Insider Knowledge – 5 Design Tips for Senior Living Common Areas

Do you remember when your children were growing up? In your home, you latched cabinets, locked doors, removed trip hazards, hid sharp objects and moved furniture that was in the path of traffic. The same holds true in a senior living community. The design of your common areas must carefully address resident safety, all while creating a comforting environment. To complicate matters, today’s residents also want the common areas in their new community to have the look and feel of a boutique hotel with a multitude of finishes and amenities. As I noted in my first article - 

“Age produces a completely new level of design complexity

I will address some of these common area complexities in the following tips.

  1. Be cautious of carpeting: Busy patterns or stripes can cause imbalance, disorientation and falls. It is imperative that your interior designer has experience in the senior living industry and understands the best flooring, patterns and colors for seniors. Remember, you are designing for residents who could have poor eyesight and limited mobility. Many residents are on multiple medications, all of which can affect balance, perception and orientation. This concern is especially true when decorating in the memory care wing. Patterns with bold colors and high contrast may achieve the aesthetic “boutique” look you are trying to attain but could confuse and disorient, and even agitate, your memory care residents.

  2. Do not skimp on lighting: This is an area often cut back during the early value engineering stages of the design process to shave a few dollars off the project budget. The developer will either reduce the quantity of lighting installed or downgrade the quality of the lighting. Most of your residents have varying degrees of poor eyesight and under-illuminated hallways and other common areas can create shadows and blind spots, which produce falls. Good lighting reduces falls and thus reduces injury.

  3. Get rid of levels and steps: Often with a challenging site, the developer will split the building and have one side of the building higher than the other to reduce sitework costs. This means that a step up, a set of stairs or a ramp will now be required for access. I have also seen designers create sunken or raised common areas in order to give the community a unique ‘wow’ factor. Although aesthetically pleasing, these areas are trip or fall hazards, especially when combined with poor lighting and carpeting that has a bold pattern. My advice, keep the building flat and functional because-

    Serious Fall = Injury = Lawsuit

  4. Traffic flow and traffic management are important: Traffic flow is equally important in your common areas as it is in your parking lot. You will have residents who move at varying speeds - some who walk fast, many who walk slow, some with canes, others with walkers and wheelchairs, some with pets, and maybe a few with mobility scooters. I even had a resident with a souped-up power chair that she would drive to a nearby restaurant. Internally, a narrow hallway, changes in flooring types, transition strips, poorly placed furniture and other obstacles, like support columns and pony walls, can all produce bottlenecks, traffic jams and accidents in your community. I have even seen where the lack of sufficient seating at the beauty salon created pedestrian obstacles in the adjoining hallway. Senior residents are unique customers, so your design must take into account not only age, but mobility and health issues, and even senior psychology. Yes, psychology - the bottleneck at the beauty salon came from seniors showing up an hour early for their appointment so they could socialize.

  5. Remember resident hearing: Many of your residents will not hear well. The tall ceilings in the dining room may look great, but poor acoustics and a noisy room can be disheartening for a senior, as well as become a safety issue. Look for ways to deaden or break up sound without losing design aesthetics. You can add acoustical panels to the walls and have your decorator cover them with material so they become purposeful art.

By employing all of the above tips in your new design, you will ensure that you will not only have warm and welcoming common areas, but you will have functional and safe ones too. This will make your residents and their families happy as well as reduce accident rates in your facility.

Future Thoughts to Come…

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LandSouth Construction, the Southeast’s premier general contractor, specializing in multifamily, senior living, and mixed-use development, was named one of Engineering News Record’s Top 400. Since 1998, LandSouth has transformed ideas into best–in–class communities. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. LandSouth has completed more than 25,000 multifamily units. For more information, call LandSouth’s Marketing Coordinator, Kaley Robinson, (904) 760-3188, or visit