Christine Weber Craik brings over 20 years of experience working in the design industry, specifically in senior living, multifamily and geriatric healthcare design. She strives to create environments in which others can healthfully and happily live their best lives. She has received her Registered Professional membership with the ASID, IDC (IDIBC) and IIDA, and she is a Board Certified Healthcare Interior Designer with the AAHID and serves on the board of the non-profit German-Canadian Benevolent Society, whose mission is to provide quality care and support for seniors in British Columbia.
Christine is a guest lecturer for Senior Living Design at the British Columbia Institute of Technology for the Bachelor of Interior Design Program, and a volunteer Mentor and Award Juror for the IDIBC and the IIDA. Christine is a member of the BC Care Providers Association, the International Council on Active Aging and the Canadian Association on Gerontology.
Christine brings a depth of knowledge and experience having worked on complex projects in the senior living and wellness sector, including luxury independent living. assisted living, memory and dementia care, complex care and geriatric behavioral health environments in the United States and Canada.
Christine's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-weber-craik/
Hanh Brown: [00:00:00] So I’m really excited to talk to her today in Boomer living about this very important and sometimes under appreciated aspect of senior living industry. So Christine, thank you so much for being with me today.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:01:34] Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Hanh Brown: [00:01:36] So could we start by having you share some background information? Where you’re from. Where does your expertise lie and how did you get interested in this field?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:01:45] I grew up near Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m a Canadian citizen, and, but I did live and work in the United States for about a decade.
[00:01:54] And I got into senior living right from the beginning. When I worked as a junior designer, the firm I was with originally had some senior living projects in addition to multifamily and some other ones, but. Yeah, I always really enjoyed it. And I’ve volunteered in senior living communities. As a kid. I was a candy striper at 14 and worked in senior living and assisted living and long-term care communities.
[00:02:20] And just, I’ve always really enjoyed it. Yeah. It’s a passion of mine.
Hanh Brown: [00:02:25] Great. So how did you get interested in design and specifically a focus on design for older adults?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:02:34] Oh gosh. I started out actually as a draftsman. I was drafting structural drafts person, but I just, as part of my family, we switched to development of senior living communities and I hopped in to the family company and.
[00:02:52] Created the interiors for the communities that the family was building. And that just really learned to love it. Most of all, I really appreciated the connection between the interior design of our communities and the residents and how much they appreciated what we were doing with the interior design and the architecture.
Hanh Brown: [00:03:13] How does the design of senior living environment different from the design of other buildings, living arrangements?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:03:22] I believe that as we age, our senses become are different than when we are younger. So things like restorative design, sensory design, these become key drivers to the way that we shape space and the shape of a senior living community needs to support the activities and programs that happen within more.
[00:03:44] So I think than any other sector. It’s not just a matter of having an interior, that looks pretty, it really has to function well. It has to be spaced. It has to support what’s happening inside the building. And also it has to have a sense of familiarity and locational familiarity, which is the term connected with sensory and restorative design in that.
[00:04:07] Even though the space may be new to you. It’s different. It’s maybe you’ve just moved in, but it still needs to feel familiar. There needs to be some kind of a connection to the interior, whether it’s just the way it’s shaped or the way it feels or. Elements that are reminiscent of things from your past, that brings back positive memories.
[00:04:29] And so this is how it differs from other sectors of interior design.
Hanh Brown: [00:04:34] Great point. Now, can you talk about how the design must support the aging person, but also their caregivers and what design choices do you make to benefit the caregiver to benefit the caregiver?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:04:46] to benefit the caregiver? The choices that we make to benefit, not just the resident in the community, but also the caregiver, the care partner as we like to call them.
[00:04:57] And just all the users of the space, all of the staff is we like to make it feel welcoming and give that locational familiarity to all, not just the resident. When you walk into a senior living community, it should feel right from the outset. And a lot of that is. Subconscious you come in. It’s how the, how it feels under your feet.
[00:05:19] It’s how it smells. It’s how the light filters in the layering of light. It’s how the, how low or high the ceilings feel. All of these elements really make a space, speak to the individual and you can create spaces based on your target market and based on the community and who are the users of the space too.
