Creating a place to call home

Publish date: 14 June 2023

When Louise Edwards is fitting out a home, be it a new build or refurbishment, the people who will be living there are uppermost in her mind.

What colours would they find soothing? Is the artwork appealing? Would that chair be hard to get out of? Is there plenty of space to move around easily? Are there comfortable places to enjoy the sunshine or sit with visitors?

For Bethanie’s Interior Design Project Manager wants everyone to feel at home, whether they are living in their own apartment or supported aged care . After spending most of her career working with clients in the UK for whom money was no object, Louise is determined to create something special for Bethanie residents, too.

It’s one of the reasons the new Bethanie Dalyellup , her biggest project since she joined Bethanie seven years ago, has been so rewarding. The 120-bed aged care home in the South West, which opened in March, is divided into six separate ‘houses’, each with its own theme.
“It’s like designing six different homes in one go,” she says with a laugh. “And then you've got to make sure that the communal areas in between all that don't jar too much and how far you take that design and which bit you keep and which bit is the constant throughout.
“So we have the same carpet that runs all the way through all the houses. It's a neutral colour and a neutral style but we have different vinyl in the dining rooms that lends itself to that particular design.”

The $28-million facility’s themes are divided into Mediterranean, French provincial, Australian botanical, country farmhouse, retro, and Hamptons styles, offering plenty of options for potential residents. It also gives each house a sense of identity, something emphasised by assigning simple but complementary names: Citrus, Ivy, Banksia, Basil, Fern and Seagrass.
“There was a general thought from therapy and numerous other operations that the name needed to be a bit shorter, something that would reference more often than not the flora in WA and that most people would recognise,” Louise says.

Giving each house its own character is about so much more than a name and design aesthetic – it involves real attention to detail, right down to the window treatments, fabrics and type of artwork on the halls.

This includes not just choosing artwork that reflects the look and feel of the surroundings, but that is easy to keep clean and can be safely fixed to the wall, as well as helping residents get their bearings.

“So the dementia wing also has large pieces? sitting at the end of the corridor so if they don’t know where they are, they see this artwork and go ‘oh, that’s near my room’. It’s very much a wayfinding piece.”

In refurbishments, where the resident population is already well known, Louise loves finding pieces that will not only be a source of delight but help spark conversation among that cohort.

“At (Bethanie) Beachside dementia, we had lots of images of film stars in their dining space – people like Cary Grant - to encourage talking points, and the residents know more than the staff,” she says.

“And at Subiaco we have famous landmarks because this is a clientele that are probably well-travelled. So we enable them to have something of interest to look at, to find focus, discuss and to assist with wayfinding.”

Louise will also find a way If she can’t get what she needs for a fitout. "Over time I’ve designed different chairs and pieces of furniture that are suitable for aged care that weren’t on the market,” she says. “And I’ve worked with different companies to make sure that we have better products in terms of fabrics and things like that. It’s allowed me to have a more homely approach.”

While there are a lot more stakeholders involved in designing for aged care than the private residential market, Louise says the process ensures a better outcome not just for the residents, but for their families.

“Obviously our customers are our absolute focus, but you have to think about a customer's family as well, especially when it’s dementia-based because they are the ones viewing a place and seeing if it’s suitable and what it feels like for mum or dad,” Louise says.

“What we realised with Dalyellup having had people round to view a bit before it opened, and now, that having all these different styles and offerings available really hits home with potential customers and their families.”

This includes an intergenerational exercise and play area adjacent to the café, bringing children, parents and grandparents together in a space that works for them all, as well as a bar, hairdresser and wellness rooms.

“I think for most of the people in Bethanie, and certainly one of the reasons I went into aged care, is that you do want to make a difference to a generation,” Louise says.

“I am constantly in awe of the people who work in this industry and particularly those on the frontline who have such challenges when you have this very diverse group of people in one space. I’m amazed by their compassion and their commitment.”

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