Creating a Dementia friendly home

Why is designing homes for people with dementia important?

“Getting design right can make a fundamental difference to the lives of people with dementia.  It improves their life experiences and can increase life expectancy”

The Dementia Centre

What are the issues?

More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, with numbers expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia is a huge issue for the UK and the world. The cost to the UK is already around £23 billion per year, and is set to rise to £27 billion by 2018. Globally the estimated costs are $604 billion – 1% of global GDP.  It is therefore vitally important that whether we are designing homes specifically for older people, or with everyone in mind – we make sure they incorporate principles that help.

Helping people remain independent is really important, as not only can it help them remain in their own home for longer, but it also helps improve their quality of life – and that of their carers and families.

How can architectural design help?

We want to find ways to design homes to help alleviate the feelings of isolation and fear that many people with dementia encounter. We feel there is an opportunity to improve the overall quality of life for people with dementia which could reduce the need for expensive hospital care.

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Loft bedroom – later living home for McCarthy & Stone.


5 Principles for Housing Design for Dementia

As a starting point here are 6 design principles for developing supportive design to help people with dementia lead a more enjoyable life.

1. Encourage Meaningful Activity by integrating gardens into the design, providing places to walk with frequent resting places, forming social spaces where people can meet, talk and form friendships.

Terrace barbeque

Garden design giving covered outdoor space for sitting with family.


2. Enable familiarity make sure dining areas include smaller more intimate spaces that feel more homely, use recognisable sanitary ware and include photographs of local places to jog memories.


Well defined spaces within open plan layout drawing in light and views.


3. Help aid legibility by creating good site lines and uncluttered spaces.  Make sure lighting is even and use natural daylight wherever possible.  Don’t use shiny floor coverings or confusing patterns, but use soft surfaces that help reduce background noise.

Terrace open plan living room

Dining spaces that are domestic in scale help provide the feeling of being at home.


4. Support Orientation by integrating artworks that reflect the seasons, draw in more natural daylight and integrate external spaces within the design.  Create framed views of the landscape and nature.  Make sure staff spaces are easy to find and staff are visible.

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Drawing in views of the landscape and nature to create calm and relaxed places.


5. Help Wayfinding by using accent colours both in the interior and exterior, using sculpture or building features, clearly identifying bedrooms and social spaces, using pictures for signage along with text.

The Outcomes

Decision making should be eased reducing the agitation and stress that frequently accompanies dementia.  People can become more independent and will hopefully interact more with others in their care home or development, which helps with wellbeing and happiness.  Homes should feel and be safer, which also helps encourage people to get out, walk around and socialise.  Further blogs will look at some of these design principles in more detail and how we can implement them to provide spaces that really help make a difference.


Study of 3 Care Homes in Switzerland

We are interested in these examples in Switzerland of housing and specialist care home buildings. These examples have a lot of people waiting to move in…

WohnenPlus, Flaesch

In the centre of a small village stood this old building which has been renovated. It had a small shop on the ground floor and the other floors were not really used for any purpose. The building has a lovely scale with a simple, traditional form and details. However the internal mix of uses and the adventurous plan layouts are innovative.

The new concept of the housing includes an enlivened village-shop and new apartments on the second and third floor.

On the 1 Floor there is a lunch table arrangement for school kids and elderly people to share at lunch time which is run by the community or church group. This also has a communal kitchen so support the lunch club.

The apartments have a separate more private entry door, so does the shop and the lunch table with attached all-purpose-room.

All of the tenants are offered support from a care company and each apartment has an emergency call system linked to the care company.

Area of Frauensteinmatt, Zug 

The project includes four different sized buildings within the development site, located on the edge of Lake Zug.

With the help of angled elevations the bigger building appears smaller and the opening corridors to the middle of the plans fill the building with light. The configuration of glazing on the balconies to the apartments helps to create wonderful uplifting light spaces to the inside of the rooms.

The biggest building is the care home with full care hospital rooms.

The other three buildings are traditional housing apartments with a mixture of family apartments and retirement apartments.

