The payoff of downsizing: turning large entryways into cozy welcome areas

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The payoff of downsizing: turning large entryways into cozy welcome areas
The payoff of downsizing: turning large entryways into cozy welcome areas
Front rooms are where it's at. Entryways, greeting areas … no matter what you call them, nothing sells a prospective resident on a facility like a good first impression.

But it can be difficult to know just how to convert a giant cavern in the front of a facility into a comfortable, welcoming space. It's important to maintain a certain front-entry functionality, but a drab design or, worse, an institutional look, is sure to leave visitors with a less than satisfied feeling, experts warn.

So how do you create warm and fuzzy within a space that may be massive and intimidating?

Divide and conquer

Continuing care retirement communities and similar senior living facilities are more likely to contain these large and imposing front rooms. The entryway at Sweetwater by Del Webb in Jacksonville, FL, is a good example. This voluminous vestibule (pictured above) practically dares designers to try and conquer it.

Interior designer Judith Sisler-Johnston had a plan of attack she knew would give the room a softer look. By subdividing the room into zones, she subdued the sense of being  in a giant space.

“I put two seating groups–two cozy, intimate seating groups–back- to-back in that room, so that you weren't overwhelmed with a 25-foot- by-25-foot room as well as 18-foot ceiling heights,” she explains.

To create the two smaller areas within the large room, Sisler-Johnston put down floor coverings.

“We put area rugs into our houses where we have hard surfaces,” she says. “They help not only to define a space, but also to introduce a little bit of warmth as well.”

Chairs and sofas around the rugs finish off the mini living rooms, creating a couple of smaller spaces guests and first-time visitors can relax in, without feeling overcome by the enormity of the room.

Material matters

Whether it's a CCRC, assisted living facility or nursing home, you'll always want to include items that people are familiar with, such as items that they might have in their own home, Sisler-Johnston says.

A lot of facilities tend toward using heavy, wooden Queen Anne-style furniture in their lobbies and interior design schemes because that's what they think seniors want. But this may have come about as much by necessity as by misunderstanding what seniors prefer in their design.

“One of the biggest problems in assisted living and skilled nursing is incontinence, so you have to have fabrics on furniture pieces so that the piece itself doesn't absorb any moisture,” according to Sisler-Johnston. “It used to be when fabric like that first came out years ago, you were very limited in your choices. Now you're not anywhere near as limited.”

So instead of stocking up on giant, ornate—and uncomfortable—furniture, incorporate some cushions into your front-room design.

Window treatments, too, can be used to add warmth and comfort to a large front room. Side panels and soft drapes further create the homelike feel that's so important when welcoming new guests.
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