For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in an urban setting. Advancements in science and technology have decreased infant mortality. And, as life expectancy rates continue to increase, the gap in years between men and women continues to close. There are more of us and we are living longer.
With each year, families are becoming more diverse on just about every scale that can be measured: ethnicity, religion, race, lifestyle and so on. The Center for American Progress finds that “openness to rising diversity goes down with age and up with education.” The study suggests that as Americans become more educated and new generations replace older ones, “concerns about rising diversity will recede and openness to diversity will increase.”
There is no doubt the world is changing rapidly, simultaneously becoming more diverse and more interconnected. And the United States is keeping pace. To learn about the ways these changes affect interior design, we talked with a group of interior designers, each of whom offered insights into designing for new demographics: an aging population, a workplace with ever changing norms, new healthcare models, an international clientele and much more. These designers are at different points in their lives and in different stages of their careers. They were even at very different places when we talked with them — on a train, in a car, working at home, in a corporate office and in a personal studio. If you were to knock on their doors, come in and take a seat next them, here’s what they would tell you about interior design in our changing world.
It’s the middle of January and winter storm Janus hit last night, leaving canceled flights and disrupted travel plans in its white wake. But Jane Rohde is undeterred. On a train, making it home. Taking a video out the window to show the storm’s aftermath. And talking to us about the relationship between interior design and the one U.S. demographic that’s likely to dominate how we think about American society for the next 40 or 50 years: our aging population. Designing for this demographic is going to offer nearly unlimited opportunities, as Rohde explains.
Few people are smarter about this area of interior design than Jane Rohde.
I grew up in a small farm town where neighbor helped neighbor. I came to love and advocate for older people by knowing them in this town, recognizing their value, their histories and their contributions.
This was in the Southtowns of Buffalo, N.Y. You know, home of beef on weck. Look it up. Also Weber’s mustard, Sahlen hotdogs and Buffalo chicken wings.
I did my thesis on the Fuggerei. It’s a 500-year-old housing settlement. It was financed by the Fugger family and created as a philanthropic endeavor to provide housing for older widows and widowers without pensions in Augsburg, Germany. In a sense, the first social community. My thesis research took place before the Internet so I spent time in the Library of Congress, hauling home documents, most of them in German, which I can’t read, so I would round up German-speaking students and professors to translate for me.
The Fuggerei is fascinating for a dozen different reasons, many of which are applicable for the design work we do today in housing for older individuals. Thoughtfulness — the Fuggerei has that, all the way down to different door handles (cloverleaf or pine cone, for example) that would help a resident identify which home was his or hers when returning in the dark, back in the days before electric lights. In our designs, we absolutely must be thoughtful. How do residents live, what do they want, what do they need? How do staff members work, what do they want and need to do their jobs? The Fuggerei, diagrammatically includes community space and a public garden that matches each home with a private garden. The same Fugger family centuries later developed a hospitality model called Barnsley Gardens that includes a central living space surrounded by private quarters, which is what we find works really well in the residential spaces and small-house models we design today for long-term care. These precedents are a way to design senior communities that keep the social fabric intact.
There are some differences, of course. The Fuggerei is a walled city. You have to pay a small fine if you come home after the gates close at 10 p.m. But the rent is a pretty good deal — the same annual rent that residents paid 500 years ago; one Rhein guilder, about $1.23. The settlement is subsidized by a trust.
Being an interior design firm in the field of experienced living, as I like to call it, has given us opportunities to help people AND develop a good business. Like everyone else, we had a downturn in 2009. But, to put it in nautical terms (my husband, after all, is a tugboat captain and I’m a sailor), our healthcare and sustainability platform allowed us to stay afloat. We got heeled over, but we didn’t capsize!
We completed 21 sustainability assessments for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs using the Green Globes Continual Improvement of Existing Buildings (GG-CIEB) tool, provided healthcare and sustainability consulting services to trade associations, provided education and worked on a new Senior Living Sustainability Guide® to help us position for the future.
As 2010 and 2011 approached, we found that clients dropped the “deer in the headlights” look and started thinking about the future, including the impacts of reimbursements and “Obamacare.” The good news is that we are seeing care providers desiring a truly strategic process regarding provision of services for the aging demographic. For the first time, acute and ambulatory care providers are acknowledging and recognizing aging services as part of the overall continuum of care. Service quality, connection and coordination are more important than ever, as all these are directly related to reimbursement of services.
