Once you’ve made the decision to move into a retirement residence and start a new chapter in your life, you may begin to question what furniture and possessions to bring with you to your new home. If you live in a large home or apartment, downsizing may factor into your transition—deciding what items to bring with you, gift to family and friends, or even donate—but of equal importance is determining what you want your new suite to look and feel like. For many individuals, moving into a retirement community is an exciting opportunity for a fresh start in creating a space that reflects their personality and style.
With this in mind, we sat down with Chartwell’s Design Coordinator and overall decorating guru, Patricia McKnight, for her advice on outfitting your new suite.
Q: In terms of furniture, what are the most important things for new residents to consider before moving into their suite?
The key thing is to look at the space first. Take measurements, or have a family member or friend do this for you, to make sure your existing furniture is going to fit well in the space. It’s good to know beforehand, for example, if a sofa would work best, or perhaps a loveseat and two chairs. One of the most common—and easiest—mistakes to make is having too much furniture. That can become a safety issue, because you’re more likely to bump into or trip over pieces that are crowded together. Individuals who have walkers, wheelchairs and other mobility aids—or who have visitors with mobility restrictions—will benefit from uncluttered spaces that are easy to navigate.
Q: Speaking of safety, are there other specific safety concerns when it comes to decorating a new suite?
New residents sometimes like to bring in their own area rugs; however, rugs that are laid over existing carpeting, or even bare floors, can pose a tripping hazard. If you have a smaller area rug that has a lovely pattern or is an heirloom or Oriental design, think about hanging it on a wall as a piece of art. We also suggest not using glass tables, as they can pose a safety hazard if they break or shatter when something is dropped on them.
Q: Should residents bring their existing furniture or consider buying new things?
That depends on budget and individual preference. One thing to remember is that moving represents a big change for many people—particularly if they have been in a family home for a number of years—and coming into a new space can be a different at first. Being surrounded by familiar items is comforting and can help ease the transition. At the same time, some people love the idea of starting a new chapter in their lives and look forward to buying a new sofa or accessories to start anew. Because condo living is so popular now, there is an entire range of smaller-sized, and even convertible, furnishings and storage options to choose from that are well suited to a seniors’ residence.
Q: How can new residents make their suites instantly feel like home?
The easiest and simplest way is to decorate with personal photos, art and accessories. When their loved one moves in, some families create a photo wall as a house-warming gift, using different-sized, framed photos that are meaningful to the new resident. The frames can be the unifying element, all in the same colour or style. The other benefit of creating a photo wall is that table or nightstand surfaces can now be freed up to display other objects or needed items.
Bringing toss cushions or a soft, warm throw blanket is another way to make your suite feel instantly homey. If your furniture is neutral, this is where you can add pattern, texture or a pop of colour. This also helps individuals with vision problems to distinguish different elements within their space.
Adding lighting is another way to make your new home more inviting—as well as reducing eye strain and increasing safety. Table lamps cast a soft glow and can be part of a cozy reading nook, for instance.
Overall, it’s often the small things that will make you feel at home in your new space—personal items that are special to you. We also encourage new residents to ask for assistance from staff if they have any questions at all about the move-in process, or need help, say, with hanging a picture or curtains once they move in. They are more than happy to help!
About Patricia McKnight
As Chartwell’s Design Coordinator, Patricia works on designing and decorating common areas, such as dining rooms and lounges, as well as model suites, in Chartwell residences. She has been with the company for 10 years. Previously, Patricia was General Manager at a seniors’ residence. “My goal is to make our residents’ lives better through comfortable, pleasant and safe surroundings,” she says. “I want them to feel completely at home, not just in their suites, but in every area of the residence.”
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