Dean Maddalena

If you’ve been to a recent senior living trade show or picked up a magazine geared toward the industry, you’ve probably seen beautiful, elegant furniture that would look right at home in your community. Of course, you probably have a ton of questions about what to choose and how. 

How much should you budget? What design aesthetic should you use? These questions all plague the minds of community decision makers. 

As an interior design firm and furniture designer, studioSIX5 uses standards which often fall above industry standards when choosing furniture and textiles. The reason? We want to offer another person’s family member the same care we’d want our own loved ones to have.  We’ve put together the top ten things to know when investing in a new line of furniture for your community.

1.     Reputation and references are key:

The manufacturer should have an extensive history in senior living products and know what your residents look for in their furniture. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to ask questions; after all, they’re trying to earn your business.

2.     Budget appropriately:

The average cost of furnishings for a new 85-90 unit community can range between $550,000 and $700,000 and typically increases 3%-5% each year due to the rising cost of materials and higher demand.  Budgeters tend to take furniture allocation funds from previous projects without adapting costs, so it’s important to know the real-time costs of the pieces you want to purchase.

3.     Choose quality:

There’s a huge difference in the quality of furniture you get from a furniture store versus a verified senior living manufacturer. Residential furniture would only last one or two years in a senior living environment, whereas commercial furniture can last five to 10 years. Commercial furniture has stronger components and is warrantied for a commercial environment, whereas residential furniture is not warrantied for use in a commercial environment.

4.     Use a transitional design aesthetic:

Don’t know where to start with the design aesthetic when refurnishing your community? The safest approach is to use what’s called “transitional” style, which takes traditional design elements and blends with modern furniture pieces. Overall, it is the most timeless approach to design and will generally suit any space.

5.     Try before you buy:

Not only do you want the furniture to fit nicely into your room, but also to fit the people using it. Pay attention to arm and cushion height, as well as depth and table height. Have your residents test out furniture for the dining room or other common areas to make sure residents of all shapes, sizes and needs can comfortably maneuver the furniture.

6.     Choose healthcare-grade materials:

It is likely that chairs will be subject to stains and harsh cleaning chemicals. Healthcare-grade materials offer moisture barriers and stain resistance to keep your furniture in tip-top shape over years of use. This added shield will prevent fabric from fading over time, reduce or eliminate mold and repel stains. This treatment can come inherent in the fabric or be added to textiles using products like Nano-tex and DuraBlock before upholstering.

7.     Know when it’s time to buy new furniture:

After several years of use, you might be wondering if it’s time to look at getting new furniture for your community. Here are a few signs your current furnishings may be unsafe or unsanitary to keep using: Finishes are overly dented and cannot be repaired, fabric is fraying, cushions are bottoming out or there are stains that cannot be removed.

8.     Save money in the replacement process:

Many people think that it is more cost-effective to reupholster existing furniture than to buy new. If frames and cushions are in decent shape, it might be, but it is best to go through a pricing exercise to see. It might be less expensive to buy new. The biggest cost savings is to select less expensive fabrics that still meet performance criteria. If there are broken parts, see if the furniture is still under warranty or if it can be repaired locally.

9.     Durability matters:

In points above we touched on the importance of fabric durability. There are ways to also protect the hard surfaces of your furniture. For instance, a metal cap ferrule on the bottom of chair legs will prevent damage from vacuums, mops or wheelchairs. Many seniors tend to “plop” in a chair rather than carefully sit, thus the need for durable construction that will last through years of nonresidential use.  Brands like Kwalu’s Designed to Last products use materials that are scratch-resistant, which keep the furniture looking new year after year.

10.  Interior designers can help:

If you feel you aren’t qualified to make these decisions for your community, please consult a reputable interior designer who has senior living experience.  This prior experience is crucial in making the best-educated choices for your community.

Dean Maddalena is president and architect of studioSIX5 in Austin, TX.