November 25, 2013

Gerald Hotel design mindful of elders’ needs

The interior designer of the historic Gerald Hotel’s renovation says authenticity can clash with practical needs of seniors.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

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Restoration: One of the restored paintings on the ceiling in “The Great Room” which is part of one of the community rooms inside the Gerald hotel in Fairfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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OLD AND NEW: Intricate wood detail fills the walls and ceiling inside the “Great Room” in the Gerald Hotel in Fairfield. The room will be furnished with contemporary items to be both functional and historical. Workers removed several layers of paint to reveal the original tangerine color.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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It all boils down to recognizing that people’s bodies change.

“As people age, their senses change,” she said. “Their sense of sight, touch, certainly their mobility has changed.”

Sometimes, the features that will provide health advantages are obvious, and sometimes they are less so. The emerging field of interior design for senior health is addressing every detail, from the shape of a room to the color of a cup.

To account for weaker eyesight, for example, there is an active effort to reduce glare by avoiding shiny floors or glossy paint on the walls.

At the same time, there needs to be more, stronger light so that people with visual impairments can see.

In addition to chairs and couches that are easier to get out of, floors are cleared of area rugs, which constitute tripping hazards.

Many of the changes are done to accommodate those with memory problems, which can range from occasional forgetfulness to advanced, debilitating dementia. One out of four people age 65 or older has dementia, she said.

Richards said the brain of a person with memory problems might interpret a dark patch on the floor as a hole.

“That’s how they often process changes in color,” she said.

On the other hand, it can be difficult for some older people to detect a subtle contrast. So, for example, a white dinner plate on a white tablecloth could be a problem.

“Someone with visual deficits, that might all really blend for them,” she said. “It might be difficult for them to see where their food is.”

She said people with memory problems often see red better than other colors, which has led to a shift toward darker plates and cups.

“There are studies that show that people eat more when they have red plates,” she said.

The people who live in the Gerald Hotel are more independent than those who need active ongoing medical care, but they are both aged and aging.

And therein lies the answer to the lack of paisley.

The fashion sense of the Victorian period, which officially ended with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, about when the Gerald opened, included a lot of paisley, LaRochelle said.

But surprisingly, certain prints can be detrimental to the health.

She said floral prints with small, busy features that include a lot of small details, such as paisley, can cause problems for people in the early stages of dementia, who may become fixated on them.

“It can actually make people nauseous,” she said.

Instead, there will be a compromise.

“We took a floral that’s not exactly the same as you would have had then,” she said. “We found the closest things that would give us a feel for what that period would have, without being that period,” she said.

Because of the new concerns about intricate floral prints, Richards said more and more senior residences are trading their busy wallpaper patterns for muted colors.

For people who are renovating their homes to care for aging family members, Richards said it’s better not to assume that general rules will apply.

“What your grandmother needs is probably much different than what my grandmother needs,” she said.


Honoring the past

While safety is paramount, to the extent that the furnishings can be safe and also give a nod to the hotel’s original feel, which was heavily influenced by the Victorian era, LaRochelle has done so.

In the main community room on the second floor, which LaRochelle refers to as “the great room,” workers carefully chipped through several layers of paint in a communal room on the second floor to learn the original color of the walls.

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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NEW LOOK: Interior designer Lori Larochelle stands in the new entrance to the Gerald Hotel in Fairfield holding examples of carpet and fabric that will be used in the entry.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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HISTORIC: Contractor Randy Woodworth works inside a room where original tin ceiling panels were restored and replaced inside the Gerald Hotel in Fairfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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SOCIAL HISTORY: Interior designer Lori Larochelle is designing the ornate “Great Room” into a functioning community room with contemporary furnishings inside the Gerald Hotel in Fairfield.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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