Senior Living Update: Flooring manufacturers target the senior living market

By Ruth Simon McRae


Ten years ago, senior living was an afterthought for flooring manufacturers. Considered a sub-segment of healthcare, few resources were directed toward learning about and designing for this market. The scant product collections designed for senior living offered traditional and generic styling.

What a difference a decade makes. Manufacturers report that today the senior living market is one of their healthiest and fastest growing market segments. As flooring manufacturers see this market expand, they are dedicating serious resources to meeting its needs.

How much growth? Shaw Contract Group estimates that senior living is 40% of its overall healthcare business. Mannington suggests 50%. Bolyu reports 70%. These are big numbers. Most flooring manufacturers indicated that at least a third of their healthcare business is related to senior living. These numbers can be hard to capture, however, as the VA senior facilities numbers are counted as government.

Shaw Contract has significant investment going on in this segment, and it is expanding its sales effort with senior living specialists. And Mohawk’s mid 2014 sale reorganization provided segment experts for each end-use market, including senior living. Both companies are taking down the silos between their commodity hospitality print and more refined CYP business, and allowing sales to carry both bags into this market.

The senior living category includes every type of housing for those 62 and older, though some communities define this category as starting at age 55. In addition to independent, assisted and skilled nursing and the continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) that include all three, we have senior centers, mixed-use developments, naturally occurring retirement communities that could look like any type of housing, and other permutations.

Rehab and wellness centers are a key part of senior living housing. Sometimes rehab after a hospital stay is the first experience a person has with a retirement community. Facilities are using this as an opportunity for introducing a person to their space. A great experience in a rehab facility can help a person overcome their fear of this possible next step. 

As Pam Rainey, creative director for Patcraft, comments, “Senior living has a very diverse population—including retirement living, a wide age group. Design needs to appeal to multiple generations and multiple lifestyles. The types of environments they live in are diverse as well, from apartments and homes to structured senior communities and facilities. There are lots of options. We also will start to see more hybrid communities, such as those based on the Green House movement.” One example of this is Jewish Home Lifecare’s project, The Living Center of Manhattan, which is being built based on the green house model of elder care. Elders will live in small “households” rather than traditional hospital-style nursing units. Everything about the design of the building will center around the needs of elders and their choices about how they want to live their lives.

Location and regional identity are important in the design of senior living facilities and have a huge impact on the selection of finishes. According to David Oakey, lead product designer for Interface, “The U.S. is such a huge diverse market. Senior living in New York, Tennessee, San Francisco, Miami can all be completely different. We have to understand that one style, one product will not address the whole thing.”

At the same time, what matters most is the people who will live there. This is the overarching social trend in senior living: focus on the resident and their quality of life, on what will make them happy and safe. 

People who work in this field are committed to giving the residents dignity and choices. Many projects involve the residents directly in the design planning. “Designers in senior living have so much passion for the residents,” Laura Holzer, senior designer at J+J Flooring, observes. (An excellent description of this can be seen in Holzer’s blog about the company’s recent Senior Living Symposium.)

Terri Meyerhoeffer, national sales vice president for healthcare at Tandus Centiva, feels that demographics are helping drive this trend. “Boomers are people who really care about person-centered care,” she says. “The consumer and person going into a community are telling people what they want: dignity, choices, more control over how they live in the community. They want a focus on residents’ whole wellness, spaces that are designed to nurture the human spirit—people first. Boomers will not accept anything less.”


Senior communities around the world are offering new lifestyle choices. Patcraft’s Pam Rainey described a family member who has always loved spending time outdoors, camping and fishing. He recently moved to a unique RV park known as CARE (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees), in Livingston, Texas. Living in one of the RV units clustered around a lake, he can take meals with the other residents in a main community center building. Also in the main building the “care center” offers large showers, an exercise room and a big living room with a large screen TV, as well as a registered nurse on staff. There are several similar communities around the U.S. for seniors who want to keep doing what they love  

Demographics certainly have driven the growth of the senior living market. Many Baby Boomers have an affinity for contemporary design. Although most are not at the point of joining retirement communities, many are active consumers on behalf of their parents. This has a big effect on interior design. Paul Young, director of healthcare marketing for Shaw Contract Group, says, “Design-wise, this market is a traditional look trending toward contemporary. Boomers’ design expectations are going to be very different from their parents’. The challenge to manufacturers is to provide products that will bridge this passage.”

