Warm and chintzy or sleek and modern?

What is the style that prospective residents and their families want in a residential aged care facility? How do interior design trends affect the way a person sees their new home?

The approach to colours, textures and furnishings for residential facilities has changed radically over the past 20 years, says interior designer, Elaine McNeill, director of Aged Care Interiors, who specialises in furniture and fitouts for ACFs.

“Then you could select any colour vinyl for the furniture as long as it was pink or blue. Nowadays, aged care environments are more like a hotel and the only variance is whether it is 5 star or less.”

Long gone are the days when the environment was limiting or at least uninspiring, both for residents and the staff who cared for them – rows of vinyl chairs arranged around the wall in the lounge, with residents shouting at each other across the noise of the television.

“Now the interiors tend to be fully decorated with lamps, decorative objets’d art and artwork, as well as much more elegant and comfortable furniture,” she says.

In the past few years we’ve seen the rise of the cosy, homelike facility, with country-style furniture upholstered in chintz, warm pastel coloured walls and pretty floral bedspreads. Now the look has changed again, in tune with the tastes of the Baby Boomers, who, while choosing a home for their elderly relative, are viewing it with an eye to their own residence.

This look is known as the international hotel style. It has been adopted by new ACFs over the past two or three years, following the use of the hotel style by private hospitals in Australia and overseas.

Fabrics and colours are becoming increasingly more geared to this modern look, McNeill says. The popular colours at the moment are taupes, chocolate browns, sandy and neutral colours, highlighted with reds or aubergines – depending on the look one is trying to create.

“Predominantly the colours are neutral with accents of bright colours which stand to highlight what you want,” she says. “Feature walls are a good example of this – they act as a line of reference to provide a point of focus but also are used to direct the eye.”

Interestingly, wallpaper is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to paint, McNeill says. “Not the garish florals and geometrics from the past — they are textured papers in contemporary colours and designs, even suedes.”

Providing the wallpapers are hung by professionals, they will stand up to the hard wear and tear they are likely to receive. She points out that, “surprisingly, they are not as expensive as you would think”, and their use create instant ambience in a foyer or as a feature wall.

Villa Serena, in Robina, Queensland, takes the international hotel style one step further. The classically elegant architecture, gardens and furnishings of this extra service residential facility are reminiscent of the grand villas of Europe

Villa Serena’s décor is international style, with classical understated elegance. Communal rooms have walls in soft neutrals, with accents to pick out gold, green and brown tones in the specially made carpet.

Furniture is elegant and light, chairs and sofas upholstered in suede in warm tones to echo the carpet.

Colour and texture

Architect Peter McFadyen is experienced in designing aged care facilities, with his design for the Badajoz ACF in North Ryde, NSW, winning the Forbo Flooring prize in 2004.

Colour and texture are important, McFadyen says, to present a more domestic scale, particularly for residents with dementia. Glaica House at Tuncurry on the NSW Mid North Coast is a 144 place residential aged care facility consisting of dementia and low care clusters with up to 16 residents per cluster.

“I used colour and texture in the interiors to present a more domestic scale with the open kitchen/servery being the centre of living and dining activities, much the same as a family or living room in a normal dwelling.”

In the same way, he focused on colour and texture to make the perceived length of corridors appear shorter and less imposing to the residents of residents of Bowden Brae Gardens in Normanhurst, NSW, completed in 2004 for UnitingCare.

The facility comprises low, high and dementia care wings set in what appears to be a townhouse development. As well as visually shortening the corridors, McFadyen used colour to emphasise smaller alcove sitting spaces, providing a more intimate and less imposing environment.

Paynter Dixon Project Leader Norman Tyrrell last year received a High Commendation at The Australian Institute of Building 2007 NSW Professional Excellence in Building Awards for his management of ‘The Marion’ Aged Care Facility development in Marion St. Leichhardt.

One of the challenges was to source materials that would underpin The Marion’s philosophy of ‘It’s all about lifestyle’. With a design approach more like an apartment complex than a standard ageing in place facility, The Marion is a major departure from the traditional hospital style facility.

To successfully achieve this ‘lifestyle’ approach, materials and finishes were selected to give the bedrooms and common areas a warm and welcoming domestic feel.

“Paynter Dixon worked very closely with Uniting Care Ageing throughout the project to ensure individual care needs and resident comfort remained the highest priorities,” said Tyrrell says.

“From the wooden flooring to contemporary colour schemes and finishes the focus at all times was to create an authentic home-like environment, similar to a quality apartment complex.”

“The Marion project was not without its challenges but one which inspired the whole team with its contemporary and dignified approach to modern aged care accommodation.”


The range of products specifically designed for aged and health care is vast, with lovely easy chairs, dining chairs and tables, coffee tables, and other products. The difference now is that the products are not just aesthetically pleasing — they are also practical and functional and are designed to withstand the ongoing harsh treatment they receive.

Furnishing fabrics offer many more choices, and are surprisingly tough despite their soft look.

“Gone are the vinyls which have been replaced by Crypton,” McNeill says with satisfaction. “This has the appearance of a domestic type fabric – but is much harder wearing and is able to be cleaned with an average of 80,000 double rubs on the Wysenbeek test method.”


Floor coverings have improved over the past two decades, with a wide range of resilient floor coverings for every purpose. Many of these are ecologically sustainable and some, like cork, 100 per cent natural rubber and linoleum, are also biodegradable.

The polished wood floor is making an appearance, although for ease of maintenance and slip-reduction, vinyl wood ‘planking’ might be a better choice. As well as being laid as simple plank flooring, these wood substitutes can be laid in distinctive and intricate patterns like parquetry.

Carpets are also more versatile in both synthetics and wool blends. Villa Serena has adopted the hotel style of especially designed carpet, with a striking pattern in green, gold and brown in the foyer, and a softer pattern in the same tones through out the bedrooms and lounges.


Focus on lifestyle: choose colours, textures and finishes to make the residents feel at home

Colours: taupes, chocolate browns, sandy and neutrals, highlighted with reds or aubergines

Textures: wallpapers, soft furnishings, carpets, wood-look resilient flooring.

©Sue Cartledge

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