Mosaic Design Studio's Sonata Senior Living Project: Designer Forum

By Lisa M. Cini

Recently, Sonata Senior Living hired the team at Mosaic Design Studio to design a new space in Melbourne, Florida. Having designed for a variety of sectors, including healthcare, hospitality, education, military, corporate, early childhood and restaurants, Mosaic’s design team has found that flooring for senior living presents the biggest challenge. The flooring must be easy to maintain, withstand the abuse of a dorm room or healthcare environment, and yet look as though it belongs in a country club or on the cover of Elle Décor.

Sonata Senior Living envisioned a resort-style retirement living campus, combining independent living, assisted living and memory care in multiple spaces that maintain their own unique character yet seamlessly flow throughout the entire community. The space would need to accommodate the changing needs of its residents throughout the care levels, and honor their varying backgrounds to ensure that they feel a special connection to their space. Providing a space as attractive to an 80-year-old as to a 60-, 40- and 20-something would be key to ensuring multi-generational use of the space throughout the building—this was not just a home for the residents but for the community at large. 

It was determined early on that flooring would be critical to transform the building into a vibrant senior living community. Pushing the boundaries of what was possible with flooring while ensuring the safety of the residents in a 172,555-square-foot senior living home in Melbourne, Florida provided a major challenge for the Mosaic design team. 

Efforts to provide multiple surfaces and an inspiring environment culminated in a long list of products used on the Sonata of Melbourne project: 28 carpets (including borders); two sheet vinyls; three LVTs; two hardwoods; three ceramic tiles; two travertines; one VCT; one polymer; and one quarry tile. That’s 43 different flooring materials in all, not including sealed concrete. 

To a contractor or maintenance professional, this may seem like an instance when the designer selected flooring materials with little or no concern for the budget or how it would be maintained later, but careful consideration was taken to ensure that every aspect of the design, budget and functionality was met. The team reviewed acoustics, height changes, transitions, texture, maintainability, aesthetics, slip resistance, friction coefficient, codes, patterns, lighting, moisture, traffic patterns and purpose to ensure the selection supported the vision and mission of each of the specific spaces. 

It was also important to bring the outside in, not only through the use of natural light but also through flooring materials that would evoke a feeling of walking down a colonnade, suggesting a street scene without coming off as too contrived. 

Inspiration for the flooring came from the architecture and street scenes in Florida, which is a combination of Mediterranean and coastal elements. The Mosaic team wanted the first impression to reveal a glimpse into the overall community. This was achieved with a combination of Daltile travertine tile and Prosource Conservatory Collection wood flooring, creating an elegant entrance that shows visitors that Sonata cares about the details. In order to reinforce the rotunda, Mosaic placed, from the outside in, a ring of wood, then travertine, then another ring of wood, followed by a basketweave pattern of the wood and travertine in the center of the space to provide visual interest and warmth. 

In the colonnade and conservatory space, Emser’s Tumbled Travertine in the Versailles pattern complemented the entrance travertine but was more rustic and gave the look of indoor-outdoor flooring. The scale and the pattern of the floor allowed the space to be fluid even when directions changed. The acoustics are intentionally louder just as they would be when walking outside. Wood flooring was employed on the ceiling to emulate the Mediterranean architecture of the area, to add drama and to warm up the space. 

Off of the colonnade, a café was carved out. Large ceilings with natural light and custom light fixtures created the need for dramatic carpeting. The space was intended to be intergenerational, attracting not only seniors and Baby Boomers but also the younger grandchildren and caregivers, a hang-out place for everyone. Coffee drove the color palette with both the green of raw coffee beans and the rich brown of roasted coffee beans. A swirl pattern was also integrated to signify the perfect Italian cappuccino. A standard running line carpet achieved all the design goals, along with an inset of Karndean luxury vinyl plank. 

On the opposite side of the café, a pub opens directly out onto the patio and zero entry pool. The same flooring was utilized as in the entrance but in a more informal installation, creating a basketweave with the wood plank that is extremely sophisticated but not overwhelming. It’s the perfect space to have a glass of wine, play poker or watch the big game. 

The dining room off of the conservatory presented many considerations for both the residents and staff. Mohawk’s Karastan offered the perfect solution in a running line broadloom named Tattooed, but the colors were very corporate and monochromatic. This was problematic for a dining space where red wine, red sauce and cranberry juice would likely cause stains. High-end restaurants with carpet lower the lighting levels to create “ambiance,” which also helps to hide stains. Seniors, however, require 70% more light than young adults, so turning down the lights was not an option. Because every spill would show, and the red ones the most, red was chosen for the floor. Due to the friction coefficient and the wicking of stains, direct glue would typically be specified versus padding, but the best option in a senior living dining room with carpet is to add a moisture barrier, which keeps the stains out of the concrete and provides extra stability for heavy cleaning, along with better acoustical properties. 

Creating spaces that were both sophisticated and comfortable was the main goal for Sonata. Spaces also needed to be inviting and open. A combination pub, library and lounge is one such space, perfect for hanging out or for a party. The warmth of Karndean’s Rustic Ash vinyl plank is the perfect complement to this sophisticated area and allows staff the flexibility to change the space easily to accommodate any situation. 

