12.–16.01.2025 #immcologne

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Barrier-free design

Today’s response to tomorrow’s needs

As a look in the mirror reminds us, we aren’t getting any younger. It’s a problem that affects the whole of society. Low birth rates and increasing life expectancy mean that the population is aging rapidly. This demographic change means that we are already talking of a silver society, one whose needs in terms of age-appropriate living accommodation and barrier-free design are gradually being recognised. It’s high time to take a closer look at ideas that could work well for architects, designers and manufacturers.

(Foto: Greame C Shutterstock)

A focus on the needs of a growing target group

Active, fit and lively: today’s senior citizens have little in common with earlier generations of over 65s. Their needs and aspirations have changed – not least when it comes to interior design. Together with first-class quality, it’s functionality and flexibility that are paramount. The demand is for supportive furniture that is modern and stylish as well. And senior citizens are prepared to invest more in high-quality products of this kind. On the other hand, they are, generally speaking, less consumerist, purchase new furniture less frequently and have a stronger emotional attachment to their possessions. Yet at the same time researchers are noticing a trend towards “down-aging”: the over-65 generation feels young and fit, and doesn’t want to be thought of – or described as – past it. The age they feel can often be far removed from their actual age – the discrepancy can be as much as 15 years.

Taking an adaptive approach to the retirement housing shortage

Where retirement living accommodation is concerned, there is a serious predicament looming – one that is already being described as a “grey housing crisis”. While pensions are getting smaller, living accommodation is becoming more and more expensive. Many senior citizens can no longer afford to move into age-appropriate dwellings in their own area – and even converting their own homes into accessible accommodation can cost as much as 16,000 euros (depending on what’s needed), a figure that is out of reach for many.

To prevent a grey housing crisis and a flood of senior citizens moving into unattractive cheaper residential areas, there is a demand for appropriate property designs. The solution could be smaller homes, planned and designed from the outset with accessible living in mind. A universal design could ensure the accessibility of the building, plus a high level of comfort for the largest possible user group – which could, incidentally, increase the value of the property. So barrier-free design would increasingly become a standard feature, with a quality that doesn’t have to be expensive if it is included in the architectural design right from the start.

This approach could postpone the need for senior citizens to move into a care home, and they would be able to live an independent life in their own homes for as long as possible.

What does the silver society want? Stylish furnishings that don’t look like “care home furniture”

Of course, anyone who stays in their own home for longer needs their home environment to be fitted out in an age-appropriate, accessible manner. The potential for the furnishings industry in this constantly growing market is immense, as this graphic illustrates:

In line with the down-aging trend, the over-65 generation is not interested in age-appropriate senior citizens’ furniture that looks as if it comes from a medical supply store. They would like to hold onto a youthful image in all areas of their lives, so they want to keep up with the times where furniture design is concerned. Timeless beauty and cross-generational serviceability – these are the marks of the Ageless Living trend. So designers and manufacturers are attaching increasing importance to a universal design – one that keeps in mind the needs of various different stages of life and skilfully combines them. By coming up with modular and adaptive designs, distinctive for their high level of versatility and including features to support older people, the industry is responding in the best possible way to the need for durable, high-quality products, appropriate to the requirements of different generations.

Designing for the needs of the wider future

Far-sighted manufacturers and designers, who take both existing and future needs into account in their designs, will also have ready answers to the shortage of raw materials and the desire for sustainability . Durable pieces of furniture, that last throughout several different stages of life, will counteract the throwaway consumer society, use less raw material and have a smaller carbon footprint than products that are discarded quickly when they no longer suit the next stage of life.

So the silver society offers a wealth of opportunities for any business enterprise in the interior design sector. If we accept contemporary trends and keep demographic developments in mind, we will be able to expand our product range with some attractive solutions.

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