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Senior Living First Impressions go Beyond Design

As an Interior Designer who has specialized in senior living, I’ve stepped into several hundred communities. Some are gorgeous. Some leave much to be desired. But, no matter how beautiful a space looks, a welcoming environment extends beyond great design. The simple word “hello” sets the tone of care provided.

First Impressions Matter

Think about how you feel upon entering a restaurant. While the space may look welcoming, how the host greets you sets the tone for your whole visit. If the host is unhappy or short, you sit down at your table feeling annoyed. Conversely, if they are engaging and pleasant, you are probably smiling as you open your menu.

The same thing happens in senior living.

If I walk into a community and team members make eye contact but don’t say anything, I think they are ignoring me. But if one of those team members simply says, “Hello, we will be right with you,” I immediately feel better. How someone is treated when they walk through the door is a reflection of how the residents are treated.

Customer Service v.s. "Bells and Whistles"

I once visited a large community in Florida. The property was dated – it was in desperate need of a makeover. However, despite its condition, and despite being surrounded by a lot of competition, it was always fully occupied. My teammate and I wondered how they managed to be fully occupied while surrounded by newer communities that offered so many other “bells & whistles”. When we sat down with the executive director, we asked, “What are you doing differently than your competition?” The director’s answer was simple. “We’re welcoming. The residents really like the food, too. The staff says ‘hello’ to everyone they see. People like being here.”

Similarly, at another community, I got a big surprise. Looking at pictures before I visited, the building itself looked awful. It was a sprawling one-story building with a leaky roof, mismatched furniture, worn carpet, and three layers of wall covering that was slowly peeling. Despite all of this, when we came through the front door, we got a warm welcome from the receptionist. Staff throughout the building were smiling and helpful. Residents were engaged in activities. When I did further research on the community, I found that they got amazing online reviews! The most common things people mentioned? The incredible care and attention their family members received. The helpfulness of the staff. Specific team members who made their loved one feel special. What didn’t the reviews mention? What the community looked like.

Creating a Feeling of Home

While our team at The Simple Home works hard to create welcoming spaces, conveying this feeling extends beyond great design. It is being greeted – and acknowledged – the minute one walks into a building. In both of the senior living communities we took time to visit, the staff was engaging. It was obvious that the residents felt at home. I know that many, many things happen throughout the day in senior living, from emergencies to workforce shortages – and it seems that people always visit when it’s most busy, like during meals – but the simple act of saying ‘hello’ goes a very long way.

We all love to be where we feel special.

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