One of the more demanding spaces for flooring is that of the salon. With rejuvenation in mind, environmentally friendly flooring was chosen to stand up to the abuses of a salon and the wet environment with the pedicure bath, and the stations for manicure, hair and massage. Bamboo flooring from Teragren provided the ideal durability, ease in maintenance, fresh look and sustainability that the space demanded. 

In the past, carpet was the flooring of choice in most high-end senior living homes, as it felt more residential than hard surface. However, in recent years, especially in coastal areas due to moisture issues, hard surface flooring is more commonplace in homes. With the project located on the east coast of Florida, the design team had the flexibility to specify carpet or hard surface, depending on design needs and not just on what felt residential. This opened the door to selecting carpets that fit the essence of the space. In the intimate environment of a small library computer research room, Mannington Texture provided the look and feel of a fine Italian suit, with fine details and a classic pattern.

On upper floors, a combination of vinyl plank flooring and carpet was used. Vinyl plank was designed to act as wayfinding for the connections between wings or “neighborhoods” and created wonderful verandas. Wood flooring was also used on the ceiling to make the space feel as if it were an enclosed porch. This theme was reinforced with the ceiling fans, plants and wicker furniture.

On the independent and assisted living floors, hallways were enlarged to create gathering spots where the neighbors could visit with friends without having to come down to the first floor. Each floor and neighborhood had the same flooring and patterns, but in different colorways to help with wayfinding. Variety was achieved with fabrics, artwork and wall treatments. Masland Contract patterns were colorful yet not visually overwhelming for residents and offered small, medium and large scales within complementary colors, along with accent border carpets—a package of flooring that is extremely difficult to find. 

Carpet insets act as rugs without causing trip hazards and ground the furniture groupings within a space. It is helpful to use carpeting that has multiple colorways of more than two colors. With three to four colors, options for walls and fabrics rise exponentially, providing more interesting spaces for the residents to enjoy. 

Resident rooms were kept neutral in color and pattern, allowing the residents to bring whatever interior style they desired to their apartments or rooms. Shaw flooring provided a cost effective yet highly durable and beautiful product. 

While salon and dining spaces are challenging to design, memory care areas present a never-ending, 24/7, high abuse environment that is difficult to maintain. Also, Alzheimer’s and dementia residents face unique difficulties. Noise, both visual and auditory, present a challenge, and patterns in carpet need to hide soiling but not visually disturb the residents. Carpet should also help absorb noise to reduce agitation. And residents may have trouble remembering etiquette, which results in spills, accidents and picking at loose fibers that can create tears or runs. Moisture barrier carpet is ideal for memory care. And residents may not comprehend the environment easily. Helping them differentiate between planes such as walls and floors is critical, which means avoiding carpet base and providing a contrasting base to accentuate where the floor and wall meet. 

Another consideration is the mix of hard and soft flooring. It’s important to have as much soft flooring as possible in memory care but also to understand the client’s operational plan and provide flooring that can support their success. 

Memory care dining is typically specified with wood-look vinyl plank to create a sense of warmth yet allow the space to be cleaned easily. A non-polish vinyl plank allows the caregiver to clean up quickly and get back to caring for the residents. The country kitchen is easily cleaned, but still homey. 

Specialty spaces such as arts and crafts rooms, theaters, gyms, doctor’s offices and staff offices each required special attention to flooring as well, and careful consideration was given to meet the needs of each space while tying in to Sonata’s overall desire for a sophisticated yet comfortable environment for the community residents, families and friends.


My family is Italian, and in 2011 I became interested in why Europeans, specifically the Italians, aged so well compared to Americans. In my numerous trips to Europe, I found Italian seniors walking (albeit slowly) the same cobblestone streets as everyone else. Rarely were canes even used. I set off to spend several months working in Italy to better understand senior living Italian-style and to discover the secret to their active lifestyles.

What I found validated my assumptions. The human body naturally works toward disorder unless you keep it active. We have multiple systems that we have to maintain or we start to break down, not unlike a car. Joints need lubrication, muscles need exercise, ligaments need stretching, and our balance system—a combination of our eyes, inner ear and core—needs regular use. When our senses are underutilized, such as the nerves in our feet, we lose the ability to read subtle changes.

Italians walk on a variety of uneven surfaces every day. They typically do not live in ranch houses and they use stairs often. Italy is undulating, forcing residents to walk uphill and down, with or without steps. This constant micro-exercise of the muscles, ligaments, joints, eyes, core and inner ear keeps Italian seniors more fit than American seniors. Italy does not have ADA, and yet seniors are active and able to get where they want to go and don’t expect the environment to conform to them. They just move a little more slowly. 

One woman, who had to be in her 80s, went up and down treacherous steps daily in Vernazza on the Cinque Terre path with her groceries. It was inspiring to watch. I would huff and puff up the same steps, yet she never seemed winded, fearful or unsteady. This was not a simple trek—it is long, uneven and without railing at certain points, common terrain for Italy. 

So how can we bring these lessons back to the States? Is it possible to specify multiple types of flooring, meet ADA standards for transition heights and still create an environment that provides micro-exercise?

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Daltile, Mannington Mills, Karastan, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., The Dixie Group, Mohawk Industries, Masland Carpets & Rugs