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Design Trends for Senior Housing

Design Trends For Today’s Senior Housing

April 2nd, 2015 by

While there haven’t been many game-changing innovations in senior living design recently, we have seen the maturation of several ideas and trends that did emerge in the past decade.

Let’s examine a few of the most significant trends we’ve seen and perhaps speculate on one or two that have yet to be fully realized.

Exercise Area

Wellness: Modern seniors take wellness far more seriously than previous generations did. Twenty years ago, we could allocate a small 300-square-foot space to wellness, call it an “Exercise Room” and be done. Today we are designing robust fitness centers within our communities that incorporate state of the art equipment, aquatics, yoga, Tai Chi, aerobics, and massage rooms if not full day spas.


Wellness has also taken on a holistic dimension of “mind, body and spirit” that resonates throughout the entire community and touches on heathier food options, indoor air quality, alternative therapy and connection to nature. Evolving technologies will bring discreet 24/7 personal health monitoring and support to individual residents. Sustainable design features, particularly an abundance of daylighting and good indoor air quality, provide a more uplifting and healthier living environment. Greenhouses provide a welcome respite and an abundance of natural daylight during the winter months and provide residents the opportunity to grow and nurture flowers year-round, seedlings for spring garden planting, and perhaps fresh herbs for the on-site restaurant venues.

Recreation area

Amenities and Options: In our market-rate senior communities, today’s senior prospect desires a rich variety of services, amenities and options. The “hospitality” model, as it has become known, is a rejection of the homogenous one-size-fits-all institutional senior housing model in favor of a service-enriched program of activities and choices. Concierge desks have replaced the front security desk. Staff and services assist seniors from picking up dry cleaning to making a doctor’s appointment to reserving tickets to a performance.

Dining Area

Common spaces, beginning with the first impression at the entry lobby, are now hospitality inspired, open and engaging active areas that are more distinctive, contemporary and refined in their design. Freedom to pass through spaces has resulted in a blurring of distinctions between corridors and single-use rooms. A Wi-Fi cybercafé around the corner is a must, as is a business center. And let’s not forget the home theatre room. The ubiquitous crafts room is being supplemented with indoor/outdoor painting studios and a formal art gallery for resident works — spaces that help create an intellectually stimulating environment for residents.

Charlestown / Dining Room

Dining: Residents want daily choice and gourmet-level healthy food options. Gone are the days of batch cooking and huge dining rooms that are only open between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Kitchen design must accommodate to-the-minute cooking and to-go pick up, while serving varied menus in multiple, more intimately scaled restaurants, both formal and informal, at all times of the day. Think Panera Bread-inspired in the morning and Capital Grille during the evening.

Sitting Area

Uniqueness and Authenticity: Projects that are uniquely tied to local tradition and place — that feel “authentic” — is a trend we see often in the design of rental housing targeted to a much younger generation. But the concept hasn’t yet fully carried over in senior living buildings and communities. While this is most easily achieved in the renovation and repurposing of an older structure, for example, opportunities in design to promote a sense of connectedness to the greater community have yet to be fully exploited. I spoke to this topic in one of my previous blogs.

To address this, one feature we are exploring on a continuing care retirement community currently in design is providing an outdoor shelter or pavilion on a larger central green that would be a great amenity and also can be the setting of a Saturday morning farmer’s market open to the entire surrounding community.

What these trends reflect is a generation of seniors who are more determined than their predecessors to pursue an active and cosmopolitan lifestyle as they age. To thrive in the 21st century, communities must adapt and cater to the demands of modern seniors.

If you would like to learn more about senior living design trends, please reach out to us.