[00:05:41] Target those key elements that make it feel familiar and make it feel welcoming and make it feel like home.
Hanh Brown: [00:05:47] So it has multi-function right. Not only the residents, but the caregiver that warm, welcoming setting, and I’m sure texture, lighting decor all accumulate to providing that kind of setup.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:06:03] Absolutely. It all contributes. And even the way things are spaced. For example, if you have a. Lounge or a conversation area you want to ensure that you have couches and chairs that are of an appropriate distance. So you actually can have a conversation they’re not so far apart that it feels awkward and those kinds of spacings and those kinds of.
[00:06:23] Space planning objectives really are driven by familiarity. Again. How close are they? How close do you normally stand to someone or sit with someone when you’re having a conversation? When you’re interacting with someone, how do things need to be placed? What is the procession? If you’re entering a building.
[00:06:42] How do you go from the lobby to the lounge, to the dining area? What does that route and what route do you take that feels the most comfortable and the most familiar? It’s all of these little details that make the difference. Now, how do you make a
Hanh Brown: [00:06:57] place feel safe? Both emotionally and physically for an older adult ?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:07:03] I think that designing communities that are less like hospitals and more like high-quality hospitality properties is definitely key. And that increase. That’s really seen an increase in popularity as of late. And this is an emerging demand that is allowing forward thinking owners and developers and designers and architects to craft spaces that fit the bill.
[00:07:26] And we using things like natural elements and familiar features that. Produce those objectively positive outcomes for all the occupants of the building, not just the residents, but like we said earlier, also the care providers makes it a really appealing community, Vose, both visually, and also it affects the culture in the community.
[00:07:47] How people interact with one another. So it’s about designing communities that seniors want to move into, where they can thrive socially as well as physically ju not just for today, but right through to your later years. And those improvements can be done to exist in communities as well as being done with new builds.
Hanh Brown: [00:08:08] Are there distinctions that you should. Keep in mind when doing the design for let’s say a 90 plus CCRC community, as opposed to something more like a greenhouse 16 beds. What are some of the distinctions that we should keep in mind?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:08:25] Definitely differing between the different age groups and different ability groups.
[00:08:31] You have to really look at the finishes that you’re using in the space. What I’ll do is a really important one for example, is flooring. You want to use carpeting that doesn’t have too thick of a pile. You want something that doesn’t have strong, bold lines or spots in it that can be perceived as holes or something that needs to be stepped over.
[00:08:52] I strongly believe that use of transitions is a no-no for me. I prefer not to use them at all. I prefer to. Use products that can be direct, seemed heat seemed together. So that it’s a seamless environment using materials that are easy to walk on. They’re comfortable and soft, but still have a better friction coefficient so that if your feet are dragging your toes, aren’t going to catch on the surface.
[00:09:19] And it’s not just for safety. Yes, it is for safety, but it’s when you feel safe, you feel confident. And when you’re walking on a surface, that makes you feel confident and it gives you the. Confidence to move forward and to explore the rest of the community. What ends up happening is that people get drawn out and they begin to interact.
[00:09:38] They begin to fill out all the corners of the building and use the community as it should be used because they feel comfortable walking on the carpet. It’s such a simple thing, but you can also use that same philosophy with. Seeding, well, making sure that you have seating and you have handrails. If you’re outdoors, perhaps you have bollards that are light bollards, that where you can grab onto them.
[00:10:02] If you need to, if you lose your balance, having these features where it’s it’s, it gives you the confidence to be able to walk further and to explore more because you know that you have those elements in place that. We, you’re not afraid to go down to the Lake because, but there’s no bench there. People may hesitate to go that far.
[00:10:23] Cause they’re not sure if they can make it down and back without needing to have a rest. So adding all of these elements and just make it function more effectively and makes it feel more comfortable.
Hanh Brown: [00:10:34] So it sounds like. It energizes you, it activates you, right? It propels you to want to be mobile would activate you wants you to get involved in all the wellness program.
[00:10:46] Maybe even go down very limited right now. I understand. But I think, yeah, all of that is very important as opposed to, you know, a cold environment.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:10:56] Absolutely. And I think something else that’s also really important. That’s a little bit different from other sectors is often in a building you have, especially say in a mixed use or commercial building, you have, all of your amenities are localized, and then you have residences or suites that spoke out from a central area.
