Seniors Seeking Flexibility – The Importance of Multi-Use Spaces

by Alicia Nicolay | IIDA, NCIDQ, RID |Director of Design


Senior living communities play a crucial role in providing a supportive and engaging environment for older adults.  Today’s seniors are looking for a more holistic approach to their care and wellness—one that provides them with opportunities to stay mentally and physically active as well as socially engaged. To meet residents’ evolving needs and preferences, many senior living communities have embraced the concept of multi-use spaces. These areas meet the need for multiple functions by providing a single space that can be utilized for recreation, socialization, and education. This approach offers flexibility in design, functionality in their programming, and major cost savings. These spaces help increase sustainability and ensure that older adults have access to necessary resources. Multi-use amenities can save money and land by allowing flexibility for potential unknown amenities in years to come.  Plus, having spaces within the community that are always active creates vibrancy and sparks engagement with families and residents.


As interior designers touring communities or evaluating floor plans, we see underutilized spaces and some that may be used once a day.  Creating spaces that can be used throughout the day and taking advantage of valuable square footage is always challenging.  The challenges impact how the community is used today and how it could be used in the future.  Many variables go into considering how to utilize space best for its residents to thrive.

Initial Items to consider prior to kicking off the design process:

  • Communities’ activities program
  • Communities’ dining program
  • What additional activities and experiences are offered?
  • How can the space best socially engage its residents?
  • What demographic are we designing for? What is the future demographic?
  • Physical, cognitive, social, or sensory needs of its users

A great place to start is to find the similarities in the communities’ programs and brainstorm how those elements can be lumped together. Getting the right community members involved in this process to understand how everything runs is best.

On some of our projects, we have come up with ideas for dining, on how to switch a café for morning coffee and an afternoon bite to an evening happy hour so the space could be utilized and not left vacant.  Playing with lighting, seating arrangements, and non-permanent items helps with flexibility.  Also, consider fun architectural elements that add to the space’s design aesthetic and energy.

For an activity space, we look at designing rooms that could be used for games, puzzles, and Wii Fit but also be used for larger group activities or even fitness.  Spaces such as this can remain active throughout the day; being sure to plan accordingly for turnover and set up will help in keeping that activities calendar busy.

If you have additional square footage, consider all the possibilities that one space could house.  Large group opportunities, concerts, lectures, meetings, dances, group fitness classes, and many more activities are in mind. Paying attention to its adjacencies and equipment needs would be key. Many communities desire a large meeting space or auditorium that could double as a recreational space. We introduced custom floor patterns developed specifically for this auditorium that break up the large room and can be used as a bocce ball or croquet court.

Here are some design elements to consider:

  • Acoustics
  • Adjacencies
  • AV Needs
  • Flexible Furniture (flip-top tables)
  • Flooring and Floor Transitions
  • Lighting
  • Non-permanent Elements
  • Room Division (foldable partitions, bookcases, or screen walls)
  • Seating Arrangements
  • Storage (for resident access and caregivers)


By focusing on purposeful design in multi-family housing, you’ll attract new tenants and create a community that stands the test of time.

Sources: (1) (2) gallup poll november 2023 (3) what it means to design with Gen Z in mind – multi-housing news ( (4) Banner Image: Kimball Etc.

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