Facilities must always provide exceptional care and service – whether they’re in frigid Fargo or balmy Miami. They also need to mesh with the surrounding community. While being sensitive to area cultures and climates is important, it should not be at the expense of sensible, functional design, as experts explain.

Consider working with designers who truly know the area. 

“We generally work with a local firm that knows the design concept they are trying to reach,” says Ula Zusman, executive vice president at Kwalu. 

She suggests working with firms that “spec furniture and fabric for selected regions across the country and especially the type of home they are designing for.” 

If possible, involve the residents themselves in product selection.

“Operators can best gauge residents’ local tastes by letting them help make the selections,” Zusman adds. 

Dawn Lammert, interior designer for Invacare Interior Design, advises asking any out-of-town designer to “tour the area and facility to better understand the community and competition.”

Respect local cultures. If your resident population is predominantly Latino, for example, consider artwork or murals that tastefully convey memes celebrating the Hispanic culture, says Lammert. 

The over-arching concern, however, should be creating “a living environment that is safe, comfortable, practical, cost-effective and attractive to the residents who live there,” says Ridley Kinsey, director of healthcare markets at Patcraft. “Interior finishes can have a major impact on quality of life issues, and the solutions can vary along with the geography.” 

Don’t overlook custom patterns or even indigenous stones, organics and florals in floor coverings, he adds.

Be careful about overwrought “theme”-based design. While it’s easy to assume a nautical theme is appropriate for a beach town, many residents might find it tiring.

Lammert advises facilities to “allow the geographic area to speak for itself. Families will feel comfortable surrounded by colors and furniture styles that fit not only the area but also are appropriate for senior living environments.” 

Designers can work with the local historical society for ideas, notes Lissa Rolenc, founder and owner of 4 design in Wisconsin.

“For example, Wabash, Indiana was known for having the first electric train, so I used graphics and wall coverings reflecting that,” Rolenc says. In a predominently Polish community, she put in photographs of towns in Poland.

“You want to look at the demographics and relate it to what the residents are used to,” she says. 

Finally, choose furnishing fabrics and casegood hardware that complement and support the design décor of an existing environment, adds Chris Silguero, director, contract sales, Hekman Contract. 

Blend with the locale, but remember the population you serve, advises Zusman. 

“More important than regional-based design is the consideration of whom the design serves,” she says. 

“For example, we have seen design elements incorporate familiar outside elements like main streets with walkways and street posts to support wayfinding in memory care units,” Zusman says. Coffee bars with high-topped stools in independent living spaces are one element allowing for an unencumbered feel, she notes. 

Don’t allow design to mask the services you provide or bust your budget. 

“A key decision is whether to have a highly residential look or an acute care look,” says Tom Karbowski, director of marketing at Hill-Rom. “Often, rehab facilities want to create more of a hospital look while that may be the last thing other types of places such as hospices want.” 

Adds Norm Kay, CEO Long-Term Care, Drive Medical Design and Manufacturing: “Facilities are trying to present more of a homelike feel and look [but] the challenges are the costs associated to provide this. So they need to find the best value proposition but not sacrifice clinical outcomes.”

Above all, your regional design considerations must be driven by functionality.

“Designers are looking for furniture and fabrics that withstand the test of time,” notes Zusman. n

Mistakes to avoid 

– Overlooking the community expertise of local design firms

– Ignoring sensibilities of local cultures

– Allowing theme-based designs to overpower functional needs