The landscape was carefully shaped to create winding paths throughout the site with hidden bench / seating places and other areas for relaxation across the site.

New Care Home Holzlegistrasse, Winterthur

The interesting complex of three buildings which are designed around the cluster model / layout and are connected underneath at ground level.

Across each building the feel is like a private villa of apartments, but with the three buildings achieves the necessary urban density.

The floor layout remains almost the same in each apartment: the entrance connects bath, utility, bedroom and living room. The layout of each apartment on the corner of the building ensures that all of the rooms have windows to natural light, giving great connection to the views.

Designing for Disabilities – a personal view

It is a difficult day when you suddenly realise your parents are getting older and that they will increasingly need your help. For me it was when my Mum had a stroke 3 years ago and became paralysed, not able to speak or communicate. The long journey of recovery is still going, but with the amazing care from the NHS and dedication and love from my Dad and our family she can now walk with a frame and although she can’t do everything on her own she still able to live at home.

Mum’s stroke really made me think a lot about the way we design for people with disabilities, after all a huge number of our population don’t fit into the categories we design for – 1.8m tall able bodied probably male.

We had to add extra handrails to the stairs, which despite Dad’s best efforts do not add to the design qualities of the house! We had to add a walk in shower where the airing cupboard used to be and then there was all the kit Mum needed; the bed that moves up and down, the chair that supports her at the right height, the walking frame…

None of this kit was designed to look good let alone contemporary. I started to search the internet for things that had been designed to look good, maybe even stylish…. Mum understandably doesn’t want to be considered ‘old’ and all the things she had to introduce into her life were grey, ugly and un un-inspirational.

Mum has many things that she enjoys doing, she loves gardens and bird watching and she is part of a patchwork group that meet weekly for chat, tea and sewing.  About 7 years ago I designed Mum and Dad an extension that opened up the back of the house and gave them an open plan kitchen dining room. This is where Mum now spends most of her time.  She can feel like she’s sitting in the garden and there is space for her friends to come for coffee and a chat, because the kitchen is accessible she doesn’t have to walk far to make a cup of tea.  Later if Mum does need to sleep downstairs the new space means she can do so without many alterations being made to the house.

Mum and Dad’s extension has given them a huge amount of flexibility and importantly a social hub to the home which was lacking in the formal cellular arrangement of the original 60’s house.

The Consultation Process: Let’s talk, let’s draw!

Our 4 hour consultation is a fantastic way to kickstart your project.  We visit you in your home and develop sketches with you at your kitchen table.

Within a fixed time frame, we talk with you and then then get drawing, leaving you with some key sketches summarising our discussions.

We view the consultation as a time for stretching the imagination whilst recognising the features you value most, aiming to understand how you live now and your vision for the future.

We are fascinated by the patterns in our daily lives and how a space can best facilitate the activities we love to do most….

A number of themes emerged from our most recent design consultations:

1. The layout we know and love

It’s natural to become fond of familiar layouts where we carry out daily rituals in a certain way. Being highly adaptable and enjoying routine, it’s not uncommon to make spaces work for us even when they don’t quite fit the bill.

Listening to how you envisage using your space and in interpreting these ideas into layouts may challenge the way you have been used to inhabiting your home. We might suggest alternative room layouts and functions which stretch the imagination… and possibility.

2. Links: The functional and the beautiful

Creating efficient circulation space between a main house and a proposed extension can be a challenging prospect. With additions to an existing form, it is easy for old and new spaces to feel disconnected by dark internal corridors.

An elegant glazed link can offer a light connection between spaces in the existing and proposed, as well helping to reduce the visual impact on sensitive areas of the building. By allowing a little extra width on the link, a simple passageway can house that much needed wall of storage or a comfy chair to enjoy the view.

3. Dedicated space for a hobby

Fast paced lifestyles often don’t leave much time for enjoying leisurely pursuits, but putting yourself first every now and again certainly isn’t a bad thing. Why not create a space with a distinctive ambience for housing that grand piano – tinkling the ivories whilst enjoying views out to the garden?

