Building Retirement Brands Through Design and Architecture

The Property Week Retirement Living Conference ‘Coming of Age’ took place recently at RIBA, London. Jen Bernard, founder and managing director of Bernard Interiors, shares her thoughts on the day.


Coming of Age brought together the wide range of people working across the sector – developers, planners, investors, operators, government representatives, architects and designers.

We attended the conference with architects Gaunt Francis, also part of the Audley Villages projects team. We know how important interior design and architecture are to the sector, and the synergy that occurs when both work together. Design is a differentiator in a competitive market. It helps care and retirement developers and operators to be at the leading edge of the market and, if required, in prime position for resale.

Anne-Marie Nicholson, senior partner at architects PRP LLP, talked about the need for creating a strong sense of community, outdoor spaces which can be enjoyed all year round, and spaces which allow people to connect. She talked about interior design and how it can contribute to building the operator’s brand.

Providing for later living is an issue worldwide, and experiences from the US, New Zealand and Australia where the market is more mature, gave fresh perspectives and ideas to our work in the UK.

Victoria Wallace associate director healthcare at Savills, Helen Jones chief operating officer at Amicala and Gavin Stein CEO and founder of Elysian Residences spoke about various models of ownership, and renting versus purchasing. This debate addressed how developers are meeting all needs of their residents.

There were interesting points about celebrating housing for later life from Keith Brooks at Cast Consultancy and Robin Hughes of Castle Retirement Living too.

Research shows people in the US and UK generally want the same things – connection with family and camaraderie, keeping a sense of control of their lives, taking part in activities, flexible dining options and having purpose. Intergenerational experience is also an important factor especially for residents with dementia.

However, within those broad themes elderly people have wide-ranging interests and abilities, and must be treated as individuals, not as a collective. It is essential that design embraces and provides a variety of spaces for residents to utilise.

Later living encompasses a variety of accommodation types, from care homes to co-housing schemes, retirement communities to providing new homes for those who want to downsize and move on.

For care homes and retirement living, operators need to consider the well-being of their staff too. Facilities also need to be designed specifically for them, environments which are aesthetically pleasing, functional and allow them to provide care and maintain the dignity of residents.

The Homes and Communities Agency published the original HAPPI – Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation – report in 2009, which outlines housing examples from across Europe and makes recommendations to government, developers and housing developers. The report and subsequent work in this area encourages people to plan ahead positively and create demand for better choice through a greater range of housing opportunities.

With this need there is the opportunity for later living accommodation to take the lead in design for mainstream housing – accessible to all, secure and with spaces that allow people to meet socially and connect.

Our style is born from our clients vision and our skills realise our clients’ business aspirations or dream lifestyle.


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Photography © Neale Smith / Kristen McCluskie