Roby Isaac, director of design for Mannington Commercial, frames the issue like this: “How do you build visuals that are contemporary in nature, appeal to the new consumer and to A&D, and not offend the end-user?” At Mannington, designers are taking incremental steps so that the end-user is comfortable with the space, while at the same time moving toward a fresh design aesthetic.

From a design perspective, senior living occupies the space where hospitality, residential and commercial merge. “It is like going to a nice hotel with a spa feel, feeling surrounded by smooth, healing, soft luxurious colors,” says Jackie Dettmar, vice president of commercial product development and design at Mohawk. She, too, is seeing a trend toward more contemporary patterns, with lower contrast colors. 

Oakey suggests that a second reason for the convergence of design trends from multiple segments into senior living is the growth of multipurpose properties where one A&D firm designs all component spaces.

Looking at senior living carpet collections over time, it is easy to see the design progression. Early collections were traditional patterns with scroll motifs, leafy botanicals and curlicues. The next collections became more stylized and specific, still highly patterned, and also offered with one or two textured all-over coordinate styles. Today, the traditional look feels old. The name of the game is transitional design in an effort to bridge to a more contemporary feeling, yet maintain a comfortable space.

Clearly the trend for pattern is going in a fresher, more modern direction. Texture, even if visual rather than literal, will give senior spaces a warm and home-like feel. The whole design direction calls for quiet and calm, yet still with texture and touch. When patterns are larger, colors will be softened, for practical safety and aesthetic reasons.

Acoustics is a key factor in a well-designed interior. Noise can make a place feel very institutional and is a real stressor for residents. In many ways the acoustics issue gives carpet an edge, especially for corridors and community spaces. 

Oakey described the need for quiet spaces in a larger context. “‘Quiet’ is the new trend in Europe for residential,” he says. “The Quiet Mark is given to appliances that are quiet in the home. We are living in smaller spaces with more open plans. Spaces and functions merge, which can create noise. Even in corporate, where there has been a trend towards hard surface flooring, we are beginning to see noise as an issue.”

On the product side, there is room for every type of flooring material, when used in the right application. Manufacturers are up to the challenge of how to bring design diversity and choice, coupled with appropriate performance, to each part of this growing market.

In carpet, broadloom—often with a performance back—is still outselling modular. On the other hand, carpet tile is often chosen for its ease of use, ease of installation, and ability to clean and swap out soiled or damaged tiles. Also, from a design perspective, modular tile gives the designer an opportunity to create a whole new pattern on the floor, adding an additional layer of interest.

Natalie Jones, vice president of marketing for Mannington Commercial, finds that senior living is predominantly a broadloom market. Nearly all of Mannington’s broadloom products for senior living have performance backing rather than conventional backing. Carpet tile is primarily used in areas such as activity rooms and offices. 

Shaw Contract’s Young notes that assisted living is starting to see more performance-backed products in resident apartments, as they can be cleaned more aggressively. These “contradential” products are solution dyed with moisture barrier backings. Operators understand that with higher performance floorcovering products, they may be able to use a space for two sets of residents. On the other hand, residents may want new carpet when they move in.

While the less critical levels of care tend toward carpet, common wisdom says the more acute the care, the harder the flooring. Resilient flooring clearly has many benefits for senior living, including roller mobility, moisture impermeability and ease of cleaning. The two counter-indications are a possible institutional feel and sound properties. The realistic wood-look visuals, which are now commonplace with the evolution of LVT, can create a home-like look. And typically if a designer wants to use resilient in senior living, improved acoustics may be accomplished with certain backing types and with other materials in the space. Rubber, although not widely used in senior living outside of rehab and wellness centers, does offer good acoustical properties.

Sheet vinyl, especially in wood looks, is widely used in senior living. Pam Rainey is seeing less interest in red-tone woods such as cherry and mahogany, adding, “Many facilities already have the red woods, so it is a challenge for product design to update woods so that they can both bridge to the more current woods, such as blond woods, rustic and reclaimed looks, and limed finishes [white in grain].” The vintage wood looks are reserved for non-acute care due to the concern that rustic looks could be perceived as dirty in skilled nursing facilities.

Catherine Del Vecchio, Gerflor USA’s marketing director, agrees. ”In terms of wood looks, North American designers want classic wood design, not a rustic look,” she says. “The desired aesthetic is no knots, classic wood tones that easily coordinate with other finishes. Examples are golden shades, light pine, poplar, creamy tones and chocolate.” 

