Turning Assisted Living into a Home: Baylor Interior Design Faculty Members Discuss 3 Ways to Create Sense of Home for Residents

September 16, 2019
assisted living decor

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By Cacey Vigil, student news writer

WACO, Texas (Sept. 16, 2019) – When people hear the term “assisted living,” they might think “nursing home” or “old folks’ home.” But what people don’t know is that interior designers are working hard to ensure that these facilities provide a sense of comfort and a sense of home to their residents.

“Designing for assisted living environments requires careful consideration of the needs of the residents living there. But really, in that way, it is no different from designing for any population,” said Elise King, assistant professor of interior design in Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.

Baby boomers would rather live at home or in a residential setting, according to SeniorLiving.org. This will require more locations to have independent and assisted living available. With the baby boomer generation transitioning into retirement, many will require additional care but don’t want to be in nursing homes like their parents.

“You should always begin by understanding the users of the space and assessing their needs and requirements,” King said. “And what you’ll find is that across the lifespan, while there are different needs which must be met by various functional requirements, our innate desires are not that different.”

1. Bring outdoors inside by incorporating nature into facility design.

One way designers enhance facilities is by incorporating nature into their design and bringing the outdoors inside. At Baylor, Debra Harris, Ph.D., associate professor of interior design — who has researched the impact of health care facility design on patients, families and health care workers — teaches a sustainability course that addresses some aspects of nature in design.

“We reinforce all aspects of indoor environmental quality through research activities and through the entire design process,” Harris said.

“For years, architects have discussed the concept of organic architecture and more recently, the term ‘biophilic design’ has been used,” King said. “And in the past 30 or so years, we’ve seen a growing body of research that supports what we’ve assumed for a long time, essentially that humans desire a connection with nature and that nature can have a positive impact on health and well-being.”

She said one way this can be accomplished is by having ample windows, particularly those that look onto greenspaces or treetops. It also is important to consider that some residents will be using walkers, canes or wheelchairs. Window height should be considered so that all residents can benefit. Another way to incorporate nature into the design is by using natural materials when possible or using materials that have textures or patterns reminiscent of nature.

Harris agrees that incorporating nature into a facility’s design is important and beneficial to the residents living there.

“Direct access to nature, like gardening or nature walks, and indirect access to nature, through a window, provide real tangible benefits,” Harris said.

2. Access to natural light, as well as artificial light that mimics daylight, provides benefits to seniors that are associated with well-being.

Harris said having access to natural light provides benefits associated with well-being, such as reinforcing our natural clock, known as circadian rhythms, which helps with the quality of sleep and may contribute to management of chronic conditions. Designing to provide access to nature through gardening and walking also can increase physical activity and social interactions, she said.

Artificial lighting is also an important factor in interior design, especially for seniors. Harris said there are lighting systems that can mimic daylight, changing over the course of the day to support our circadian rhythms, which can lead to an elevated sense of well-being. This may contribute to other aspects, such as social interactions, physical activity, and satisfaction, she said.

3. Designing for all five senses is critical for making a facility feel more like home.

King said it’s important to design for all the senses, not just the visual aspect of the facility. She said sound, smell and touch are other critical aspects that need to be taken into consideration to make a facility feel more like a home.

“Designers have to use research to understand how we can best address the specific needs of a mature population through design,” King said. “By creating environments that value and support these innate needs — self-actualization, esteem, love and belonging, safety needs and physiological needs — we’re reinforcing a sense of place and hopefully, a sense of home.”


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. It provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor University was established in 2014, a result of identified priorities for strengthening the health sciences through Baylor’s strategic vision, Pro Futuris, and the University’s Illuminate strategic plan. The anchor academic units that form Robbins College – Communication Sciences and Disorders; Family and Consumer Sciences; Health, Human Performance and Recreation; Public Health; and Division of Health Professions – share a common purpose: improving health and the quality of life. The College’s curricula promotes a team-based approach to transformational education and research that has established interdisciplinary research collaborations to advance solutions for improving quality of life for individuals, families and communities. For more information, visit www.baylor.edu/chhs.