Experienced living isn’t just one demographic. Ages in an experienced living community can range from 65 to 95. That’s 30 years — an entire generation. A community could be trying to address a 95-year-old person’s desires and needs, while also trying to meet or attract a market of 75-year-olds. This age range leads us to look at multigenerational community design integrating with the community at large versus stand-alone communities for retirees. Further, all ages living within a community is the current trend in the marketplace.
One big growing change is the increased need for memory care and serving those with dementia. Assisted living providers are all trying to reposition their communities to address the care needs and physical settings for people with dementia. National Investment Center reports that there are more free-standing memory care communities developing than there are facilities within other settings or in continuing care communities. Consumers (usually adult children) are seeking specific assistance and want to have a community that is dedicated to working as a specialty with residents with dementia.
Not enough care workers! Not enough now, not enough in the pipeline. This shortage places more care responsibilities on families and friends. Patient care is where technology has its greatest impact, as we are going to need streamlined systems and electronic health records. Skype for doctor calls, medication reminders, and so forth are in development but need to continue to grow to meet the need. Technology alone is not a replacement for care workers, but technology does allow everyone to work more efficiently and effectively.
Not enough interior designers! This is a fascinating time to be in this field of designing communities for aging populations. It doesn’t exist in other countries the way it does in the U.S. We need younger designers. Colleges and universities should be devising course work that will train emerging interior designers for this industry. Demographics alone will push huge growth in the need for designers of spaces and communities for aging populations.
If you’re thinking this is designing spaces in old folks’ homes, you’re as wrong as you can be. This is an exciting discipline where new ideas and techniques are being worked on every year. I can’t imagine any other aspect of interior design that’s going to offer more opportunities in the coming decades.
Product development has been amazing. The development of luxury vinyl tile, to name one, has been a huge improvement, allowing wood-look, stone-look, and interesting textile-looking flooring solutions that hold up to the maintenance and cleaning needs of long term care.
I’ve programmed hundreds of communities, but in working with Dylan Tête, an Iraq war veteran, on an intergenerational community, I learned that his view of a working space was completely different from what I have done for years. Seeing this difference opened me up and made me realize to always ask the right questions and never make assumptions based upon experience. The community is called Bastion, and it will bring together veterans with severe traumatic brain injuries and other wounded warriors, their families and retirees. The community is being planned for the Gentilly area in New Orleans.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in interior design is assuming you know what a resident, client or staff person wants or needs. Don’t assume — ask and find out. Communication is key!
Jane Rohde, AIA, FIIDA, ACHA, AAHID, LEED AP BC+D, GG CIEB Assessor, is the founding principal of JSR Associates, Inc., a senior living consulting firm in Ellicott City, Md. She is a chair of the Facility Guidelines Institute’s (FGI) Specialty Subgroup for the new Guidelines for Design and Construction of Residential Health, Care, and Support Facilities and is completing a primer for FGI on resident-centered care environments. Rohde’s husband, Patrick, is a tugboat captain and fully supports her love of elders.
If we took the demographics about diversity along with the trends toward globalization and rolled all of that into one person — her name would be Cheryl Stauffer. Born in Paraguay, of American parents, who were on a Mennonite mission. Grew up in a multicultural environment of Latin peoples, Mennonites and the Guarani Indians, who had never seen white people before encountering friends of Stauffer’s parents. Stauffer’s first languages were German, Dutch and Spanish. When her parents left the Mennonite faith and returned to the U.S., Stauffer couldn’t start school until she learned English.
Wait, there’s more. In addition to her childhood in Paraguay and her current residence in the U.S., Stauffer has lived in England and Israel and multiple places in the U.S., traveled to more than 40 countries, and is married to Luis Stauffer who was born in Guatemala and adopted by American parents and who has traveled extensively through the Americas.
Stauffer founded the Crimson Design Group in 2003. We caught up with her on the road (where else?), 95 miles outside of Columbus, Ohio, driving home.
My background helps me appreciate the importance of being sensitive to culture and lifestyle when I’m working on designs for clients. At Crimson Design, we live and breathe diverse cultures every single day.
