What makes a good communal space in care settings? 3 Simple Design Ideas

Loneliness and isolation are a significant issue in long-term care environments, like care homes and hospices. One piece of research found that 60% of people in care homes do not get any visitors.

Age UK has shown that loneliness is a particularly big problem among older people. They found that 1.9 million older people regularly feel ignored or invisible and that feeling lonely can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!

However, social isolation can affect anyone undergoing long-term care. People have often moved away from their family, friends and local communities. They may have hearing loss or dementia which causes them to avoid social activities and, particularly in hospices, they may exclude themselves as a coping mechanism to process their life-limiting illness.

The negative impact loneliness has on mental and physical wellbeing means combatting loneliness should be a top priority in care settings. Creating communal areas that are accessible and inviting is one way that care providers can help to tackle loneliness and isolation. Having a shared space for socialising can really help to build a sense of community. But what makes a good communal space in a care setting?

Read our three top tips for designing communal areas that residents and patients will want to spend time in.

1/ Plan room layouts carefully

Communal areas must be accessible to all. Getting the layout right is one of the most important steps when designing shared space in care settings. If someone feels like they cannot make use of a communal area, then they may end up feeling even more isolated.

We recommend factoring the following into your design:

Lots of open space

In a care environment, you need to consider many individuals all with different needs and dependency levels. By including lots of open space in communal areas, you give yourself the flexibility to accommodate all residents or patients.

Communal spaces in care settings should be open plan
This communal sitting area leaves plenty of space by the entrance to keep it accessible for wheelchair users

Feel free to choose some loose furniture, like chairs and coffee tables, specifically for the shared area. In fact, that’s one of our top tips for keeping rooms looking homely and pulled together in care settings! But you should also leave plenty of room for any wheelchairs, care chairs and specialist Rise & Recline Chairs people may need to use.

Rise & Recline chairs can provide comfort for residents in communal areas of a care home
This Arene Rise & Recline Chair has wheels so it can be easily moved between the bedroom and any communal areas.

Not everyone will be able, or willing, to transfer from their chair into the seating you have chosen for the communal space. So, you need to be able to accommodate extra furniture in the room when needed. Having enough open space also makes room for any care equipment users may require. Some people may need breathing apparatus or monitoring devices but are otherwise still up for socialising in communal areas. It is important that there is enough room for them to do so comfortably.

As well as having enough space in communal areas, you should make sure you properly use the space to maximise accessibility. Design guidelines state that doorways to communal areas should have a clear opening width of at least 80mm.

Overhead hoist systems

If you have patients or residents that require hoisted transfers, it may be valuable to invest in a ceiling track hoist system for any communal areas.

These are integral for moving people around and between rooms quickly and safely. The great thing about an overhead system is, unlike mobile hoists, it doesn’t take up any floor space! We already know how important that is in communal areas.

Overhead hoist systems improve accessibility in communal areas
This overhead hoist system at Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice makes this communal space for teenagers more accessible

Our overhead hoist systems use advanced technology to automate and assist with the moving and handling process. So, only one carer is needed to safely operate the hoist. This is ideal for communal care settings where there may only be a few members of staff available to look after all patients.

2/ Create different spaces for different interests

Even if a communal area is fully accessible to them, some people in care settings may still choose not to use the space if they don’t feel it is suited to them.

For example, if you create a television room where people go to sit and chat whilst catching up on programmes, an individual who doesn’t like to watch TV may avoid the room and miss out on the chance to socialise.

Example of a television area in a communal space

It is important then, to consider the interests of residents and patients when designing communal areas. By factoring this into the initial design process, you are more likely to create communal areas that appeal to everyone.

Ask people for their input

In long-term care settings, you can try asking residents directly what kind of communal spaces they would like! As the same people will be using the facilities long-term you have more freedom to tailor the space towards their individual interests.

Whilst it may not be possible to include all suggestions, it gives a strong starting point for creating a good communal space for your individual residents.

Use furniture to define different areas

Many people worry that they don’t have enough available rooms to provide multiple communal areas designed for different activities. But you don’t need separate rooms to create separate spaces!

You can use different furniture, soft furnishings and accessories to clearly define different areas within the same room. This can be reassuring for people in care settings as it gives them options whilst allowing them to stay in their comfort zone. Some individuals may stick to the same area each day whilst others may prefer to move around and make use of different spaces to engage in different activities. Either way, you are offering everyone an opportunity to engage and interact in a way that suits them.

Here’s an example of how you could use furniture to segment a communal space:

  • Use a group of armchairs to create a television area
    The armchair-style helps to create a traditional and homely feel that resembles a living room.
  • Include high back chairs for reading
    High back chairs provide excellent back and shoulder support when you’re sitting in a relaxed position. This makes them perfect for creating a reading zone where people can sit comfortably with a book or newspaper.
  • Use taller tables for puzzles and games
    Traditional coffee tables are typically too low to use for a game of chess or a jigsaw puzzle. By including some taller tables, you can create an area where people can sit comfortably and play different games.

Check out our full furniture inspiration gallery for more design ideas.

3/ Incorporate contrasting colours

Using colour and contrast is another method that can help you to define different areas within the communal space.

Carrying on with the example used above, you could use red furniture to mark out the reading area, yellow in the television area, and blue to identify the games area. Sticking to different colours in different areas of the room can help to emphasise that they are intended to be used as separate spaces.

Contrasting colours can also serve another, even more important, purpose. They can act as vision and memory aids for people with dementia or visual impairments. This makes it easier for them to navigate and enjoy communal spaces.

Colour contrasts help people with dementia to get around care environments safely
A red chair provides a strong contrast against a white wall

Choosing furniture in colours that contrast with walls and flooring helps people with dementia and sight loss to recognise where they are and to find their way around. Not only does this reduce the risk of trips and falls, but it can serve as a reminder of the activities they enjoy.

Other examples of how to use colour and contrast to improve communal spaces in care settings include:

  • Opting for contrasting trims on chairs. This helps people with visual impairments to identify the shape of the chair and can help them to sit down safely.
  • Avoid rugs that contrast with the flooring. A person with dementia may mistake the rug for a hole in the floor and hurt themselves trying to avoid it.
  • Choose colours that evoke positive feelings. Colours can be tied to emotions, opting for shades of orange and yellow can help people to associate the communal areas with happiness and energy. Read our guide to colour schemes for more information.
Four mood boards showing interior design ideas for a hospice
Example moodboards for communal space in a hospice

To help you choose the right furniture and put together mood boards, you can book an interior design consultation.

Summary

A good communal space can help tackle loneliness and isolation in long-term care environments. But how do you design communal areas for care settings? This guide covers top tips on how to maximise room layouts, create different areas to suit people with different interests, and use contrasting colours and styles to support individuals with visual or memory impairments. Using these simple recommendations, you can create a communal space that patients or residents will want to spend time in.

Get in touch to talk about your interior design requirements