How to do it... Design that appeals to family members

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1. To know what design elements are most appealing to your residents, you need to know what appeals to family members. This means understanding the likes and dislikes of both the baby boomers and millennials.

“Providers need to decide what they can offer not only to the resident, but the family member,” says Meg Sutton, senior lead interior designer with Direct Supply Aptura. That means amenities that are appealing to both, such as spas, and restaurant style and in-room dining. For example, many adult children may covet a take-home dining service after a lengthy visit with Mom or Dad, she says. 

Vickee Vollmer, senior interior designer at Invacare Continuing Care, suggests querying residents' children in advance of a decision. The oldest adult child is a key. 

When Nancy Boren's parents recently moved to an assisted living facility, her sister (the oldest sibling) made all of the decisions. 

“It was important that the facility listen to all of our concerns, and hers in particular,” says Boren, an independent manufacturer's representative for Healthcare Source.

Adds Michael Zusman, CEO of Kwalu, “The oldest daughter is looking for a place that is beautiful, with either an elegant resort look and feel or a comfortable, homelike quality, suitable for their stay and for her family to visit, as well as amenities that promote socialization and wellness.” 

Chris Morgan, Healthcare Renovations national account manager for HD Supply Facilities Maintenance, tells operators that “creating several model rooms tailored to the styles and tastes of the oldest daughter is a productive investment.”

2. Socialization is a shared need among residents and their adult children. It's not uncommon for today's communities to offer home theaters, lounges, fully equipped kitchens and even business centers that allow residents to be entertained, interact with others and cook meals. As Zusman describes it, “The feeling of ‘community' is permanently replacing the word ‘facility.'”

Equally important are residents' growing needs for continuing many of the activities, like fitness and gardening, they did when they lived independently.

“I was recently in a Vermont assisted living community that had a woodworking shop for residents,” observes Ridley Kinsey, director of healthcare and retail markets at Patcraft.

Stacy Hollinger, IIDA, an interior designer with RLPS Interiors, calls them “life enrichment spaces” for the arts, entertainment, continuing education and personal development. The Lancaster, PA-based designer has created spaces for many larger facilities that include multiple casual and formal dining venues.

3. Not that long ago, communities might try to resemble luxury hotels. Many now are favoring homegrown ambience. 

“As children gain more traction with providers, they want that homey appeal for their moms and dads,” Vollmer says.

“One of our firm's mantras came from a woman who asked us to design a hospice that looks like, acts like and feels like home,” adds Hollinger. “Although that was over 20 years ago, we've kept that in the forefront for any of our skilled nursing and memory care work.” 

4. Don't be intimidated by over-zealous adult children. There are numerous ways to freshen up design that's family-friendly and appealing without breaking the bank. This includes relatively cost-effective sprucing up of the two largest spaces of any community — its floors and walls, says Kinsey. Floors are one of those areas that, if done well, will make a powerful first impression on families of prospective residents,” he explains.

“It will scream whether your facility is really nice or just average. Don't ever overlook how so many decisions of where to place a loved one are sensory in nature. Within the first five seconds, you're going to form a perception based on sight, sound and smell,” he adds. “You want family members walking in that front door and getting wowed right off the bat.”