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Designing for Dementia

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Julie Smyth PR 01_PRIMARY

By Julie Smyth – 16th May 2022

The role interior design can help play in creating a care community and a strong brand.

Post-pandemic, we’re seeing fundamental changes in expectations within the care sector. These are driving demand for a specific lifestyle with attractive design and a myriad of amenities, including those that support community living. Residents and their families want to feel they’re moving into a true home from home.

A well-considered, holistic approach to interior design is crucial to meeting these expectations. When developed and implemented effectively, interior design can foster communities that help people live life to the full. It also contributes to creating a coherent brand for the care home, helping differentiate it in a competitive market and make it more attractive to prospective residents.

I am Julie Smyth, Associate Director at Corstorphine & Wright and I specialise in architectural design within the care sector. Through our creative design process, we help instil that sense of community and identity into each setting.

Here are two different design approaches:

Taking inspiration from nature

The design process starts with an initial concept, which is then carefully woven through all elements – architecture, interior design, landscape design and even into the wayfinding system and signage proposals.
One source of inspiration for the concept is the surrounding environment – including topography and local heritage.

Mayfield View in Ilkley for Springfield Healthcare Group is one example of where I put this theory into practice. From the site, views of the Ilkley Moors and the famous ‘Cow and Calf formation’ are easily observed, and during certain months, heather on the moorlands creates a strong purple haze. This powerful aesthetic captured our imagination from the first visit. It was effectively the essence of Ilkley – an image that people associate with the village and could come to associate with the home itself.

I was very keen to capture this ‘essence of Ilkley’ through the proposed design. When first arriving at Mayfield View, visitors come upon heather planted directly beneath the entrance signage, which also reflects the heather through its colouring and free-flowing textual form. The ground-floor interior design scheme builds on this, with the colour palette and wallpaper inspired by the moorlands. To the rear, a glazed winter garden opens on to a sensory garden, where heather is a key part of the landscape design.

On the upper floors, views of Ilkley Moors are framed by large, glazed areas. By arranging furniture and positioning the glazing in specific ways, we direct the eye towards the easily recognisable landscaping. The ‘essence of Ilkley’ also feeds into the wayfinding system, with signage and imagery in keeping with the theme. This unique brand is even present in the bespoke manifestations which were applied to the glazed screens, this made them less of a functional provision and more décor-orientated while still providing the necessary safety measures.

In this way, something as simple as local shrubbery provided the inspiration for connecting the building to its surroundings, creating a distinct brand identity, which then fed into the care home’s website and marketing literature.

Finding the USP in the building itself

On renovation projects, we often find the USP in the existing building itself. This was the case with the Chocolate Works Care Village in York, another project I worked on with Springfield Healthcare Group.

The care home is located in an existing iconic building – the former Grade II-listed Terry’s Chocolate Works – which became the thread woven through every element of the design. Although the building was quite dilapidated, we were all struck by the remaining art deco elements when we first looked around. The main staircase was modelled on the Titanic’s famous staircase, complete with a glazed cupola. And the intricate mouldings and joinery work retained the original detailing.

The design approach was based on harnessing the art deco essence and accentuating the building’s unique character. At the centre, there was a large, glazed atrium, which we turned into a ‘market square’ in a way that’s reminiscent of a typical York square. It’s lined with ‘working’ shops, including the Duke of York pub, Art Deco Cinema House and Terry’s Chocolate Shop. Each shop front was individually designed and is true both to York and the building’s own historic vibe. The theme was also incorporated into the design for the wayfinding system and signage, which used art deco font and detailing.

Factors to consider

Whilst in each of these projects, the care home’s design USP came from different points of inspiration, the all-encompassing approach to interior design, wayfinding and signage was comparable in the way that the USP was reflected in the entire resident and visitor experience. As a result, it fed into compelling marketing that successfully attracted new residents.

There are key factors to consider when considering how to turn care home design into a USP in these ways.

First of all, it’s worth drawing on the experience of other sectors. For example, Corstorphine & Wright is also active in residential and student living, where brand is key to the scheme’s success. Although there are differences, these sectors also focus on enabling a flexible lifestyle, offering amenities, and fostering a sense of community.

Secondly, the design shouldn’t force consistency if it affects the experience. For example, in care homes, each floor should have a distinct design to help with wayfinding. It can still fit into the overall theme, but something as simple as a different colour scheme can help residents orient themselves. Similarly, signage shouldn’t be too complex or detailed. It can give a nod to the wider theme but can have a simpler pattern or font to ensure it’s legible.

Finally, the theme shouldn’t be overpowering. After all, the aim is to create a home-like feel where people can relax. Introducing niches and snugs with simplistic but complementary decor can aid in this regard.

With a balanced approach that considers factors like these, care homes can use design to create an enjoyable place to live, work and visit – while creating a place that fits within the wider surroundings and community.


This article was origionally published in Care Home Management Magazine Jan/Feb 2022.

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