Our clients include business owners who are second generation immigrants and who have taken over the businesses from their parents. The second generation has respect for their parents’ culture but they want designs that reflect who they are. Our job is to listen to them tell us who they are and what they want and then translate that into a design they will love.
We have several professional athletes as clients. One is Canadian, married to an American. Another is Russian, married to a Canadian. Understanding the mix of cultures is important, but listening to the client — translating what they really want — is most important of all. The Russian-Canadian couple didn’t want anything traditionally Russian, nothing from the Old World. They wanted design that reflected who they are and how they live.
As my husband and I travel all over the world, we see design becoming more global. The old and the new are mixing into current cultures that produce design defined not only by a historical period or a classic textbook style but by how the people live, what their personal tastes are.
Argentina, for example, has robust immigrant cultures — Italian, German, Jewish — and while these communities have separate influences on the overall culture, they also blend to form the mosaic of what is modern Argentina.
In the past, American culture didn’t have as much respect for interior design and interior designers as other cultures did. In many economically advanced countries, interior design is viewed as a vital function necessary for gracious and comfortable living.
I say in the past because I think attitudes toward interior design are changing in this country. Many of our clients no longer look at interior design as a luxury they choose when they can afford it. Instead, people are seeing how they need interior designers to help interpret the way they want to live. We educate our clients to spend money wisely, and our work is being considered a value proposition.
Two trends I’m seeing are an emphasis on value and a desire for design to fit the client’s and the client’s family’s style of life. There’s less emphasis on whether a design will be good for resale and more of an emphasis on whether design facilitates how the family wants to live.
In one way, my life has come full circle because I grew up in and around Mennonite and Amish communities, and now we work with Amish craftsman who produce furniture that is so beautifully rendered and so lasting in quality that we can assure our clients they are receiving top value for their money.
Oh, yes, I can tell if a house is Amish-built just by looking at it. The lines will be simple and absolutely straight. House white, roof black. A clothesline in the yard. Shed nearby. The house’s simplicity will be making a powerful statement about the values of those who built it.
Probably the most important thing I learned from growing up multiculturally is that while you appreciate and learn about other cultures, you must never lose a sense of yourself and your own set of values.
Cheryl Stauffer formed the Crimson Design Group to change the way people think about their environment. She gathers inspiration from her world travels, finding “a lively color in Peru, a livable and unique kitchen in Chile, or a beautiful sitting room in Paris that changes the way I think about designing a hotel, a traditional farm home or a trendy loft.”
Used to be, Americans would go to work in an office, put in their eight hours, and then leave the office to live a non-work life for the remaining two-thirds of the day. That line between work and non-work lives is now blurred. Go into a Starbucks and you don’t see people sitting around talking and reading as much as you see people working. Pop into someone’s home and you might find them making dinner or watching television but it’s just as likely you’ll find them working.
That’s where we caught up with designer Elizabeth Oshana, at home, at a desk in the middle of her living room, surrounded by toys, crayons next to her computer…working. She specializes in evidence-based healthcare design for CAMA Inc. You might be surprised to find out how much evidence-based design supports interior design issues in healthcare and goes a long way toward putting designers at the healthcare table.
I’m really lucky to work for a company like CAMA that allows me to log many of my hours remotely from home. I grew up in a traditional family in the sense that my father worked and my mother made a conscious decision to stay home with my three sisters and me until we reached our teens. My husband and I have an 18-month old son, and I think gender roles are blurring, too. We each do different things around the house but it’s a team effort. I change diapers, he changes diapers.
A big cultural change for women is having the ability to make a choice. I loved the way I grew up but I also love having a choice of either being a stay-at-home mom or being a career woman or, in my case now, being a combination of those two.
My desk is in the living room and my husband’s desk is at an angle to mine. He’s a high school science teacher and he does a lot of work at home after school. So, yes, work and non-work have blurred and merged right in our living room.
I’ve been reading about a counter movement among people who no longer want to work remotely and yearn for having the office experience, the interaction with colleagues. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the culture.
In healthcare you can see clearly how the changing culture and new demographics have had an impact. The growth of neonatal intensive care units is in large part due to the amazing advances in technology, but I believe it is also the result of more women having children later in life and an increase in multiple births due to in vitro fertilization. Fathers can now participate fully in the birth of a child. Many hospitals offer private rooms where mom, dad and baby stay together throughout their hospital stay.
