The New Wave in Senior Living: Designing for the Younger, Active Resident

By Connie Wittich, founding principal, Metropolitan Studio®

Traditionally in the senior living space, we’ve seen the repetition of the same design style. Older, mature, gray and beige hues that complement what we think the older generation may enjoy — a space that matches the maturity of the intended target generation, including the baby boomers.  

While understanding your audience is important and there is a time and a place to use this design style, it’s crucial to dig deeper psychologically and understand the 55-plus mind. 

Everyone wants to be younger. Why not design a space that accomplishes this goal?

As an industry, we’ve seen a shift from the dictation used to name a senior living community. We have heard the terms “55-plus community,” “senior community” and now “active adult.” 

The industry space has shifted and changed the idea of what retirement truly means. 

While the industry shift has been slowly transforming over the years, 2020 is where it became blatantly obvious what this space needs. As the world was forced to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the wellness space took off and communities valued human interaction, youth and health more than ever. 

It’s our job to create a space that reflects these values and provide the 55-plus audience with a youthful, optimistic living community. We’ve learned from the pandemic that life is too short, so as a senior living designer, it is our responsibility to make the necessary adjustments. 

Here are a few tangible ways you can accomplish this design style for the active adult.  

  1. Don’t be afraid of color: Let me let you on to an industry secret: Neutral paint tones are not the only tool that correlates to maturity. While using the creams and greys are necessary in any large building, so are the pinks, oranges and blues. There’s a way to add in those pops of color that transforms a room into an experience without becoming tacky or overwhelming. Understand the space you are working in and draw inspiration from the tones outside and local community buildings. Color is an essential tool for tapping into the youth in every resident.
  2. Outside-In design: With the industry shift sped up by 2020 and the pandemic, fresh air and natural landscapes are more important now than ever. Who wants to be trapped in a room today? Designing a space that welcomes and connects to the outside environment is crucial to happiness. We can accomplish this outside-in design through increased outdoor furniture, additional windows, art that illustrates the natural world, furniture that has the capacity to shift and relocate, design that welcomes natural sunlight, additions of local plants and typography, and inclusion of the local community’s culture. Adding high quantities of shaded cabanas and umbrellas is also crucial when engaging the outside-in design process, especially at high temperature terrain. 
  3. Create a wellness oasis: Wellness is the heartbeat to 2022 and any senior living facility. Wellness is a mindset through exercise, diet and lifestyle. There are both the mental and physical sectors of wellness, and both need to be catered to within overall building design. A wellness center that can provide onsite health checks physically and mentally is a huge benefit to the residents. Designing a wellness center with calming color hues and soothing artwork creates an oasis experience. Onsite spas, fitness centers and physical therapists contribute to the betterment of one’s active experience and promote a healthier lifestyle while still being accessible. Incorporating greenery into the building adds to the soothing experience and can be very grounding for residents. 
  4. The larger the common area, the better: We recently heard from a panel of senior living residents. One of the major takeaways we received is that the common area is the most important room in the building. A great room is not only a large space for residents to gather, but it also inspires connectivity and human interaction without residents having to break up into smaller groups. It’s important for a large community to create this safe space that encourages companionship. When we look at the approach to designing these spaces, providing furniture that is easily mobile is essential as residents will want to freely maneuver. Game nights and card tournaments are activities in which the common areas are frequently utilized, so increasing the quantity of tables and chairs that can hold many residents is vital. Incorporate chairs that are not too deep for the residents to sit in, allowing each member to easily move freely within the space and avoid getting stuck. 
  5. Design for the younger family: Let’s create a space that makes the 30-year-old daughter say, “Wow, this is amazing; I want to live here.” The goal when designing a 55-plus living facility is to make the resident feel like they’re 30 again and thriving. As a designer it’s important to stay up to date with furniture trends that impress all age groups and create a classic design outcome, but with an exciting, youthful twist. Carpet and corridors are two elements in a building that are traditionally more discreet. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box and find some fun colors and prints that spice up the space and excite residents to walk the halls each day.

We are excited to present the article featuring Metropolitan Studio® published by Seniors Housing Business. After traveling to conferences, working with professionals in the senior living industry on projects, and hearing feedback from community members, we have been reflecting on significant design implications that are integral for the active adult. Please check out the article on Seniors Housing Business website. 

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