Clients of mine are packing up their spacious home in the heart of wine country for a luxury suite in one of Ottawa’s newest high-end communities. Their new swanky abode is in a new build, with a modern design, and features a plethora of on-site amenities.
It’s everything a hip, lively couple could ever want. No wonder it perfectly suits them. Oh, and my new client is a retired couple in their 70’s.
Beginning the design process differently
While the square footage they’re sacrificing is relatively small, the room dimensions and floor plan are different, of course. One concern that my clients expressed right off the bat was about wanting to get everything just right.
In their own words, “we don’t want it to look like we’ve tried to fit everything we own into our new home”.
Before the design work can begin, as in all new projects, the first step is to get to know my clients. I always prefer to do so in their home, so I can see, first-hand, the furniture and other items that they want to keep.
It also gives me deeper insight into what my clients value, their tastes, and the stories behind their different acquisitions. As we discuss the little things that are important, my clients can reveal what they value in their home and explain what they’re eager to see that is different in the final design.
My job is to distill these feelings and thoughts into a design that captures the essence of all this information.
Due to COVID-19, this project is currently on hold for the health and safety of my clients. I’m looking forward to visiting my clients’ home once it’s safe to be around others again. In the meantime, I am using this opportunity to explore new collections from my suppliers and identify pieces that fit into age-appropriate décor for seniors.
The intersection of aesthetics and age appropriate design
One reality my clients shared with me is the recognition that this is likely to be the last home they invest in and make their own.
This reality brings a different type of excitement to this project. From an existential perspective, I want to make this new home as special as possible for them. I see this as an opportunity to provide them with something completely different than what they’ve had before, yet entirely unique to their tastes and preferences.
At the same time, there are styles that they like and certain pieces they currently own that we will retain in the final design. These pieces will serve as a starting point for their new home.
As much as we’d like, we can’t deny that we’re aging and that our design needs change throughout our lives. That said, it doesn’t mean that as you grow older, you grow out of touch.
Style has no age
“Fashions fade. Style is eternal” – Yves Saint Laurent
The functionality that seniors need and are looking for is available across design styles: traditional, contemporary, and everything in between. The choices available in the world of interior décor has evolved to provide solutions for just about every need for seniors, such that “age appropriate” guidelines aren’t even evident.
And today, tastes in many spheres of our lives overlap and span the generations. What is style only for one person can be both stylish and “age appropriate” for another. No one would think to question your décor beyond it being an expression of who you are.
The guidelines for “age appropriate” design encourage us to interpret safety measures as functionality needs. Because all design balances a connection between functionality and aesthetics, “age appropriate” design requires the same approach.
The soft edges of beautiful design
When designing for seniors, I often look to avoid hard edges, especially in areas where there’s heavy traffic flow. For instance, cocktail tables and dining tables with square edges can be a bumping hazard depending on a room’s configuration.
Softer edges and surfaces are preferable. Typically, the clients I design for in this stage of life are living solo or with a partner, so they don’t often need a large dining table.
For occasions when they want to entertain over a meal or host their family, it’s useful for them to have a table that can expand to comfortably seat numerous guests. In this case the ideal option is to have a dining table that expands mechanically. Such extendable tables have built-in mechanisms that open up easily and then lock into position to prevent accidental closure.
Seating suited for every body
When investing in seating, I encourage my clients to choose pieces only if they’re easy to get into and out of.
This is a very personalized process, as it could mean higher seated upholstered furniture and firmer seating for some, while the opposite for others. This is one of the reasons I love the design process, because it is so highly personalized, and working with custom suppliers allows you to find the perfect piece.
Many furniture manufacturers that deal in custom and customizable upholstery offer a range of seating firmness, described as cushion core. I always look for a solid frame made of hardwood and that’s doweled and screwed. This is because you need sturdy furniture that provides support when your full body weight is applied to it when either sitting down or getting up. It’s the dynamic movement that furniture must be rated for.
Another type of furniture that everyone loves and is not just associated with seniors anymore (thanks to Brooke Shields) is motion furniture. We often think of these as recliners, rocker-recliners, swivel-recliners, rocker-swivel-recliners, and swivel chairs.
Nowadays, there are even motion chairs designed to assist you out of your seat. This is called a lift feature and can be combined with some of the other motion features previously described.
While hand-lever recliners are effortless to operate these days, I prefer using power recliners for my clients. They make life simpler and more comfortable because they also feature other comfort-designed amenities such as power headrests, lumber, and recline options that can be adjusted to your personalized settings.
Power recliners are typically operated by rechargeable, battery-packs. Just as with the more general category of upholstered seating, powered motion furniture comes in a variety of cushioning options, including those more comfortable for an older physique.
Today’s designs have discreet silhouettes and fit into any style of décor. Power motion furniture is like having your luxury car seat in your living room!
Decorating considerations for a rental
My clients will be moving into a home they don’t own, so we have some additional considerations for decorating in their leased unit.
Similar to a condo unit, their luxury rental community is well-appointed with quality finishes, new appliances, and a sophisticated layout. However, when it comes to decorating, there are certain restrictions that must be adhered to.
For instance, the walls in their suite must stay the same standard neutral that they come in. Typically, the wall colour is the last design element to be decided in a design plan, but in a rental situation with strict rules, we needed to work within the parameters we were given.
So how do you work with neutrals, especially when your clients want colour?
I’ll be looking at a number of solutions, including artwork and wall décor that ties in with the bolder colours in the rest of the design. But another, possibly more intriguing option is to hang peelable wallpaper, which is ideal when you’re unable to paint or permanently alter the walls.
The technology behind peelable wallpaper has come so far that certain brands guarantee their wallpaper can be easily removed, leaving no trace behind. As this has grown in popularity, the patterns and styles have become more diverse, so this is a product I like to use in place of conventional wallpaper for select spaces.
Another neutral we’ll have to work with are the white blinds that are standard to each suite. Uniform window treatments provide a clean, consistent look at street-level, which is of course desirable for a luxury location. We’ve discussed using stationary panels to add depth and to tie into a lively décor scheme. There’s nothing like layered window treatments to add a finished look to a space.
Virtual Design Consultations
Stay tuned for how this project rolls out. I’ll have more posts to document this project. In the meantime, stay well and keep safe. I’ve adjusted my business operations to respect the government orders for physical distancing.
I continue to serve my clients remotely, starting from the initial design consultation. I understand many people are exploring new hobbies and tackling projects with the additional time on their hands. In order to serve those looking to begin a new decorating project during this lockdown, and still respect the current need for social distancing, we are temporarily offering virtual design consultations.
Contact us to schedule your complimentary virtual design consultation.