By varying the window and door design, incorporating such a space into a wider open plan extension is one approach. A horizontal slot window set at optimal piano playing eyeline would focus the view outside, whilst recessed ceiling down lighters can enhance the showtime mood!

Although flexibility is an important part of modern life, a special feature like the slot window designed around a much loved activity can really add that distinctive personal touch.

4. To blend or not to blend

When extending from an existing building, theres always the question of style. Instinctively we appreciate designs which are of their time rather than those which try to imitate the historic so finding the right balance of form and materials is key.

A design which demonstrates clear yet sensitive delineation between old and new can be something really special.

5. The heart of the home 

There’s usually one existing space in the heart of the home with a valued character – often cosy ‘fireplace’ rooms in the centre of the plan. Preserving these spaces while relocating the more manic daily happenings to the flexible extension is a natural approach.

Identifying those cherished spaces is just as important as working out new layouts. A considerate design can enhance and integrate these areas with new parts of the building.


Funky Bungalows : the contemporary features

We are developing a renewed fondness for the single storey dwelling so iconic of English suburbia.

Level access, connection with garden, privacy are all reasons why bungalows have been so popular with the older generation for a length of time. Alongside these attributes, the traditional typology may also contribute to feelings of Isolation, a large footprint challenging to maintain and high energy bills.

So how can this winning formula be reinterpreted to suit the aspirations of todays baby boomers?

Our recent research and design work with Redrow homes on a scheme for Extra Care Apartments in Dawlish reinforced the benefits of flexible layouts, a strong connection to outside space and opportunity for social interaction.

We believe a well designed single storey dwelling can provide a living environment attuned to the evolving interests and needs of the older generation who are seeking a desirable affordable option for downsizing from a family dwelling.

Our top five contemporary bungalow features:

1) Vaulting ceilings allows opportunity for large amounts of natural light, as well clever and compact mezzanines, creating extra space for when family and friends come to visit.







2) The large, en-suite, attic bedroom is much appreciated by downsizers. By viewing the internal volume as a whole, we can maximise the efficiency through playful vertical and horizontal division of space.







3) Taking the low density detached bungalow profile and re-configuring the layout to a terrace or courtyard formation, naturally providing increased opportunity for social engagement.







4) Minimising circulation space with open plan layouts and level thresholds, allowing ease of inhabitation across internal and external spaces and connection with the outside from all living areas.





5) Individual Gardens and courtyards which are compact, adaptable and easy to maintain – offering scope for keen gardens, pet owners and those who like to entertain.





The number of bungalows being built has remained constant for the last 10 years and with our ageing population, demand is soon likely to exceed supply. Now is the opportunity to take our love of the bungalow to the next level, to thoroughly engage through thoughtful design.

More content you might like:

What do the over 60’s look for in a new build

Designing for a lifetime

Silver Linings


What do the over 60s look for in a new build?

The number of over 60s living in the UK is continuing to rise. Designers and developers need to understand the needs of this section of the population.

There are a lot of assumptions around what the over 60s look for in a living space, but we’ve found through our work with a number of retired clients, that a lot of those assumptions are completely wrong.

So what is the older generation looking for in a home right now? There are some clear themes emerging in the briefs we’re getting from older clients. Here’s a brief rundown of our research into trends in later living design, and an overview of the emerging trends and themes.

The spirit of adventure and a passion for good design

Our clients are passionate about good design and want to make sure their homes reflect their continuing active lifestyles. They want to feel they have a home that is the envy of their friends and that they can show off to family and relatives. Older people also want to feel current and up to date in their choices – in fact in our experience older clients are more adventurous than the younger clients and families we work with. Perhaps that’s because this is their opportunity to have exactly what they want without considering a future purchaser or how the market might develop. It’s also important to remember that a lot of these clients were exposed to contemporary design over 50 years ago and aren’t afraid to be bold in their choices.

