When specifying or designing for senior living spaces, there has always always been an emphasis on functionality, cleanability and durability, and even more so during the pandemic. Now, as we enter a new phase and begin to return to some normalcy, clients are looking for flooring that not only performs, but also enhances the look and feel of facilities.

Gone are the days of cold, clinical settings, with limited material or color choices. Today’s spaces still keep health and wellness at the forefront, but style and comfort are just as important.

“Bentley is seeing trends borrowing from the ‘home away from home’ aesthetic that has served the hospitality industry well,” said Christi Hitch, vice president of business development at Bentley. “Senior living facilities are focusing on reducing environmental stressors and shifting away from healthcare-oriented designs in favor of more familiar and comfortable settings for residents. We are even seeing designs that resemble resorts and spas, elevating the sense of luxury within the facility and its surroundings.”

Indeed, designers are taking cues from other segments to create interiors that prioritize the total experience and promote wellness—more fashionably. “We pull from residential and hospitality trends because we think that our communities deserve to be stylish as well as functional,” said Melissa Banko, founder and principal, Banko Design.

For the designer who specializes in senior living design, color is an effective way to transform any interior, she says, noting that rich tones are appearing in senior residences. “Being in a bright, cheerful space does a lot for the mental health of those people in our communities. The saturated colors are very trendy right now, and we’re seeing tones like emeralds and plums. Especially as we move out of the pandemic, our clients want fresh, vibrant spaces. Ten years ago, everything was gray, white, and sort of minimalistic. Now, we are seeing a much more saturated palette than we ever have. And that's great for senior living, because not only can you bring in a pop of color, but those hues actually wear a lot better.”

“Being in a bright, cheerful space does a lot for the mental health of those people in our communities. ... Especially as we move out of the pandemic, our clients want fresh, vibrant spaces.”

– Melissa Banko, founder and principal, Banko Design

We can also expect more curated palettes as operators look to differentiate their properties, and regional differences are also a factor. “There’s a lot of customization being done, because senior living is very regional. Customers in Seattle may want turquoise and red, and clients in Florida may request a completely different palette,” noted Margaret Bartholomew, segment manager, healthcare, Tarkett. 

LVT is the market leader for the senior segment because it is easy to clean and can withstand heavy traffic. Yet experts agree that hard and soft surface flooring combinations will be used to meet the special requirements of care facilities.

“Mixing carpet and LVT is on the rise in senior living,” Hitch said. “We recently visited a senior living facility where hard surfaces were used in the corridor areas and carpet in the residents’ units. In part, it’s a maintenance preference; the more highly trafficked common spaces require cleaning and sanitizing multiple times daily, particularly with increased COVID health and safety guidelines. LVT allows for this more easily than carpet, which typically requires a hot water extraction unit. LVT designs are more sophisticated, with realistic wood grains and organic textures This allows designers to create a more seamless and pleasing aesthetic while pairing it with carpet.”

Bartholomew explained that specifiers are looking for a complete range of products that work together. “They want to make sure that for every soft surface option, there’s an LVT product that goes with it.  I envision putting together a portfolio that has LVT, vinyl sheet, and a modular carpet tile. Definitely hard and soft surface together.”

While LVT is a popular choice across the board, there are some drawbacks that need to be taken into consideration. “LVT has become so popular on every project and for every vertical, but it is just a sea of the same color. You can’t have contrasting bands of color or dark insets because seniors read that very differently than someone in a multifamily or hospitality unit would,” Banko noted.

The elimination of harsh transitions is essential for senior and disabled residents that require assistive devices due to mobility impairments. “I am hearing a lot about limiting transitions, whether it is LVT to sheet or seamless carpet. A little strip might not mean anything to us, but for someone in a wheelchair, or a person using a walker or a cane, it is a big deal,” said Bartholomew.

“You need a good designer that can coordinate the change of flooring, because it’s a huge fail if you have seniors trying to move with their walkers and wheelchairs and they have to navigate different levels of flooring,” Banko added. “So, understanding when materials come together, what that looks like from a transition standpoint is really vital for senior living specifically, because you have to get it right.”

Specifiers and manufacturers are striving to create refined, comfortable spaces for seniors that foster physical and mental well-being, said Hitch. “Senior living in particular has embraced wellness in facility design, supporting a larger movement to address shifting expectations and mindsets toward aging, while also keeping residents safe and thriving.”