[00:11:15] But. I think we need to turn that on our head for senior living, we need to create like a string of pearls. We need to have prescribed procession that goes through the community with special destinations all through the community. And this also supports my idea of sensory design in that what appeals to each person is very individual.
[00:11:37] You want to draw them out of their suites and have them explore the building by having features that are. Along the way as you’re walking, you could say, here’s this space or here’s the salon and here’s the sports lounge and here’s the wine bar. It encourages you to really experience the community in its fullness.
Hanh Brown: [00:11:57] So what you choose to describe is what you call. Design philosophy, sensory design. Is that right? Do you want to elaborate more on that? And I guess, how does it differ from traditional design philosophies use for older adults,
Christine Weber Craik: [00:12:14] sensory design, the phrase I was, as I was putting together presentations and papers and thought leadership about the design of senior living communities.
[00:12:23] And I realized that I really do tend to focus on the senses. I just use that as a phrase to describe. How I like to approach the design of senior living communities. Really? It’s about thinking again, just coming back to locational familiarity, how do you feel in a space and how do you relate to it? And. I think particularly for seniors and for the boomer generation, we want to really tap into memory.
[00:12:49] We want to tap into what’s familiar, what feels good. So what that means is not just how do you decorate a space and with traditional forms that make it look like your old living room. It’s more than that. It’s what does it feel like? What does it smell? What is it when you touch things? What do they feel like?
[00:13:06] Are you touching wood or is it a plastic laminate? Are these elements that you would have in your own living room at home. And if it’s not, can we reevaluate that? And what do the spacings look like? Are, is your target market? Are they coming from say a residential environment where their living rooms where maybe 10 by 10 or where they’re living rooms 15 by 22.
[00:13:27] And how can we tweak the spaces so that they feel familiar? In the spaces in the textures, in the forms, what is the colloquial architecture of the region? How are most of the people coming into your community? What are they accustomed to? Now? This will differ from region to region communities that I designed in Arizona.
[00:13:48] For example, we had residents from all over North America coming to stay. And so it was a little more challenging to target exactly what the look and feel could have been like. But. In that case, we are able to tap into sort of the vacation mode and think about what are our, is most of our target market.
[00:14:09] Have they traveled? Have they been to Europe? Have they been to, can we take some of those European elements and tie them into our spaces? I designed one environment or one community in Las Vegas, for example, and knowing that most of the residents would be coming from the Las Vegas area. We tried to create elements, millwork.
[00:14:30] The colors, the shapes to the reminiscent of some of the elements that you would find in Las Vegas, some of the famous landmarks, for instance, the front desk, we designed it after the welcome to Vegas sign and has an asymmetrical form and created some dots in there, the shape so that it didn’t, it wasn’t an explicit copy of the welcome and allows Vegas sign, but it was just that reminiscence.
[00:14:53] And so no, subconsciously you may recognize it as you walk in. So. It’s all of those elements that make it feel comfortable and make it feel relatable.
Hanh Brown: [00:15:02] And yeah, I think the key is relatable, right?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:15:05] Absolutely.
Hanh Brown: [00:15:06] It’s very regional focus. There’s a nearby senior living university of Michigan and I walk in there and gosh, they have all the colors from Michigan.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:15:17] Oh, that’s great.
Hanh Brown: [00:15:18] So, yeah. Yeah. So it, it gives a sense of belonging right
Christine Weber Craik: [00:15:21] Absolutely.
Hanh Brown: [00:15:23] That the folks who created this. Had their local community and that’s important.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:15:28] Yeah. One, another example in British Columbia and the site was particularly beautiful. It was in a forested on a forest site, adjacent to a Lake.
[00:15:40] So we really brought in a lot of those elements. We actually, the site actually had a lot of boulders that were peppered with Moss. And so we brought in the colors of the Cedar trees and the texture of the wood. And we brought in with the flooring. We had that model stone with. The colors of the Moss. And there’s also a lot of seagulls in the neighborhoods.
