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Why you can't use Residential Furniture in Senior Living Common Areas

Years ago I visited a dementia care community for a renovation. In their living room, they had about 6 lift/recliner chairs lined up in a row. They reminded me of the ones people used to order on infomercials back in the ’90s. All in different styles, all in different fabrics. All in different phases of disgusting. And when you got close, there was a noticeable odor coming from them.

When I asked where these chairs came from, the director told me that some were the residents’ personal chairs, and others had been ‘donated.’ In the senior living world, ‘donated’ typically means a resident passed away or moved and left their old furniture at the community-whether the community wanted it or not.

We then had to have a conversation about why residential furniture didn’t belong in common areas in a senior living community (and especially dementia care). I know she just thought I was a designer who wanted them out because they were unsightly, but I explained to her that it wasn’t just aesthetics. There are several reasons from safety to company standards that come into play.

  • First of all, common areas are under the codes of commercial spaces. Since so many people use them, they fall under a different category than the resident rooms. For example, a sofa in a senior living den may get sat in by 10 different people throughout the 24 hours of a day, whereas one in your home might be sat in by one person for a couple of hours.

  • Most residential furniture is not fire rated. Furniture that comes from a commercial source will have Material Safety and Data Sheets that correspond to the materials used in the chair. When the fire marshall comes to do their inspection, they will like to see that these exist for your furniture. Also, this means that in case of an actual fire, this furniture is slower to burn and will not accelerate a fire like some residential pieces that are unconcerned with this fact.

  • Incontinence in senior living is a real problem, and most residential furniture cannot stand up to repeated soiling. Even if it has some coating like Scotch Guard, residential fabrics are much harder to clean-and you may never get all of the stains out. Commercial fabrics like Crypton are engineered to repel staining and also block moisture from getting through to the foam.

  • This furniture is not made with senior’s bodies in mind. When we would order furniture, we had to take into consideration the firmness of the foam so residents didn’t sink into the furniture. We had to consider seat depths and heights.

  • It opens Pandora’s Box. If you allow one resident to bring their furniture into the common areas, you have now made it ok for everyone to. You now lost control of what your common areas spaces look like and the overall feel of your community.

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