FINISHES WITH A PURPOSE
While the new nursing home may look more contemporary and feel more casual, it must still address
the challenges of older bodies and minds—especially
deteriorating eyesight, sleep, and mobility. “The eye
can’t go from light to dark as quickly as when you
were 20,” says Maddalena. “And it’s harder to go
from a darker to a bright surface.” He uses as much
ambient lighting as possible, as well as LED lighting
that changes throughout the day to match outdoor,
natural light. “In the a.m., the lighting is more blue;
in the evenings it’s more on the red spectrum to
support natural sleeping rhythms,” he explains,
adding that this is important for everyone but
especially for people with Alzheimer’s, who have
problems with their circadian rhythm. To support
residents with arthritis and other mobility issues,
studioSIX5 designs chairs for furniture-maker
Kwalu that have arms, handles, and adjustable
seat heights and depths for different levels of care.
Kwalu furniture is made from a strong and durable
polymer material that looks like wood but is easy
to clean, with stain-resistant chair fabrics that can
also have an added moisture barrier.
Carol Reitter Elia, founder of CR Design in
Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, also specializes
in senior living. She too, has seen a shift over the
past 20 years, driven by baby boomers. “This demographic has led us to design much more in the
contemporary realm. The 85-year-old isn’t really
as concerned about the facility as his or her 60- or
65-year-old child,” she says. Boomers are used to
having lots of choices, she notes, so even basic things
like room size and food service are changing. “In the
past, these facilities were designed for single beds,”
says Elia. “We’re now designing much larger rooms
to accommodate queen- or even king-sized beds, so
spouses can be there comfortably.”
Dining facilities are much more varied than in
the past. “Senior living used to be geared toward
‘breakfast at eight; dinner at five,’” explains Elia. But
now, instead of big dining halls, the trend is toward
“restaurants” with open kitchens, and coffee shops
reminiscent of the corner Starbucks. “One of the big-
gest changes I’ve seen in the last 10 years is facilities
with more casual ‘grab and go’ options, and less for-
mal dining,” says Elia. “Everyone is going back to
casual dining with service, and casual dining where
you can get a buffet—or a custom pizza made in a
And boomers want bars and alcohol, another
departure from the old-style nursing home where
alcohol was often forbidden or discouraged.
Maddalena says he is building bars to accommodate
every resident, with different bar and table heights.
“Bars are the center of every community,” he adds.
“When we go back and ask if we could do one thing
over again, they ask us to make the bar twice as big.
Everyone looks forward to happy hour.”
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION
To make the trip from the bar to the bedroom safe, but
less drab than the monotonous halls of yesterday, Elia
and Maddalena install handrails made to look more
like chair rails, as well as lots of art and wayfinding
features. Maddalena says he now uses paint more
often than vinyl, noting it is easier to maintain and
touch up the damage sustained from walkers or carts.
Even with the help of a walker or rail, one of the
biggest safety problems for seniors is falling, and
most people fall at night when they can’t see as well.
To help reduce injuries from falls, new flooring is
now available with padding underneath in different
levels of cushiness, and grab bars with LED lighting
help illuminate pathways. Companies are even mak-
ing beds with motion sensors that activate a light
at floor level when a resident gets up in the mid-
dle of the night. These are amber so the circadian TO
Open, restaurant-style dining areas,
bright community spaces, and attractive
amenities are top of mind for seniors
choosing a new place to live as they age.
Memory boxes at each doorway make
wayfinding safer and easier for residents.