[00:16:00] So we brought in that white and gray and other touches in the environment so that when you walk in and it felt there wasn’t that strong transition between outdoors and indoors and bringing in some of those biophilic elements is also key. That actually is another issue as well. Another philosophy called biophilic design, which is.
[00:16:18] Essentially taking the natural environment and bringing it inside, not just as a waterfall or it’s an explicitly natural element, but just having organic forms, bringing in Oregon with the colors of the environment, bringing in natural features in a sensory way that connects you to the neighborhood, into the environment and what’s outside your window.
[00:16:43] There’s measurable, measurable outcomes, that positive health outcomes from having access to nature and having natural elements and organic forms and shapes. So it’s a great, yeah. Very positive health outcomes from having a connection to nature as well.
Hanh Brown: [00:16:59] I agree. Yeah. I feel that way, even in my own home and that translates.
[00:17:04] Regardless of what age you are in life nature, gardening and keeping things green and healthy. It’s good for all age.
[00:17:14] Just think we’re talking for older adults, but I think anyone can benefit from that.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:17:20] It also speaks to creating a design for a building that is. Sustainable longterm. I think boomers know what they want and they are, they’re accustomed to getting exactly what they want.
[00:17:32] And so if you can create that now created in a classic and timeless way, bringing in nature, bringing in restorative design, sensory design, and, but do it in a way that’s. That’s just classic and timeless and you’ll have much longer term use of the building without needing to make any changes. And so from a developer’s perspective, it makes sense to design.
Hanh Brown: [00:17:56] it, love the words, timeless and classic.
[00:17:59] And because the baby boomers, they’re still, decision-makers
Christine Weber Craik: [00:18:03] absolutely
Hanh Brown: [00:18:04] very active. They may be at one point the daughter, the son helping their parents. Going to a community for themselves. They definitely want optionality and thrive in contribute and have a purpose. So I think all that you describe lens, an environment to provide that kind of expectations from them.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:18:29] Yeah. So that’s good.
Hanh Brown: [00:18:30] So now to make. Effective design to senior living. I’m sure you need to understand the end user, which is the older adults. So how do you develop a deep understanding of the end-user?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:18:41] A lot of it starts with studying the neighborhood, looking at the immediate neighborhood where what’s across the street, what’s down the street.
[00:18:50] What are the restaurants? What are the pubs? What are the what’s the community center? That’s often where I start a lot of times, I like to go into these places and just ask questions would call up the community center and say, who shows up? What’s your, what are your groups like in your Aquavit class?
[00:19:05] What are your, what are your participants? Like? What kind of music do they like? And initiating those kinds of conversations are, is really important. Especially if you are designing from a distance, if you’re in one city and designing in another city, I really think that can’t be overlooked. You have to know who you’re designing for.
[00:19:24] And it’s actually a really fun part of the process. You can meet some really fascinating people that way. Which is great as well, but yeah, I just really think you can’t design in isolation. You need to have a good understanding of the neighborhood. And do you want to be respectful of your context? Not just visually aesthetically, but your social context.
[00:19:46] What is the culture? What do people like to do in this neighborhood, in this community? I’ve seen many times where assumptions are made about what, for example, what amenities might be added to a community. I know in one community, for example, We had a computer room, but it was never used because in that particular neighborhood, in that particular city, the seniors were good with having their own iPads or having their own devices in their rooms.
[00:20:14] And the room was hardly used when I was doing a postdoc occupancy evaluation years later, that room had been changed into a general store, a completely different. Application. And I loved that the executive director was able to do that and took the initiative. But often you end up with those underused or yeah.
[00:20:33] Useless spaces that don’t function. Yeah. And that’s something too that leads to making sure that when you’re designing senior living, which again is something unique in senior living. Is amenities spaces need to be flexible enough so that you can pivot so that the staff and the egg, the director, the management can say, okay, this isn’t getting used enough.
[00:20:52] How can we use the space to make it more effective? Who do we have that lives here? Do we have someone that likes carpentry? Let’s make sure that we have the power and the, for that. Do we have someone that loves gardening? Do we have a sink? Do we have water? Do we have. A way for them to clean up afterwards, just making sure that you design spaces to accommodate all of the different functions in tandem, in tandem with architecture and mechanical and electrical can really help to create communities that are vitalized and can change and pivot with whatever their needs happen to be great.