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7 top trends for later living

  1. Double height spaces with views to the sky are in high demand. Whereas some developers might see this as a waste of space, our clients value the fact that this creates spaces that give us a better sense of well being and are uplifting to the spirit.
  2. Open plan spaces with room for a large table, somewhere to sit for coffee and a lovely large contemporary kitchen with all the latest gadgets.
  3. Cold rooms and larders are extremely popular now with lots of shelves – along the lines of television cook Nigella Lawson’s iconic larder. These rooms naturally need to be placed on the north side of the house where possible and some clients are adding temperature controls.
  4. Lots and lots of storage space is essential. Storage rooms, corridors and storage walls feature as a part of our designs. We all accumulate so much stuff these days and the traditional loft space is becoming a thing of the past with open ceilings and mezzanines taking its place. A house with plenty of storage is now preferable to a house with plenty of toilets! Developers take note.
  5. Timber frame and Kit houses are being requested by clients a lot. The likes of Baufritz and Hans Haus are premium products with a price to match, but the ease and speed with which they are constructed makes them a popular choice.
  6. Sustainable Design is crucial to older clients, they understand that they have the opportunity to make sure their homes will be cheaper to run and better for the environment; not just for them but ensuring the fabric of the house is well insulated and sealed beyond building regulations requirements and that the materials used are sourced responsibly.
  7. Cutting edge technology – our clients want to be ahead of the game and enjoy being new adopters.

We have frequently heard it said that if you design a product that appeals to a younger person today it will also be attractive to an older person. Age is now irrelevant what is important is good design. What this doesn’t take account of is that the older generation actually want to be ahead of the game, they want to be the ones taking risks and trying out new technology first. In my mind that makes designing for later living the most exciting sector to be working in right now. It could offer the opportunity for design, research and development that will help us create homes and environments that are better for all sections of the community.

More content you might like:

Designing for later living

Lifetime design

5 things the over 70’s can’t live without

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Biodiveristy – Hindrance or Opportunity?

Yesterday evening we attended an eye opening masterclass about Biodiversity considerations within developments, with Dr Steve Holloway, the principle Ecology Consultant from SLR.

Age old prejudices between developers and ecologists were disbanded as it became clear that both sides were seeking a pragmatic solution. Every developer in the room had run into difficulties with Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) over biodiversity matters in the past. All of which seemed to largely be attributed to the local councils being without the specialists to provide site specific information and solutions. If the LPAs can be provided with the correct evidence, put into local and national perspective, and the proposal provides a proportionate and directed response to that, the council can have no objection.

The revealing undercurrent of the discussion was the need for a good Architect, who is able to combine the best ecological solution with the most profitable and constructive development strategy. This will allow site specific surveys from an Ecological Consultant to be balanced with an understanding of the developers market and brief.   A talented architect can address the biodiversity issues in a targeted way, allowing intervention to enhance or offset the ecological needs in a sensible way.

Living Space Design with McCarthy & Stone

Top Tips for getting planning permission on a challenging, biodiverse site –

1. Get some site specific Biodiversity Surveys

2. Get in contact with an Ecology Consultant to put that survey data into proper perspective. Yes, all bat species are under an umbrella of protection… but not every species is rare. The Ecology Consultant can provide the evidence the council need to put the current wildlife data, and the impact the new proposal would have on these, into proportion.

3. Don’t just provide Biodiversity Enhancements for the sake of it, work with the Ecology Consultant to define the areas and species on site which are worth maintaining and will flourish in future improving. This could well save you throwing away money or valuable land to a wildflower meadow which may never even see a butterfly.

4. Think more widely about the areas surrounding the site. Is there a remarkable area next to your site, which you can improve further? This offsetting of ecological value will mean less restriction to your development plans on site.

5. Consider the boundary edges of site or connecting pathways through site can be more help to the local wildlife than a designated expansive area.

6. Include a long term plan. Show the LPAs your scheme goes above and beyond by including a maintenance plan.

7. Know your literature. The  S41 List will be a great place to start, revealing all habitats and 943 species of principal importance. But for actual legislation you will need to look elsewhere. Get hold of a copy of the British Standard 42020, and prove that you are compliant with the codes.

8. Present your evidence well. If you have carefully considered what interventions will be most beneficial for the site, show evidence of it, and show it clearly.

