Refreshing interiors—in rooms and seniors

Living spaces are central to quality of life, especially as people age, AlgeRita Wynn has learned over the past several years.

AlgeRita Wynn of Retire My RoomWhen the film and television actress and producer lost her father to cancer in 2008, she worried that her mother would slip into depression after a 55-year marriage. Activities that used to bring her mother happiness and keep her connected to the world—shopping, dining, socializing with friends—no longer seemed to have the same effect.

Wynn put her undergraduate education in interior design to work and redecorated her mother’s master bedroom, painting the walls and buying new bedding and other accessories.

“She loved it,” she told me, noting that the effort energized her mother and was a catalyst for her mother becoming more social again. Wynn subsequently redid the family room in the house.

The experience also led Wynn to create and host the Web series “Retire My Room,” wherein she and her team, backed by contributions from a long list of sponsors, help retired older adults refresh their living spaces. “I really enjoy decorating, and the homeowners actually really enjoy the surprise,” she says.

The first season of the series featured eight episodes shot in Los Angeles, Santa Paula, Calif., Atlanta and Wynn’s native Houston. The second season will feature two episodes to be shot in May in Rockaway, New York, where people are still recovering from damage caused in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy. This season also will feature makeovers that she’ll do with the St. Bernard Project ths summer in New Orleans for seniors still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina almost nine years after it hit, as well as stops in Boston and San Diego.

“This particular season, we’re geared more toward helping with recovery—recovering from disasters, recovering from illnesses,” Wynn says. She and her team will paint walls and update furniture and accessories, flooring and appliances, among other things, working with organizations such as the St. Bernard Project and Friends of Rockaway. Wynn expects the season to include four to six episodes that will begin airing in July.

What, in her experience, are the most needed solutions for seniors still living at home? Accommodating layouts and features are priorities, Wynn says, much as they are at senior living communities. For instance, in addition to making aesthetic changes, she’s helped one man rearrange his bedroom to enable him to better navigate the space with a walker. New window treatments in another home—curtains instead of decades-old blinds—were lighter and easier for the homeowners to open and close. A kitchen makeover elsewhere enabled a woman who enjoys cooking to use the workspace better.

“A lot of the seniors are just looking for ideas to help them function day to day. Things that we would normally take for granted, these seniors really appreciate,” Wynn says. “It’s just the simple things in life…. This is important because a lot of seniors are going into a new phase in their lives, and they’re really not sure how to make that adjustment.”

Beyond functional improvements, aesthetic changes have value, too, she says, noting that other makeovers have helped seniors continue on after losing a loved one, as did the makeover she completed for her mother. For instance, one woman asked for help converting her late husband’s den into a room for reading and writing. In the process, Wynn and her team convinced the woman to use color on the walls instead of the former cream.

That experience and others have taught her that “seniors really appreciate a little change at a time,” she says. “The more we offer that in a subtle way, the more they are receptive.”

But all of those little things can add up to a better quality of life, and that’s a goal we all share for the seniors in our lives, regardless of where they live.

To watch past episodes of “Retire My Room,” visit YouTube.

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Topics: Design , Executive Leadership