Elegance in elder care: taking the drab out of rehab

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Elegance in elder care: taking the drab out of rehab
Elegance in elder care: taking the drab out of rehab
Whether it is for two weeks or 10 years, a skilled nursing facility becomes a home to its patients and residents. Yet it might not always feel like home.Traditionally, the focus in skilled nursing design has been on function, with vinyl floor tiles and hospital-green walls. And while the clinical look may work for healthcare, it doesn't create the cozy atmosphere most people want for their home.

California-based Mariner Health Care, which operates 21 skilled nursing facilities throughout the state, decided to trade in that traditional look for something more elegant and modern.

“They weren't looking for the same approach to healthcare,” says James Saavedra, the man charged with revamping 10 Mariner facilities. “They wanted a fresh take.”

Saavedra's experience as a designer on TLC's “Clean Sweep” design show, as well as his extensive portfolio of projects ranging from downtown lofts to wine country retreats, helped him de-institutionalize the look across these facilities.

Small details add up

“My philosophy is that everyone deserves a life infused with beauty and style,” Saavedra says about his approach. “So I tried to infuse the place with smart, sophisticated, understated, elegant furnishings. I really do believe it's all those small details that make the big picture.”

For the Mariner facility in Palm Springs, Saavedra went all out. He and his crew replaced the vinyl flooring, completely stripped the facility of wallpaper, painted, brought in custom furniture and artwork, and hung new draperies and cubicle curtains. The lobby also received some extra attention. New decorative lighting fixtures replaced solid white ceiling fans, and Saavedra added warmth, both literally and figuratively, with two fireplaces.
Outside the box

The Palm Springs facility also gave Saavedra the chance to bring some elegance to the outdoors, while at the same time showing off his ability to design for a rehabilitation facility.

So both courtyards got an overhaul, complete with new plantings and new fountains, to make sure the opportunity to fully utilize the space wasn't missed.

“We have put in different walking surfaces. There's concrete and there's gravel, because in the desert a lot of homes have gravel outside. So now, [physical therapists] can take [residents] out there and teach them transitioning from inside to outside, concrete to gravel.”


At the Mariner facility in Palm Desert, Saavedra used original artwork to tie together the design elements from the entire facility in one place; the reception desk. Once a classic monolith, Saavedra gave the desk a modern touch, incorporating all the facility's new warm copper, gold and misty blue-green themes at once.

“My main focus really is creating a beautiful environment that satisfies the needs of the facility, but also gives the residents something to look forward to and infuses their life with style,” Saavedra says.