A plea to new senior living developers: Budget for furniture!

I have been privy to recent interior design discussions that ask the question, "Do we really need to buy furniture in senior living?" While anyone that works in senior living as an operator, marketer, architect or designer understands that the answer is yes—and always will be yes—the newbie's to senior living don't seem to understand why this question is so odd to us.

As the focus on baby boomers entering the senior living housing market becomes more prominent in the United States, an odd phenomenon is occurring. Developers or funding vehicles not typically acquainted with senior living are jumping in with both feet—and without a life vest. They have not done their due diligence and feel that having experience building high rises immediately qualifies them for the glorified multi-housing market of senior living.

What they fail to comprehend is that they are building a city within a city that runs 24/7 vs. 9 to 5. This city—this senior living environment—not only has to have all the common components of a commercial building, but it must also address the individual needs of residents or lose its occupancy. (Imagine an office space where each individual cubical had its own thermostat!)

Security is security, except it's not. In senior living we need to not only protect the residents from the outside but, in some cases, also from themselves. Finishes have to meet current code requirements while standing up to constant maintenance and adding great marketing value.

I lost count how many times I have worked on a commercial office space and dealt with the issue of urine seeping into the concrete floor due to not having a moisture-barrier backing on the carpet—and they just can't get that smell out! Of course I am joking, but I jest to point out the huge gap between building an office and building a senior living environment that needs to withstand urine, food, C.diff., and still look like a warm inviting home.

Now I return to that question I keep hearing about furniture. Not only have senior living finishes taken a budget beating because of this gap in knowledge, but furniture is also up for discussion these days. Since commercial office spaces do not typically include furniture as part of the deal, some senior living newbies have not included furniture, artwork, drapes and accessories into their budgets.

This can be a number ranging anywhere from $250,000 to well over $1 million depending on the square footage and level of fit-out. Most pro forma’s don't carry contingences to cover these types of "gaps."

Senior living designers and operators have matured. And we have some advice for the newbies: Get us involved before you get your numbers set. We know how to build the budgets and what real dollars it will take to make the physical environment work and how long to plan for fill-up.

We are glad you have decided to play in the senior living market and want to help make this better for all of us. But my grandmother wants a chair to watch Wheel of Fortune in with the rest of the residents after dinner.

Topics: Design , Housing