I am not sure if it is a medical miracle or not, but Americans are living longer these days. As a result, our aging population segment is mushrooming. We have a growing need for age restricted communities and to be able to retool existing residences for comfort, safety and independence. Today I will focus on the role of color in design for this stage of life. It is so important.
The human eye changes with age. Its ability to perceive subtle color contrasts diminishes over time. I noticed this with my Mom as she would have trouble seeing the grey and brown colors of the steps in front of her. Using my Mom as my test subject, I challenged myself as an interior decorator to create a color scheme with enough contrast and brightness of hues for the senior eyes. This has become one of my areas of specialization.
Contrast is the key. It is so very important and the concept of contrast can be applied in many situations for older adults. Starting with the walls, I would recommend light color schemes. They are the best colors because their finishes increase light reflectance without glare – a major problem that leads to visual confusion and can be hard on cataract patients. Light colors on walls help show up contrasting furniture, wall switches, etc. Even using dark switch plates on a wall mounted lights is a boon. Also, if you use contrast color on the baseboards and floors, it becomes easier to identify the edges of a room. One last work on walls – using low VOC paints (volatile organic compounds).They are eco-friendly and cut down on the toxic fumes emitted from fresh paint. That is good news for seniors who will be spending a lot of time in their rooms NOT breathing paint fumes!
Skillful use of contrast finishes can define a doorway, outline furniture and indicate the top and bottom steps of a flight of stairs. If the colors are easier to see, the result is a help for mature eyes. Doorframes and baseboards can be painted a darker color or stained a dark wood tone to easily indicate a wall or doorway. Put a colorful tread on the top and bottom step of a set of stairs to separate that area from the rest the floor.
Here’s the rest of the scoop on pattern and color. Patterned wallpaper can be used but skip large stripes. They can appear as bars in motion and affect balance and mobility for mature eyes. Wall coverings in small patterns are always winners. Washable and strippable paper is always best. Be wary when using two intense colors together as their borders often become unstable and jumpy. Definitely use bright intense colors to grab bars, levers and light switches for instance and they will become easy to find.
Making the right interior design color and furnishings decisions can go a long way to a better life and a comfortable living environment. For further information check into www.ncoa.org and www.usa.gov/topics/Seniors.shtml. Through my designs, my Mom and I hope to impart a sense of safety, comfort and enjoyment for all seniors.