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Member Highlight: Bringing the Boutique Experience to Skilled Nursing

Thursday, November 30, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Dorothy Taylor
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Owners of senior living communities are looking to distinguish themselves by offering the same chic designs found in “boutique” hotels. Boutique hotels celebrate local flavor and feature stylish décor with a fashionable personality. Despite this trend of providing intimate and luxurious experiences, there is an area in senior living that generally lacks the upscale, thoughtful and hotel-like design. These hospitality touches are typically lacking in long-term skilled care communities and short-term rehabilitation centers, commonly known as skilled nursing centers. Austin-based interior design firm studioSIX5 is going against the norm by infusing progressive design into skilled nursing residences. One of its latest projects is setting new benchmarks for skilled nursing design—Heron’s Key, located in a small fishing village, is a $145 million CCRC in Gig Harbor, Wash. Jessica Willms, project design manager for studioSIX5, assisted this community in adhering to strict codes and regulations while creating boutique-designed environments which are far from the stereotypical institutional feel.

“There’s a misconception about skilled nursing communities. People think that to meet codes and maintain functionality, these communities must be very institutional to fulfill care-taking needs,” said Willms. “When people picture skilled nursing, they definitely don’t picture a community like Heron’s Key. They picture a sterile glistening vinyl composition tile (VCT) covered hallway with florescent lighting, handrails and bumper rails down the walls. However, if you look at Heron’s Key as an example, it doesn’t have to be this way. By using materials that still function for this level of care and focusing the design so it’s in keeping with the boutique feel of the rest of the community, you can create functional and hygienic skilled nursing neighborhoods without sacrificing aesthetics. There’s no reason why seniors should feel like when you need the most care in your life you have to live in a space that is ugly and depressing. At Heron’s Key, one of our ways to accomplish this is to use solution-dyed carpet tiles on the floor throughout the majority of the building. Carpet provides a much warmer and more inviting aesthetic and blends with the design elements that we were able to provide throughout the whole CCRC. Staff can still clean these carpets with code-required bleach solution or hot water extraction, and because of the way the carpet is fabricated, it will maintain antimicrobial properties preventing mold growth. Plus, the density of these carpet tiles is ideal for wheels on wheelchairs and walkers.”

The carpet tiles at Heron’s Key have a unique story. The team wanted to use local vendors and artisans as well as products which are environmentally sensitive. For carpet tiles, they chose a company whose nylon is made from recycled fishing nets from third world countries. The discarded nets litter beaches and cause problems for local fishermen, threatening their livelihood. The company pays villagers to gather and recycle them, creating locally needed jobs and cleaning up the environment. Even though it is not local, it is tied to the fishing culture of the city. In addition to the carpet tiles, the use of natural lighting also helps transition skilled nursing areas into warm and inviting spaces. studioSIX5 believes in a seamless transition from independent living (IL) to other parts of the community. The entire community should be evocative of a hospitality-driven hotel. At many communities there is a distinct difference between IL, AL and skilled nursing, and IL residents often fear the day they will have to go through the double doors into “that part of the community.” Instead, studioSIX5 ensures that all parts of the community receive similar finishes and design to preserve residents’ dignity and take away that dread of moving to a different level of care. The layout of the residential apartments might be different or smaller to accommodate assistive services, but the look and feel is the same.

“You have to work backwards. Start by taking the desired functionality and then look at it in a different way,” said Willms. “This way you’re making sure the design works in the end and isn’t just beautiful. You’re appealing to an adult child as well as his or her parent, who is going to live there. At studioSIX5, we like to look at the natural surroundings and local flavor for inspiration when building a design concept. There is a strong Pacific Northwest influence in this area, from which we pulled modern accents of grays, concrete and natural wood tones. We also used sustainable material selections knowing that preserving the environment is important to the Pacific Northwestern lifestyle and to this client.”

Another way to bring the outdoors inside is to design skilled nursing areas with expansive windows in activity spaces, dining areas and individual resident suites. Many studies show that natural daylight is paramount in the healing process.

“Another consideration for skilled nursing is the design of nurse workstations,” said Wilms. “With higher levels of care it is vital to ensure that staff is comfortable and can do their job efficiently. For example, it is convenient when there are bar- and desk-height counters so team members can chart standing up or sitting down. With high turnover in senior living care, many communities are realizing that the design of employee workstations and break rooms should be given a lot of thought.”

Even though there are more code regulations and considerations, the design process isn’t any less fun for studioSIX5. The team looks everywhere for inspiration that drives their innovative and leading-edge designs. In addition to incorporating what’s new for senior living, they consider what is trending for spas, hotels and restaurants. They then meld these elements with the client’s vision to create different experiences within the community that will carry them into the future.

Source: Amy Jones / Lauren Witt, The Point Group
Photos courtesy of Michael Lowry


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