After long mimicking the hospitality industry’s grand lobbies and communal spaces, long-term care designers are shifting to a “less is more” strategy.

“The pandemic highlighted that the same efficiencies that made skilled care at a large scale possible (and affordable) — shared rooms and units of 40 to 60 people — often comes at the expense of quality of life,” says Melissa Destout, associate principal at Perkins-Eastman.

She is seeing a shift in focus from primarily physical care to caring for the whole person with reimagined nurses stations, activity spaces and more to match.

“In a recent, pre-pandemic project for Jewish Senior Life, we worked with our client to design and build three-story Green House homes to create smaller-scale environments featuring private rooms,” Destout notes. These new residences were followed by a renovation of an existing nursing building to create neighborhoods as well.

Still, this design trend toward “smaller and more intimate” is not all-encompassing. Destout and colleagues believe large-scale gathering spaces are still important. 

Residents’ adult children “will still be looking for far more of the hospitality and lifestyle settings which present themselves in a far less clinical manner,” says Gaurie Rodman, senior director of real estate strategy and development for Aptura.

While opportunities for full renovations and new resident rooms remain rare, says Martin Siefering, principal and co-leader of the practice at Perkins-Eastman, there is a strong alternative in creating smaller-scaled environments within an existing footprint.

It “can have a huge impact on quality of life and care,” he adds, noting a recent project by a New Jersey provider to add separate living and dining spaces and a bathing suite to each wing of an existing building.

But as long as the economy is challenged and supply chain issues exist, wholesale single occupancy is on hold, says Dan Davidenko, CEO of Kwalu. “Single occupancy rooms are more of a request than a trend. Waiting to complete projects can have a greater impact on the bottom line as freight, installation and the products themselves can all increase in price,” he says.