Look down – how comforting is that flooring?

Steve Urwin, Tarkett UK marketing manager, says flooring can have a major impact on the wellbeing of people living in sheltered accommodation – for some surprising reasons.

It’s well-known that the UK’s population is ageing – more than 10 million people in the country are now over the age of 65, and that number will nearly double by 2050.

While many elderly people remain healthy and independent, there’s no doubt that the need for sheltered housing for vulnerable members of the community will continue to grow in that time.

For property developers and builders, this naturally presents a commercial opportunity as well as the chance to fulfil a societal need. But it’s crucial that sheltered accommodation is of a high quality if the people who live there are to be properly supported.

This creates a number of special design requirements to be considered – it’s both an ethical and commercial responsibility to make sure a healthy environment is created where vulnerable residents can live as fulfilling a life as possible.

Some of the requirements are obvious; for instance, plenty of natural light, as few steps as possible and open spaces for socialising. But one factor that is sometimes underplayed is flooring, which can have a remarkable effect on the wellbeing and behaviour of the people who walk on it.

Professor Rudolph Shricker of the German Association of Architects and Interior Designers (BDIA) has studied the effects of flooring in interior spaces on Alzheimer’s patients and made some surprising findings.

While many people who require sheltered housing do not suffer from dementia, many of the principles he describes can also contribute to creating comfortable and comforting surroundings.

Professor Shricker says:

“The choice of flooring in healthy environments is an important vector for safety. Floors provide safety underfoot in daily walking movement; resistance and anti-bacterial properties solve hygiene problems.

“Today, the large variety of flooring designs offers many options in colours, structures and visual effects.

“The aesthetics of floors enter into an emotional relationship with people – identifi-cation and curiosity are life-prolonging and activating factors for ill people living in a healing environment.

“For them, a ‘healthy’ floor gives hope, encouragement and motivation.”

If that sounds a tall order for a simple floor, think about how important it is to have floors which look beautiful, provide a clean, sound surface to walk on and allow good hygiene.

Professor Shricker says:

“Qualitative, beautiful and healthy floors give people composure and dignity, contributing to a positive feeling. Floor design can help people to slow down, concentrate, orientate themselves, have fun or move freely.”

In choosing flooring for your development, practicalities come first, of course. Anti-slip surfaces with an R10 rating are extremely important in preventing falls and broken bones, and ease of cleaning is also high on the priority list.

The right flooring can also provide acoustic protection – noise can be a highly negative factor and has been shown to contribute to sleeplessness, increase the use of pain medication and maybe even cause confusion and disorientation.

Vinyl floor coverings provide a cost-effective solution to all of these practical considerations, and also come in a wide range of attractive finishes and colours that can easily adapt to the décor of a hard-working interior space.

Vinyl wall coverings are an innovative addition in this area – they can be laid by the same installer as the flooring, which gives the specifiers and architects the opportunity to cut down on time and costs.

To further reduce costs but increase comfort, consider a wet room concept.

Wet rooms provide a complete and extensive system of floor and wall coverings, as well as accessories including drains, threshold strips and sleeves. No longer just lifeless, drab affairs, wet rooms are increasingly available in a variety of engaging patterns and colours.

However, the use of pattern needs to be handled with care. People with dementia can be adversely affected by some colours and patterns – red, for instance, can be over-stimulating, while a sparkle pattern can confuse residents into thinking they are walking on water.

For people with dementia, Professor Shricker says:

“It is no longer cognitive and intelligent interpretations that play the decisive role, but emotional moments and psycho-social experiences.

“Factors of interior space perception such as orientation, safety, movement and balance are now to be integrated in each phase of the interior design.”

When people move to sheltered or housing association accommodation, even if their health is good, they may initially be in a disturbed state because they are leaving their familiar home behind. Once again, attractive and safe flooring can play a useful role in helping them to feel secure and ‘at home’ in the new place.

Professor Cornel Siebel of Nuremburg University’s Institute for Biomedicine of Ageing says:

“Solid and contrasting colours make it possible to distinguish between different zones of the unit and make it easier for patients to orient themselves – for example, by using an orangey colour for an activity zone.”

So it can’t be denied that flooring plays a role that often goes unconsidered. We all like to feel we’ve got our feet on solid ground, so home needs to be a comforting and attractive place where we are secure, protected and free to move around safely.

Developers and builders are well aware of the extra demands upon them when creating and designing sheltered accommodation. But the choice of flooring may well be more important than they ever imagined.

Soothing floors

  • Natural colours in mineral and vegetable tones
  • Pastel colours
  • Varnished colours
  • Semi-plain effects
  • Saturated colours for orientation and contrast
  • Matt finishes

 Patterns to choose

  •  Small patterns and dots
  • Non-figurative patterns – they can’t be confused with something real

 Patterns to avoid

  • Large stripes
  • Repetitive geometrics such as checks and circles
  • Imitations of natural materials such as pebbles or grass, as they can confuse

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