Whatever is happening in society gets reflected in healthcare design. We see emergency departments of hospitals located in major cities acting as primary care for many and this has resulted in new designs solutions aimed at improving flow and decreasing wait times, such as fast-tracking patients with minor injuries or illnesses.
Healthcare design often plays it safe. We deliberately try not to create challenging environments and instead focus on how to reduce stress for the most patients, visitors and staff. However, this approach too often results in bland, monochromatic interiors. But that’s changing.
For a long time, research in healthcare design focused on things like preventing falls and controlling infections, which remain paramount. But now we’re also having a bigger conversation about improving the patient and visitor experience. And that’s where interior designers come in — we’ve always focused on the experiential aspect.
Evidence-based design can put designers at the table. There’s always a battle to get institutions to spend discretionary dollars on the kind of elements that we designers know will improve the patient-visitor experience: everything from art in public spaces to coffee kiosks to acoustics to upgraded flooring to improved lighting and visual access to the outside. Using the evidenced-based approach, we can show how these design elements create a healthier environment and happier patients and visitors.
At CAMA, our work is primarily in the acute care market but we are now taking a broader view, considering how all the environments in which we live contribute to our health and well-being. This shift in thinking is due in large part to a surge in preventative care. How can interior design help the elderly population stay out of the hospital?
I am also interested in palliative care and how interior design can ease the transition from life to death. I recently visited a family friend now in a long-term care facility. He’s 100 years old and, at his house, he had large windows with beautiful views of the mountains. At the facility — and I want to emphasize that it is a good facility and he’s receiving excellent care — he’s in a small room with a narrow window covered with vertical blinds and no view.
Designers should be given the chance to use our knowledge and talents to help make life’s final transition a beautiful one. When you think of the aging population demographic, you can see how the area of palliative care is going to affect millions of people in the coming years.
Elizabeth Oshana, Allied ASID, studied interior design at Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis, earning a master’s degree in interior design in 2005 for her contribution to the Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project. Upon graduation, she joined CAMA Inc. and for the past seven years has immersed herself in evidencebased healthcare design. She is a 2014 judge for the Society’s national awards program.
Gensler is global. The design firm has 4,000 professionals in 46 locations — offices from San Francisco to São Paulo, from Dallas to Dubai, from Baltimore to Bangalore. And just last year the company worked with 2,491 clients in 112 countries. To find out about cultural sensitivity in a global market and the changing workplace in America, we talked with Sonya Dufner, FASID, who was in her office in New York City. She’s a principal of the firm and director of workplace strategy. With projections that nearly half the American workforce will work as contractors in the near future, Dufner’s views on the changing workplace are vital to understanding where workplace design is heading.
Gensler goes to where clients need us around the world. When we open a new office, we bring in people who have the global expertise clients hire us for but we also hire local professionals, as we’re sensitive to regional cultures. After all, Austin is different than what you would find in Seattle, and the U.K. is unlike what you would find in Canada.
We have an internal database that identifies employees’ cultural knowledge and language skills so when we’re working on a project in a different part of the world, we know how to assemble our teams. Gensler’s employees worldwide speak more than 80 languages, which has proven to be a great internal resource for our company.
Companies are investing an enormous amount of resources to keep their offices and people in touch with one another around the world. Technology has enabled globalization.
In this country we’re seeing a huge change in the way people work. According to the software company Intuit, more than 40 percent of the American workforce will be contracted by 2020. That’s 60 million freelancers, contractors and temp workers.
This increase in freelancers has fueled the development of coworking centers. We saw this trend get a big boost in New York City, when the economy crashed and many employees lost their jobs. They came together seeking work and a sense of community. Just two years ago, there were approximately 300 coworking centers in the U.S. and now there are 800.
The coworking revolution is happening all over the world. Some coworking centers are organized around a single profession or industry, for example fashion or technology. In other cases, members are selected to provide a more diverse experience. Coworking centers can be as different and as vibrant as people desire, mixing attorneys with computer technology experts and graphic designers.
It’s happening in rural areas and in the suburbs. Even in towns with small populations we are seeing coworking centers that are just down the block from the people they serve.
Coworking centers are especially popular in our cities. Demographics show more people moving to urban centers, so imagine if you’re new to the city and don’t have a full-time job yet. You can join a coworking center to meet others and also almost instantly gain a professional network.
