‘A Client once said to me that the most important point to keep in mind when designing interiors for the care home sector is that the people living in the homes are exactly like you and me, just a little older, a bit further down the road so to speak, they need and deserve a comfortable home from home just like you and I, it is very sage advice, we always endeavour to keep these words at the forefront of our minds when working on these projects.
Designing a residential care home is, at the same time, both a joy and a challenge, the joy comes from knowing that your work makes a real difference to the quality of someone’s life, whilst the challenge comes from providing an interior which meets all the criteria necessary to provide safety, stimulation and comfort at the same time.
For many residents the Home is their whole world, therefore we need to strive to create destination areas within the Home; designing two recent Homes for The Hadrian Healthcare Group in Knaresborough and Oulton in Yorkshire we have used themed zones such as a pet corner, music lounge, market square, vintage kitchen, flower stall and library, zoning areas gives us the opportunity to reinforce the theme with artwork, and accessories, also changes in furniture style, colour, variety of fabric and wall coverings assist to add interest, the themes provoke topics of conversation and help to unlock memories allowing the residents to fully engage with their new home environment, enabling them to feel comfortable and safe is paramount to their quality of life.
On a practical level varying the finishes such as wall colour and patterns in different areas of corridor say can go a long way towards helping to orientate the resident within the home, this means that they can find their way between the lounge, dining room and their own bedroom more easily, reducing confusion and, with it, stress. Lighting also helps with this, general ceiling lighting should be warm white in tone and spaced to avoid dark shadows, however it is possible to have some fun with the decorative light fittings following and reinforcing the theme of the room or zone or creating drama and wow factor at the entrance level, first impressions are always important.
We take particular care with regards to the upholstered furniture, fabrics must, of course, conform to all safety standards, however, it is important not to be clinical in the approach, comfort is paramount, everyone likes the feel of soft, warm textures. Seat height is important too, as is stability, the seat cushions are a little higher and firmer than usual domestic furniture, the arms more solid, both helping to assist easier rising from the chair, a feeling of continued independence for the resident is key. Many people like to snooze in their chair, so the chair back should be higher and supportive, a contemporary style Wing Chair is a favourite for this, especially in the lounges and bedrooms.
Upholstery colours are a consideration, strong deep colour fabrics can appear as a black hole to the visually impaired thereby making the resident anxious to sit on very dark upholstered chairs, if the surrounding colours are very light they will give the seat the appearance of floating in space, on the other hand a contrasting piping fabric can help to outline the shape of the chair making it easier to see, however it is important to ensure that the chair legs contrast with the floor finish to “ground” the chair.
We also ensure that there is not a strong contrast between the colours of differing floor finishes, mistaking a change from say a timber, to a carpeted floor, as a false step can be costly, confidence once lost can be hard to regain.
Pattern is also carefully considered; Dementia Care Residents are often uncomfortable with heavily patterned fabrics sometimes seeing false illusions in what, to most people, would appear to be
innocent patterns, therefore we introduce tonal designs to carpets and fabric to create interest and personality without causing issues, similarly the subjects of the artwork should be clear and not too abstract.
We always aim to give our schemes a sense of place, to connect the Home to the local environment or to the overall theme for the building, it is important that the interior has a personality and is a place that the resident will be proud to all home. As a practice we have found designing for the Care Home industry to be extremely emotionally rewarding, knowing how important the finished scheme is to the people living in the Home is creatively very fulfilling.
By Susan De Glanville, Interior Design Associate – Alexander James International.