sense of discomfort.

Residents and their families will always choose familiar and comfortable over unfamiliar and disquieting.

Vivante on the Coast Spa

The salons found in older communities are being replaced by full-blown spas.

Another key consideration is interiors that provide practical opportunities for interaction. Here, the design borrows a residential or hospitality vernacular: open kitchens, bar areas suitable for informal gatherings or playing games, theaters for movie nights, a bistro area for coffee clutches and book clubs and the like. The traditional salons in these communities have now become spas. All of these spaces must be environments that encourage residents to want to leave their homes and get to know their neighbors.

These opportunities result in a greater sense of community, and more engaged, happier and healthier residents.

Each of these elements comes into play, whether the community being considered is brand new or existing. Prospective residents and their families will doubtless have both types of communities in their areas to choose from. Existing communities must be continually updated to remain competitive with newer communities that are designed with these newer expectations in mind.

Complicating the process of updating existing communities is the presence of current residents. Smart operators will want to get the residents involved in the design process, and will have to manage construction around the residents to keep discomfort and inconvenience to a minimum. Resident committees give valuable input, but can be resistant to change. Despite this, their participation is vital to maintain comity within the community.

It can be relatively simple to update the food service amenities in an existing community, but more complicated to stage the construction and minimize disruptions. Updating individual units becomes complicated by the need to displace residents during construction.

The Solana - Cafe

Informal bistro settings provide space for coffee clutches and book clubs, increasing the interaction of residents.

Providing some amenities and common areas that have become de rigueur in newer communities may require significant reconfiguration and reconstruction of existing common areas. In some cases additions to existing buildings may be required. In any event, failure to remain competitive with other communities in your area can lead to dowdy interiors and plummeting occupancy rates.

Providing beautiful interiors in familiar, inviting, comfortable surroundings is what sets a community apart for those vital first impressions. When a community demonstrates this level of concern and attention to detail on behalf of its residents, it also makes a statement about the service experience and level of care those residents can expect to enjoy. This is what prospective residents and their families are sure to notice. This impression leads to higher occupancy rates, happier residents and families, and greater profitability.

3 Responses

  1. Great article and very insightful on how interior finishes in senior living arrangements are evolving into more open, inviting and communal spaces … it is very similar as to how finish out trends are shifting in office space designs as the private office layout configuration is part of the past and most office designs are built around open concept office environments.

  2. Wonderful article and beautiful photos!

  3. So nice to work with someone who not only understands their market today, but always looking and thinking into the future.

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