Alex Baker, Architectural Designer, Living Space Architects

Designing for a Lifetime

“Let’s face it – we do not need special architecture for old people, we need the right architecture for all ages. The problem with designing environments specifically for older people is that nobody wants to move into them: they are the last resort, not the first choice. ”

Matthias Hollwich with Matthew Hoff man , AD Designing for the Third Age

Very much like the UK the US is on the brink of demographic transformation, with the bulging generation of baby boomers about to reach retirement.

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The nursing home at BOOM with an accessible clubbing wall, yes you did read that!

We are interested in the views of HWKN a New York based architects practice who suggest that attitudes and approaches to ageing have to change and that old age needs to be ‘acknowledged as a state of human existence’ that fully ‘deserves preparation, anticipation and excitement’

Today’s nursing homes could be described as ‘homey’ environments, a type of model that is now becoming unacceptable to the new older generation, sometimes described as the ‘baby boomers’.  Having questioned various aspects of society on the 1960s they are not prepared to age gracefully by being placed in unappealing and often lonely homes for the elderly.  For a lot of people including my own parents this is the last place they would want to end up.

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New homes at BOOM in Palm Springs

HWKN are designers and instigators of a bold New Community being built in America called BOOM. BOOM is geared towards creating stunningly designed communities, spearheading a new way to engage with architecture at a later age by prototyping a self-determined, hyper-social, and satisfying future.

This ground breaking development is designed with a very specific part of the market in mind.  The development is lesbian and gay friendly, although it is by no means solely designed for this section of society and is proving popular with all open minded boomers who want to live a full and active life at retirement.Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 17.58.50


Designing for Later Living

This is the first in a series of blog posts looking at the theme of design for later living, or how we could be designing for an increasing ageing population.

Over the last 10 years, like many young architectural practices we found ourselves cutting out teeth within the private residential sector.  As we have moved on to larger and more commercial projects we have found that our knowledge of this sector has given a huge amount of valuable research that can be translated into larger projects.

We have had the opportunity to develop detailed briefs for over 400 private clients within the residential sector and over 70% of these have been older clients.  This has bee a fantastic resource for a larger retirement projects and proved fruitful when we became finalists in the McCarthy & Stone re-imagining ageing competition last year.  We have subsequently written articles for the architectural press and provided research for clients such as Pegasus Life and other later living developers.

We have spent time analysing themes and trends within this sector and are now getting the opportunity to translate these into projects on site including our work with J&M homes in Tavistock where we are helping them create a development of 14 later living apartments and houses.

The next 5 posts will look at the themes we have been looking at and the research we have gone on to complete.  Themes include how to encourage active ageing within design, trends within relocation, looking to other countries such as the Middle East who are ahead of the UK in their approach to design for this sector and if retirement villages are the right solution for housing our ageing population.

What’s in a name – Living Space

Why Living Space Architects
The name relates to our own desire as architects to create spaces that are alive with energy and activity. It is after-all the activity and events that happen in spaces that make them special and our architecture is a backdrop to this, an enabler if you like. I think a lot of people think we chose the name Living Spacearchitects because we specialise in residential architecture, in fact we don’t specialise in this area at all although naturally as a young practice we do a lot of residential work.

As a student I was fascinated by writings by Architects like Tschumi – event cities etc. Tschumi said architecture is not simply about space and form, but also about event, action, and what happens in space. I designed an ice factory in the back streets of west end London with an ice wall that crashed to the ground every day nada yearly ice festival. It was the idea of history, memory, and event making a place special through its architecture and buildings being a dynamic part of this not just bystanders. Obviously as a student you were expected to make a scale model of said ice factory along with real ice, which I then decided to hang from the ceiling. Questions like how much does a sq m of ice really weigh and what is the load bearing capacity of the studio ceiling had to be asked as well as what happens when it melts on the floor.

Living space follows on from this with its practice, creating spaces not just as a backdrop but as places where people can interact and where things happen, ideas are created, friendships are formed and strengthened and life lived to the full. This may be a dining room extension or a more complex design for a performing arts centre, but the essence of a dynamic, living form of space remains and enriches our design process to create forms that resonate with our clients and the building users.