Senior Living Furniture Design Tips

Senior Living Furniture

As life span gets longer an ever increasing number of people is choosing to move into senior living facilities. This does not mean however, that they are giving up their independence. On the contrary, most senior living facilities nowadays are geared towards providing a busy, enriching and fulfilling life to those wishing to enjoy their golden years in comfort.

In order to successfully do that, facilities need to consider a number of factors when designing and furnishing their common and private areas. Amongst the most important things to remember is that a senior living environment is a permanent residence. Unlike a day center, this is people’s home and it needs to look like one.

While common areas are larger and fulfill more functions than a regular living room they still need to evoke a sense of homeliness and comfort while taking into consideration their function and the age of the residents.

According to recent studies and observations, designs aiming to create a pleasant, stimulating environment improve on the well-being of residents. This might sound intuitive yet many facilities still opt for the institutional design.

Towards the end of the 1990s facilities and designers alike began to de-institutionalize senior living, nursing homes and health care living facilities placing more focus on the needs and well-being of the residents rather than those of the employees. This movement focused not only on the design on the buildings but also on the décor thus making the living spaces seem more homey and personal.

When choosing furniture for senior living facilities you need to consider not only their design but function too. More than anything, senior living sitting caters to people who, for the most part, need slightly different requirements from their furnishings.

Seat Specs

Seat width

Seat Depth

Seat depth has been identified as an important comfort factor for older people, allowing them to sit without slouching or leaning to support their back. They should also be wide enough to allow for proper circulation to their legs and thighs and to offer extra support to the seat and lumbar areas. While seat dimensions vary based on the design, seat width should be at least 19.5” and 19”-20” deep.
Seat construction

Seat Construction

A strong seat is commonly built in one of three methods. Some chairs have a 3/4” thick hardwood plywood board while others have a webbed seat board made of plywood covered with elastic bands for added strength and flexibility (as shown on the image). Lastly, a spring system can be used as a seat support made of evenly spaced wire springs with two rows of steel tie wire. The seat in most cases is padded with polyurethane foam of 2.3 density at 45 lb compression and covered in commercial grade upholstery.

Chair Construction

Regardless of the frame material, chairs need to be of commercial grade build. They need to provide more strength and durability than regular residential furniture and provide stability to the residents when getting in and out of the chairs. Strength can be achieved using hard wood species preferably maple or beech as they are tougher and easier to maintain or metal, most likely aluminum.

Arm rests

Arm Rests

When asked, seniors named armrests as vital. Allowing them to more easily sit or stand they are also essential for the feeling of autonomy and confidence which everyone is looking for. Armrests should ideally be slightly lower at the back than the front but it’s not a necessity. Another important aspect is the width of the armrest. The classic recommendation was for them to be 4.7” wide but observations and comments from residents show that slimmer ones are easier to grip when getting in or out of the chairs.
Chair frames

Chair Frames

Aluminum frames are the most popular choice for senior living chairs due to their corrosion resistance, lightweight and strength. They are also easy to mold in a way that mimics various surfaces such as wood. With a wood look finish the commercial grade aluminum frame will provide ample support and durability but won’t detract from the warm residential look that senior living environments should be aiming for. Aluminum is also a non-porous material therefore it is resistant to surface bacteria and mold making it more sanitary and easier to maintain, especially in a senior living environment.

Senior Living Furniture Design

Commercial grade, stain resistant upholstery is a must when building furniture for senior living or any other commercial use. Seating will take a lot of abuse over time and in order to maintain the furniture looking as good as new commercial grade fabric or vinyl are used. While upholstery can come in an almost endless variety of colors and textures it is recommended to have brightly colored upholstery. Bright and light colors aid in creating a more relaxed and positive atmosphere when compared to darker colors especially to elderly people who most likely have some level of visual impairment. Bright colors used in specific areas can also become memory aids for those who require them.

commercial grade fabric

Fabric Strength, Material & Color

Commercial grade upholstery should adhere to the industry standard of minimum 30,000 double rubs (defined as the Wyzenbeek rating) but some fabrics can withstand 50,000 double rubs going up to 150,000 making them even more durable. Most are made of a blend of non-organic fibers such as polyester and nylon. This creates a stronger and more durable fabric which is treated to be liquid and stain resistant as well as fire retardant. This means you can maintain the residential look without compromising on quality and function.
senior living spaces

Multi-functional Spaces

While having specific rooms for different functions provides the greatest opportunity for freedom of choice for your residents, smaller facilities might struggle with that. In those cases, flexible spaces that can easily turn from a lounge to a dining room or an exercise hall mean you can provide residents with the same level of care they can get at a larger facility while maintaining a small close-knit and homey atmosphere.

Other Points to Consider -

  • Floorplans should encourage movement: Walking is knows to increase the lifespan of older adults as well as improving mobility and giving people a sense of independence all of which are very important to people’s mental health as well.
  • Create staff-only spaces: When focusing the design to benefit the residents it might make the caregivers’ work slightly more difficult. Burnout for caregivers is common in senior facilities and that often impacts on the level of care residents receive. To reduce stress and frustration in the staff it is recommended to have large, well lit and windowed staff-only spaces which include a lounge area, kitchen, nap areas and some storage options for personal belonging as well as medical supplies.
  • Turn the kitchen into a community area: For most of us the kitchen is more than just a place for cooking. And especially with open plan kitchens they have become a part of where we entertain our guests, enjoy a nice chat over a cup of coffee or cook together with others.
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