Specification of LVT is growing. It is being used in common areas, bars and theaters, along with many other applications. Roby Isaac, with experience from his prior role heading up design for Mannington Hard Surface, brings a rounded perspective to the discussion. He observes that although initially senior living mostly required wood looks, LVT pattern direction is starting to move more toward abstracts. 

He also brings up an interesting challenge. “Mannington has had visitors from senior living facilities who want to be able to customize hard surface product for different areas, for example, themed spaces. Facilities and healthcare groups typically want to develop their own custom patterns in carpet. We will have to figure out how to customize on the LVT side.”

Each manufacturer has its own approach to the market. Some, like J+J Flooring and Patcraft, have had specific senior living collection for many years. Others go to market with their broader product line and no special targeted collections. The following are some examples and product highlights.

J+J Invision’s senior living product collections have followed the design arc described earlier. Its first collection, Origins, was traditional, with rococo, scroll and stylized leaf patterns. The next collection, Luminism, took a more transitional approach, with simplified medallions and a stylized teardrop-type paisley. Following this, the Urban Canopy Collection, although designed for acute care rather than specifically senior living, offered some fresh looking patterns with references to nature. These are more spa-like and modernized designs.

Interestingly, Invision followed this collection with the very traditional Artisan program for public spaces—two six-color cut-loop Colorpoint products, referencing Moorish and antique rug designs. The machine and color choices made designs less relevant to the market, due both to boldness and price point.

To counter this, two additional products, Venice and Del-Mar were added to round out the collection. Tufted on the double scroll, these designs are tonal and soft, and are good solutions for bridging traditional and transitional design.

At Patcraft, the first collection introduced specifically for senior living is New Ground, a package of all modular styles. This group has a definite transitional feeling, with stylized gingko leaves and some woven-like textures, very soft and subtle. Patcraft moved in the opposite direction, toward tradition, with Classically Composed in 2013, with a range of classic patterns that have been enlarged to make them more transitional. 

In the newest collection to be introduced in 2015, Patcraft is rethinking the whole category. A key performance attribute of this collection is the use of Shaw’s Extreme cationic fiber, a nylon that resists acid-based stains.

Rainey continues to see a trend in textiles of stylized contemporary floral designs for high-end residential, which she feels will translate well to the senior living market.

Interface offers a broadly focused line and has not developed specific collections designated for senior living. David Oakey sees a major trend in senior living as biophilia, the idea that human beings are instinctively attracted to other living things. In practice, this phenomenon is expressed by bringing nature indoors. Natural materials and imagery, chunky textures, and enlarged textile structures all fit into the organic feel. In keeping with the Biophilia theme, Interface introduced the Human Nature Collection at NeoCon. Patterns include pebbles at varying scales and gradations, bark-like textures and concrete looks that create a warm and natural space. The palette is rich, complex and tonal.

Il Palio was Mannington’s first senior living collection, with a traditional aesthetic consisting of tonal medallions. It offered large scale designs for open common areas and medium scale for corridors and rooms.

Designs in The Classics Collection are more transitional, with a painterly look that incorporates long tonal space-dyed yarns. One that stands out is Rossetti, with a larger scale stylized floral design with the look of a hand drawn sketch. 

On the resilient side, Mannington’s first healthcare focused collection was Vivendi, a style that translated well into senior living. With its soft and abstracted textile looks, this collection was far ahead of its time in the hard surface category. 

Il Palio includes LVT that coordinates within the carpet architect folders. Mannington no longer combines the hard and soft surface within its architect folders and instead offers a website tool, Colorspec, for determining product and color coordinates. Colorspec will read RGB values of a product and will indicate all matching products in carpet and resilient, then allow the user to filter by product category.

Shaw Contract Group has introduced four senior living product packages. Legacy is the oldest collection, followed by Lush Life and New Simplicity. Of these, both Legacy and New Simplicity seem quite traditional. Lush Life takes classic, curvilinear motifs that are stylized and dimensional, creating a more transitional look. A public space collection is planned for launch in the spring. 

Interestingly, 85% to 90% of the sales of Shaw Contract’s senior living focused products are in the designated market. 

In many cases products for senior living projects are selected from Shaw Contract’s broader product line, especially the new hospitality collections. According to Brad Townsend, VP of strategic accounts for healthcare at Shaw, “Specifiers like to take hospitality products such as Design Journey and recolor with a neutral palette.” Design Journey, with its lush and exaggerated textures, seems right on trend with this market.

