The design of common rooms in a care home should help relax residents and provide a stimulating space to meet and interact with carers, friends and family. At the same time, it needs to be safe and practical while avoiding looking institutional and clinical. Thankfully, today’s leading furniture suppliers tick every box with their contemporary ranges as we discovered when we spoke to Sidhil, Shackletons and NHG.
Chat to anybody outside the care profession and you will quickly discover that most people still think care home residents spend their days sitting around the walls of a room on plastic-coated wingback chairs staring at the test card of BBC 2 with the sound off.
Thankfully, care home professionals know those days are long gone, with today’s modern care home operators offering residents several stylish spaces in which to relax when they are not being entertained by energetic and creative activities coordinators.
Multi-occupancy wards with shared bathrooms are making way for private bedrooms with modern en suites wet rooms. While during the day residents are treated to stimulating, comfortable living areas that enable care staff to help them keep everybody relaxed and engaged.
“Furniture for care, whether it is for bedrooms, living rooms, sensory rooms or a corridor is always advancing. In particular, furniture styles are becoming much more design-led and homely, without compromising quality and still meeting care regulations,” says Victoria Lloyd, interior designer at Nursing Hygiene Group (NHG), a healthcare supply company to care homes.
“There is a lot more flexibility of styles and products to suit every resident’s needs. With furniture there are now a lot of families of chairs, which means there are numerous options of chair sizes and shapes, but all with the same look. Communal furniture for dementia care has also been significantly advanced in the past few months, for non-traditional living environments such as libraries, shops and cinemas,” adds Ms Lloyd.
Shackletons, which has been designing and manufacturing specialist care home furniture in the UK for 50 years, agrees that today’s communal areas are evolving to help carers and residents get the greatest enjoyment out of every day. “Many new care homes have turned their attention to increasing the variation of communal and social spaces they offer. Social areas such as cafés, breakout spaces, and multiple living rooms are increasingly a common feature in care homes and provide residents with the option to spend their time how and where they wish,” says Jason Bloom, national sales manager for Shackletons.
Designing communal spaces with suites of furniture from a single brand or manufacturer should not mean that every piece is identical. Dementia research suggests that strong contrasting colours and different styles of furniture make it easier for people with memory and sight problems to make the most of their environment.
“Elderly people, particularly those suffering with dementia, often have visual impairment. This makes it important that furniture and objects can be easily seen and must at least contrast with the floor,” advises Ms Lloyd.
The furniture itself can also be designed to help very frail residents. “An example is to have contrasting piping on chairs to clearly define the shape. Contrasting items, even if the resident is unable to tell what colour they are, ensures that they can see the outline and the variance between different items,” Ms Lloyd continues.
Shackletons uses exactly the same technique. “The finish options on chairs have become more creative, for example, the exterior of the chair contrasting against the seat of the chair. More often than not this is to create aesthetic appeal whilst providing contrast for those with visual impairment and dementia,” explains Mr Bloom.
The company adds that it tends to use plainer fabrics on the interior of its chairs, while more luxurious fabric will be used on the exterior for visual appeal. “We’re now seeing a trend in contrast piping to frame the chair, this again provides aesthetic appeal but more importantly provides contrast for those with visual impairment or dementia. On a chair, key elements such as the arms and seat can be identified with a contrasting colour. This technique clearly illustrates to the user where the seat is, which in turn allows them to be safely seated,” Mr Bloom adds.
Kim Crowther at Sidhil, a manufacturer of specialist furniture for care and healthcare environments, says that design is crucial to prevent falls and help people understand the space they are occupying. “For dementia and partially sighted residents the colour and contrast of a piece of furniture can help them to understand where they are in a room and what type of furniture they are looking at or looking to find,” explains Ms Crowther.
The company also makes sure all of its furniture, which includes bariatric armchairs along with an extensive range of specialist beds, is practical for caring and operational teams. “Fabrics are fire retardant and wipeable,” Ms Crowther notes.
The best care home operators make every decision in the context of how it will help improve care for every resident. The choice of furniture and how it fits within a living room design, is no exception. “Appropriate furniture should promote a safe, social, homely and independent environment. It can provide defined and recognisable areas that enhance way-finding and landmark recognition. A varied seating environment enables residents to choose a location and chair that they feel comfortable in, which consequently improves their quality of life through maintaining independence of mobility. Likewise being able to take advantage of a social environment is incredibly important to avoid instances of isolation and enables residents, visitors, and care professionals to interact in an environment that is relaxing and comfortable,” says Mr Bloom.
NHG advises that the right choice of furniture and how it is arranged can have a calming effect on the whole care home community. “Creating the right environment for residents makes life a lot easier for staff as they don’t have distressed or confused residents to look after. In particular, having a choice of living room furniture makes a massive impact on the functionality of the room,” says Ms Lloyd.
The designer recommends installing seats that are in a range of heights and depths as a great way to ensure residents find the right seat for them. Two-seaters are good for promoting conversation, however most elderly people wouldn’t like to sit there all of the time as they prefer the support of the armchairs. Tub chairs are therefore useful if a resident wants to sit down for a short while, as they are easier to get in and out of, Ms Lloyd advises.
However, she cautions against too many options in a room. “It is important to ensure that the living room isn’t too crowded with furniture as this could hinder relaxation. Critically, it could also increase the chances of a trip or fall. Residents should therefore be able to sit in the living room comfortably, with easy access to tables and dressers so they can reach to put something down. Ensuring simple every day actions are easier makes the resident more likely to do them and be less dependant on care home staff. Attracting residents to spend their time in the living room also makes it easier for the staff to manage, than if they were all in their own individual bedrooms,” Ms Lloyd continues.
Creating a welcoming and practical room for residents is not simple, and Ms Lloyd recommends getting expert advice. “Any planned changes to your home’s interior need to maximise your future profitability, as well as your patients’ wellbeing. A specialist interior consultant can therefore play a critical role in any changes, as they can undertake a full analysis of the existing interior environment to determine how you could upgrade your living room at minimal cost and disruption,” she suggests.