Designing transition

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Designing transition
Designing transition
It appears long-term care organizations have reached a tipping point in the quest to furnish their facilities in a style that appeals to prospective residents and their families.

While traditional design has been a mainstay in the eldercare market, furnishing vendors say that in recent years, contemporary styles have been gaining favor — especially in the hospitality-oriented continuing care retirement community and assisted living sectors.

Long-term care is entering a “transitional” phase where both traditional and contemporary styles will be predominant choices, says Lynn Vogeltanz, studio team leader for Direct Supply Aptura.

“Hospitality design will continue to drive look and needs,” she says. “Transitional style is where most clients are moving towards when describing the look that they are envisioning for their buildings. Traditional is still around for certain markets, but we are seeing contemporary design being requested a lot more compared to a few years ago. More furniture manufacturers are creating furniture styles that meet this need with the function that is required in skilled nursing and assisted living.”

In terms of priorities, Vogeltanz says three key preferences are seat firmness, ease of cleaning and function, though she adds that each project needs to be assessed individually to determine precise resident needs.

“Typically, skilled nursing buildings need to have firmer cushions and seats that are not as deep,” she says. “Most times clients are looking for drop-through seating in order to make it easy for maintenance. Arm height is important for dining chairs, as are fabrics that are durable and easy to clean.”

Jacki Zumsteg, manager of design operations for Invacare Continuing Care, also characterizes the furnishing design climate as “transitional,” driven by the styling demands of residents' families. However, she also finds that while “aesthetics are important to our clients, more and more we are seeing them have interest in the durability and maintenance of the products. Warranties are becoming important as well.”

Functionality is a primary driver in furnishing selection, Zumsteg says, pointing out “if the products are going into a nursing home, the cleanability of the product is crucial. Skilled nursing facility operators are looking for upholsteries that can be cleaned easily and seats that can be removed to allow cleaning.”

Conversely, she says assisted living operators continue to look for more residential-oriented furnishings in both style and function.

Zumsteg said she expects to see more interest from rehab centers for upscale furnishings in 2012, as well as the introduction of new upholstery products for the skilled nursing market.

“We are seeing new vinyl upholsteries that have great patterns and colors,” she says. “Other upholsteries offer great functionality yet have a residential feel and design style.”

Tech trends
Advancements in digital technology are spurring demand for high-definition TV, network computing and interactive gaming in senior care facilities, says Jacqueline Goense, assistant account executive for LG-One.

For television sets in 2012, she says, “customers can expect to see TVs that incorporate the latest in high definition technology, with features like simpler remote controls, larger on-screen text and enhanced audio quality with variable audio output for better integration with a host of listening solutions. These features truly cater to the long-term care resident.”

With interactive gaming reaching new levels of popularity within the geriatric community, demand for TVs with larger screens has increased substantially.

“Large-screen TVs are becoming more prevalent in common areas, such as day rooms, lounges and lobbies,” Goesne says. “The new generation of large-screen TVs in LED, LCD and plasma are designed to deliver clear images at virtually any position, in either portrait or landscape modes, and are designed for continuous operation.”

Goense predicts that the use and presence of digital signage also will increase substantially in the long-term care industry as a result of new easy-to-deploy systems that facilities can manage themselves, as opposed to hiring a contractor. LG's EzSign TV, for example, is the company's first digital signage solution to incorporate live TV and branded advertisements without additional hardware.

“Facility personnel can easily customize messages on a computer and upload the content via a USB device for no additional cost,” Goense says. “This allows for very flexible messaging to fit any need, from daily events and functions to cafeteria menus and resident birthdays. These same displays also function as HDTVs.”

Face the floor
Safety is the paramount criterion for flooring purchases, which has led to a trend toward new design patterns, improved ergonomic performance and environmentally friendly materials, says Gail Nash, vice president of healthcare strategy for InterfaceFLOR.

“As baby boomers move into their late 60s, there has been a corresponding frequency of falls among residents of senior living facilities,” she says. “Concerns for safety, as well as the changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, are having an effect not only on the construction of flooring but also on the design aesthetics. In those areas of a senior campus where there might be a higher frequency of falls with resulting injuries, we will begin to see flooring ‘underlayments' that are designed to help reduce the risk of injury from a fall.”

Patterns with literal organics such as flowers and leaves will be replaced by more non-literal designs with lower contrast between image and background,” Nash says. “This hopefully will reduce the possibility of a fall that typically occurs when an individual with poor eyesight, depth perception or visual acuity bends over to ‘pick up the flower that's on the floor.'”

Buying habits
Vendors say there are many variables that go into determining a facility's purchasing volume and frequency.
“It depends on how the facility views their furnishings,” Vogeltanz says. “Some clients view this as a capital spend.

They may update one room at a time or as funds become available. For example, they may update their lobby this year and next year renovate a dining room. Another client may view this as project spend. They may renovate the entire building or a wing in order to make more impact from a marketing or design look perspective.”

In budgeting for their furnishings, all customers have an overall spending goal, she says, and they want to know what they paid for.

“It's powerful to know the budget upfront and be able to work with the client based upon what their goals are,” Vogeltanz says. “By knowing their goals, a person can help the client get the biggest bang for their dollar. Is it marketing impression that the customer is after? Is it replacement of existing pieces?”

Warranty scrutiny is also becoming more prevalent, she says.

“They want to know what they are buying is going to last,” she says. “They have options and they are educated about what choices they have. No longer are decisions made on budget or look alone.”

Zumsteg says most facilities will replace upholstered furniture every seven to 10 years, while flooring is switched out about every 15 years. Still, she adds, most organizations will make some type of furnishing purchase each year, even if it is not throughout the building.

“Mostly, what we see are partial renovations,” Zumsteg says. “This allows them to change areas as the budget permits. Budgets typically dictate the reason the projects are done in phases.”

Flooring products are designed for long-term use and quality manufacturers that establish a standard program with a facility can usually rely on that client as “an annuity account,” Nash notes.

“Once a group of carpet tile products has been selected and installed, they are designed for long wear and easy replacement for in-house staff,” she says. “Replacement of either full or partial resident room upon change in occupancy will vary by facility.”

Television purchasing usually depends largely on facility type, Goense observes.

“For example, many assisted living facilities provide apartment-type living, where residents have their own TVs,” she explains. “However, in skilled nursing and rehab facilities, we're seeing more frequent TV purchases as the organizations need to enhance resident amenities in a competitive business environment.”

Furnishing trends for 2012
--Buyers are in a “transitional” phase, between traditional and contemporary styles.
--Vendors expect to sell more upscale products for the rehab market, such as HDTVs, luxury furniture, spas and beds.
--New vinyl upholsteries are coming in a wide variety of patterns and colors while providing long-lasting durability and ease of cleaning.
--Durability, maintenance and warranties have become as important as style and aesthetics.
--A wider selection of furniture frames combines style and functionality.
--Recliners are being designed to look increasingly fashionable and residential.
--Bariatric-sized seating is in higher demand.
--Technology is improving on numerous fronts, including fabrics,
furniture finishes, furniture construction and digital appliances.
--Room dividers for converting semi-private rooms to private ones are expected to grow in demand.
--Manufacturers are generally continuing to design medicine cabinets, charting areas and over-bed lights that look less institutional.