Tarkett offers a broad portfolio of resilient flooring solutions for the senior living market using its Balanced Choice approach. The product line is broad based and does not break out particular products by market.

Tarkett continues to do solid research on this market segment. One example is its study on the problems related to the aging population and Alzheimer’s disease. Launched by the Tarkett design department, the study analyzed the positive impact that color, light and materials used in flooring can have on the patients’ emotional state and quality of life. Specific color palettes were tested and evaluated. In addition to offering the information in a brochure format, Tarkett worked with Betsy Brawley, a well-known interior designer who specializes in senior living and memory care, to help develop the material into an impactful CEU course for designers.

Bolyu recently introduced the Harmony Collection for senior living, a group of distinctly transitional designs. Designs within this collection literally match up to build a floor, so that patterns can transition from area to area. For example, Embellish is a large yet delicate lace medallion, layered over thin lines; and Pathways is a linear design that flows into the lines of Embellish. The more organic and literal Sawgrass and Flourish patterns are layered over faint grids. Of the five products, three are also offered in modular.

Rob Cushman, vice president of marketing for Beaulieu Commercial, sees the hospitality design direction continuing. “The trend of the last ten years of upgrading facilities in order to be more competitive is one that will continue. More and more large ownership groups will engage a hospitality-focused design team, to give a resort or hotel-service flair.” 

Tandus Centiva has a wide range of products for the healthcare and senior living markets focusing on two main platforms, Powerbond and the firn’s moisture resistant LifeLong broadloom backing. There is no distinction made between the healthcare and senior living markets. Product collections are broad and include coordinates across all platforms, both carpet and resilient. 

From a styling perspective, Tandus Centiva offers some of the most eclectic and stylish patterns in the industry. Organic designs are abstracted and mixed with texture in creative ways. Standout products include Willow from the Flourish Collection and the Grasscloth Collection as a whole. Launched at NeoCon 2014, the Tapis Collection offers the look of distressed and deconstructed vintage rugs. Tapis utilizes a new idea with Powerbond by taking a motif and floating it on a random ground, which does not require a direct pattern match. 

Tandus Centiva holds two design symposiums in this segment per year, one for senior living and one for healthcare. 

The Mohawk Group’s broadest senior living collection, Silk Road, was introduced at Neocon 2013. Using Duracolor and tonal space-dyed yarns, Silk Road interprets traditional textile types such as damasks, ikats and jacquards. The charm of these patterns is the texture and dimension, set against the soft space-dyed striae background. The Silk Road palette offers coordinates for its wood-look LVT Clic Step product, Prima Vida.

The Memoir Collection is its newest senior living package, which is more traditional in design with a broad range of distinct classic patterns in tonal colorations. Also recently introduced, a new solution-dyed rooms package offering products that are designed specifically for this market, using Colorstrand technology for commercial performance.

Gerflor has not developed products specifically for senior living, as it has appropriate products currently in its healthcare and other lines. However, it plans to introduce a special product line for the senior living market within the coming year. 

Taralay Impression Wood, a resilient sheet vinyl with a wood visual, is Gerflor’s key product line for healthcare. Taralay works well for senior living due to both its aesthetics and performance features.

Del Vecchio is seeing increased interest in abstract and textile visuals in LVT. One example is Saga2, a modular tile with designs inspired by textiles, wood and stone. Saga2 is sized to match carpet tiles and may be used as a transition to modular.


David Oakey offers an interesting perspective on the effect of the huge incoming wave of senior living consumers: “We need to look at who will go into a senior facility in the next ten years, people who were born between 1950 and 1960. This group is a little different because they grew up during a period of change, a rebellious change against the status quo. A few years ago an article was published about De Plussenburgh, a groovy high rise for seniors in Rotterdam. It brought up the question: Where will the Rolling Stones retire? Possibly a place designed like a W Hotel—fun, exciting, a place you want to be and don’t have to be. 

“Look at how the Marriott has adapted and changed its culture. Marriott properties used to always have the same look. Now that’s not true. A good example is their flagship property, Edition Hotel,” the elegant boutique brand Marriott developed in partnership with Ian Schraeger. 

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Interface, Mohawk Industries, Beaulieu International Group, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Tarkett, Mannington Mills