Furnishings: Just like home--As baby boomers inch closer to the market, providers are stepping it up a notch, bringing a contemporary look to LTC
The chairs are bright and welcoming, the beds simple yet stylish. The uniquely patterned carpet ties the surrounding colors together. A typical upscale hotel room? Try again. The scene could be taken from the bedroom of a typical long-term care facility today. As designers, manufacturers and providers will quickly point out, this is not your grandmother's nursing home.
No longer do unattractive sofas or bland carpeting dominate the long-term care landscape. Contemporary and stylish have replaced the clinical and traditional. While 20 years ago a couch came in two or three colors and styles, the variety of colors and patterns today numbers in the hundreds. Even beds, arguably the most important furniture piece and the most adverse to cultural design trends, often have a new look while maintaining their functionality.
Why such an interest in style within an industry that has always been seen as removed from the mainstream? One of the biggest drivers, experts say, is the sophisticated tastes of baby boomers, who now are making long-term care decisions for their parents.
Says Kathy Krueger of furniture maker InPro Corp. of Muskego, WI: "The consumer no longer is going to be willing to step backward."
A homelike environment
The thought of a nursing facility traditionally has conjured up images of ugly, dismal places with dim lighting. Those ideas gradually have been changing over the last decade as a result of a new interest in style and comfort.
"The trend is definitely going away from the institutional look and more towards a homelike feel, " said Mike Sedlak, product manager for beds and case goods for Invacare of St. Louis.
Changes are evident throughout the furniture spectrum. Ten years ago everyone wanted the traditional Queen Anne leg on their chairs and tables, furniture makers say. Today, the ornate look is still available but a more transitional, contemporary type of look is becoming more popular.
Dressers and nightstands have more contoured tops versus squared off looks. Finishes are trending away from heavy oaks to cherry tones and lighter colors.
Among everything from chairs to carpets, there is more variety in styles, colors and patterns.
Many point to Crypton fabrics in helping to change the face of long-term care design some 13 years ago. A total integrated system, Crypton works with a mix of fibers and fabric construction and makes them resistant to moisture, bacteria and stains. Because of Crypton, there now are 15,000 patterns for dining room chairs, sofas and loungers. That means a facility can now have a velvet couch and still function in a nursing setting.
"It offers everything a facility needs to keep a clean environment, but it also offers the beauty of a beautiful fabric," comments Randy Rubin who owns Hi-Tex, maker of Crypton.
While the move to make facilities resemble a comfortable living environment has been occurring for several years, manufacturing companies have noticed a more dramatic shift towards the needs of the resident over the last two to three years.
Baby boomers are seen as the primary cause. Wealthier than their parents' generation, they are accustomed to the latest in cultural fashion and technology. As they are making long-term care decisions for their parents, they impart certain expectations.
Officials at furniture manufacturer Kwalu, for example, made the decision a couple years ago to start catering to baby boomers and develop more contemporary furniture for long-term care settings. While 80% of what it sells is still traditional, such as chairs with Queen Anne or Chippendale legs, it also has developed chairs with tapered legs with smooth flowing lines and more style. It has added 10 to 15 different lines of furniture in recent years, according to marketing manager Roy Krummeck.
"That would probably reflect the market's demands for more upbeat products," he said.
"They are a much more demanding demographic," explained Jeff Hertz of Hertz Supply Co. Inc. of Schnecksville, PA, of the generation born just after World War II. "They will be looking for finer things or a more appealing environment for their family members so if the healthcare facility offers these they can meet a demand."
Hertz and others said the baby boomers have influenced a relatively new concept of resident-centered care, versus purely clinical care.
"We use the term 'mo