Dean Maddalena. Designing for the Third Window.


In this issue, we shed some light on several major trends re-shaping senior lifestyles–by design.  That’s why I spoke with Dean Maddalena, who is President of studioSIX5 a leading interior design firm in Austin, Texas, that focuses on senior lifestyle design.  One of the early movers in the field, Dean has dedicated a large part of his 32-year career to the research and design of senior living environments. He has worked in all facets of senior design and for all levels of care throughout the United States. A licensed architect, his design success has been recognized with awards from the American Institute of Architects, Starnet and most recently, a first-place national design award from NAHB +50. Dean is a true pioneer in senior living design and at the forefront in defining radical changes now transforming his field.

He obviously also has great taste in socks.

By Bill Pemberton, Editor

in senior lifestyles from the long-term trends is a core aim of this blog. After all, setting your course in alignment with solid trends is the key to having an effective “long game.”

To that end, I offer this sure long-term trend: the re-engagement of seniors with mainstream society—as active agers rather than declining oldsters.  I tested this trend with Dean Maddalena, President of studioSIX5, and a man who has some deep cache in setting senior trends. We talked about how that trend is playing out in his field of interior design for seniors.  Dean brought some interesting and fresh nuances to the discussion, and it goes far beyond just colors, textures and lighting.

Dean described how when he began in senior design, it was all about designing an attractive venue, usually one set apart in an idyllic, semi-rural setting, where residents could sequester away from the cares of mainstream, everyday life. The key concept was dis-engagement and segregation of seniors.  It was retirement on steroids—fun in the sun and plenty of leisure activity—usually with other seniors.

However, like a software program running silently in the background, another senior lifestyle concept began taking shape over recent years. It wasn’t just different—it was opposite of what Dean has learned in the early days.  It was a tectonic shift that signaled a huge divide between what had gone before—and what was defining the future. Designing for seniors began to be about two words “mainstream engagement”—instead of marginalized disengagement.

Detecting–and helping to shape–that shift early on, Dean began reversing engines to design and bring senior living into mainstream venues, usually urban or suburban infill projects. These are mixed-use developments that integrate senior housing and care properties right alongside retail outlets, education venues, public and cultural attractions, and even housing for younger generations. That new intersection, in turn, is producing an inter-generational nexus where seniors can remain productive and socialize with younger folks, including—gasp—millennials. The new direction is towards reconnecting seniors to society, by design.

“You have to design so that if a group of seniors invited the millennials from the next apartment building to their place for happy hour, the millennials wouldn’t notice they were in an environment conducive to successful aging,” explained Dean.  The aging ergonomics will still be in place, but largely subliminal—even including special considerations such as higher seating levels, concessions to color and lighting for the aging eye, minimizing floor pattern transitions, and more. Even areas for higher levels of care can appear trendy.

“Right now, with the materials we’re afforded, we can design for every level of care and have it look like a high-end hospitality resort.  That makes residents happy, and happy people heal faster—and live longer, more successful lives,” says Dean. When a skilled nursing community looks like a resort, half the pain is gone already.

The new model came with some big surprises. It turns out seniors and millennials have more in common than first thought. Both generations are attracted to larger, more open, social areas and smaller personal space, with little or no upkeep concerns. Both are intensely interested in self-improvement, particularly personal health.  Both millennials and seniors are averse to large investments in cars and kitchens, and depend on hipster services like Uber and Lyft for transportation, and quick delivery of prepackaged meals.

Clearly, senior living as an end-of-life idea has been supplanted by the concept of senior living as “third window” in life that begins on the other side of the 20- to 30-year middle window usually dedicated to raising a family. During that middle time, larger houses are needed, as are owned transportation and a more family-based setting near schools and child-directed amenities. That all changes when the nest goes empty.

As longevity continues to increase, the third window of life that commences after raising a family will grow longer and more vital.  It will be perceived more as a fruitful and productive season that offers at least as many lifestyle choices as the first two—and promise to be just as rewarding.

Those companies that plan to better serve that third window will be first in line to meet the special needs of aging. That will translate into larger market share and brand loyalty for many years to come. The same will hold true for companies that serve the senior industry. Already, early responders like studioSIX5 are light-years ahead in defining and serving those age-related needs for their clients. Theirs is an adaptive model worth studying.

As with their integrative generational planning, the key will be to fit and fill those special needs without sending an obvious message of age and personal obsolescence.

Making aging invisible: that is one sure strategy for winning The Long Game.

This gorgeous, wide-open dining area is a prime example of how studioSIX5 is addressing the
desire for more space for socialization–as opposed to larger apartments.

Photo courtesy of Alan Blakely


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