Grind, a members-only coworking space, helps talent collaborate in a new way. Upon joining, an experience director connects members to one another. Social and learning spaces are open, which encourages impromptu conversations during working hours. Grind also hosts relevant speakers after hours, who speak to a variety of entrepreneurial topics.
Another variation comes from a company called Convene. Its business, similar to coworking, allows clients to rent conference center space instead of building it within their own offices. In the corporate world, it is becoming more popular to choose a building where a developer provides its conference center, saving the corporation from paying for real estate that is underutilized. Convene was recently named by Crain’s New York Business as the fastest growing company in New York City.
It’s true that one strong reason behind the growth in freelancers is that companies want to outsource expertise and not take on the responsibility of a full-time employee. Young professionals are finding flexible work really attractive, as it gives them a choice on how they blend their personal and professional lives.
Sonya Dufner, FASID, grew up in a small Midwest town and attended Michigan State University. Upon graduation she moved to New York City. At Gensler, she works with national and global clients to rethink their use of technology, processes and standards, using research and benchmarking to support culture, promote productivity and attract the best talent. Dufner dedicates time to ASID Real World Design Week and Design Ignites Change.
Shashi Caan, Allied ASID, is a citizen of the world. She was born in India, educated in England and Scotland, and lives in New York City where she is the founder and principal of the Shashi Caan Collective. She was Contract magazine’s 25th Anniversary Designer of Year and is president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers. Few designers are better suited to bringing a global perspective to the future of interior design. Her advice to a young designer is distilled wisdom. We caught up with her in the Collective’s New York City office where she was having tea.
I heard a rather startling statistic recently about the world as global village. If you took the number of people who have lived on three or more continents — people much like me — there would be enough of us worldwide to equal the entire population of the United States.
The exponential growth in the speed of information and the frequency of international travel in the next 35 years will create a dynamically different world. Even today, you are able to stay in a well-designed boutique hotel in Kentucky and have an experience fundamentally the same as you would in a boutique hotel in a province of China. This was not true 20 or so years ago.
I don’t think this global flattening of experiences is a negative. People want comfort and convenience whether they are from the United States or from India. And the expectation of that comfort and convenience will become more prevalent as people continue to travel and connect globally.
The more I travel, the more I see not the differences among people but our similarities. Regardless of where people come from, we all have needs, wants, and desires. And I am surprised by how little those needs, wants and desires differ from culture to culture. We all have a dream and seek opportunities to build a life to help make that dream come true.
Yes, I’ve heard the observation that interior design and interior designers are more respected abroad then they are in the U.S. It’s a little more nuanced than that. When I was a student in Europe 25 years ago, I do think interior design was held in higher esteem in Europe than it was in the United States. The merging, in the popular mind, of interior design and interior decorating occurred in the U.S. first but now it’s also happening in Europe.
I don’t have much patience for labels that carry so much judgment. What I care about is the built environment and how we optimize it to enable people to have the fullest possible enjoyment of their living and working spaces. For me as a designer, it is important to design places that support people in all of their activities and to help people become better because of their environment.
If I were to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with a new interior designer, the first and foremost thing I would advise is: remain connected with the passion you have for what you’re doing. That trumps everything. Second, always keep an open mind about — and connect with — people regardless of where they come from. Making connections at the person-to-person level leads to the kind of understanding that is vital for interior designers to do their jobs.
Also, learn a language or two and travel, travel, travel. Another startling statistic I heard is that the millennial generation will, during their lives, travel to five different continents and have five different careers. And by different careers, I don’t mean changing from designing for healthcare to designing for hotels. I mean changing careers from design to medicine to teaching — those kinds of dramatic changes. This is why my first piece of advice is to remain connected with your passions. You’ll need that connection as you go through major transitions in your work and your residences and your travel.
I’m an optimist by demographic heritage and I know that when the opportunities present themselves, American designers will take advantage of those opportunities and do what needs to be done. And succeed!
Shashi Caan has two master’s degrees from the Pratt Institute, in architecture and industrial design, and she held senior positions at Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, Gensler and Skidmore Owings and Merrill before starting her own firm, the Shashi Caan Collective. Former chair of the Interior Design Department at Parsons The New School for Design in New York, she currently is president of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers, which represents more than 270,000 designers worldwide.