Hanh Brown: [00:21:26] I think you, I think we’ll see more of folks. Let’s say going into independent living or very entrepreneurial. I have this feeling I’m in my mid fifties and my mind is cranking. And I’m hopeful that when I’m in my mid seventies, wherever I may be, could be an independent living. I’m hopeful that I’m going to be in an environment to lend itself, to encourage entrepreneurship.
[00:21:53] I think that we both would agree that senior living should be seen as a reward, not a constellation. So how does the shape of, how does that shape and character of your design philosophy deliver on this?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:22:07] I think at its essence, it’s about human centered design. It’s not looking at the design first from the budget or looking at it first from what the architecture dictates the interior space must be.
[00:22:22] We have to start instead of from the exterior walls and we need to start from the human. And this is key. And this one thing alone will drive all of your design decisions because it really speaks to who they are, what their abilities are. What their preferences are and then everything falls into line after that.
[00:22:44] So I think as long as you can turn that on your head and start from the small T outward, then you’ll have much more success. That’s really the root. Okay. Yeah.
Hanh Brown: [00:22:54] I agree with that. That’s a very good point. It has to be a well coordinated effort, right? You start from the inside, every trade, every milestone, every.
[00:23:03] Skillset has a set of requirements and a budget associated with that. So it’s going to be a fine balance of all of it now. How do you balance keeping up with the design trends versus providing familiar functional designs for seniors?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:23:20] I really believe so. First and foremost, to start with classic and timeless and classic and timeless is always going to work.
[00:23:28] It’s always going to be accessible. It’s always going to feel good. And that doesn’t mean traditional design. That doesn’t mean it could be more modern. It could be more, but it just, it needs to be something that’s. That has longevity. And sometimes it’s taking traditional forms and simplifying them.
[00:23:44] Sometimes it’s taking landmarks and taking the forms and shapes of those landmarks and incorporating it into a millwork design or a chair design. I am not with trends. I sometimes some of them can be fun, but. I feel if you’re designing something that needs to feel comfortable and needs to have that life site, longer life cycle and longevity it’s risky.
[00:24:07] And so I tend to shy away from trends for that reason. Having said that, however, when you’re designing any space and you’re selecting FFNE furniture, fixtures, and equipment, you’re always going to be. Influenced by what’s available to you. So the chairs that are available, if you’re not doing custom, the chairs that are available to purchase the tables that are available, those are all influenced by those trends.
[00:24:29] But you can select those pieces and put them together in a way that is still timeless. So, yes, you will have trends in individual pieces, but when you put it together, my hope is always that it feels timeless and classic.
Hanh Brown: [00:24:43] The description that you use speaks for itself, timeless and classic. And that’s the kind of thing that I think when you’re in your seventies or eighties likely, that’s what you will appreciate something that’s timeless and classy.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:24:56] Absolutely. Because it’s white. Yeah. It fits. And it fits you. It fits you. It fits what you remember. Even for myself, I enjoy sitting by the fire. So does my dog. So her and I sitting by the fireplace. So it seems intuitive that fireplaces are, excuse me, are an obvious add to a great lounge space, but maybe not, maybe it’s not obvious.
[00:25:18] So you really have to think about those things and think about. What communities are you coming from? Are they accustomed to having a fireplace? What does the heart look like? What does the mantle look like? What type of there’s the character and the feel of the fire itself? You know, getting down to I’m getting down to little details, but then what is the spacing between the seating and that fireplace?
[00:25:39] How, what does that hearth feel like? And what you can do is just take the dimensions and take the ceiling height and take the conversation area and recreate those spatial requirements. How many inches away? How about what does the size of the furniture and recreate it with different pieces, but it feels familiar because the spacing is familiar and that’s why you have that feeling of comfort in a new room, even though it’s totally different, but it’s.
[00:26:06] That’s where that familiarity comes from. It’s subconscious.
Hanh Brown: [00:26:09] I love it. That you use the example fireplace, because when I think of fireplace, I think of warmth. I think of families coming together. I think of sitting with your dog or your cat, and I think of a Christmas tree,
Christine Weber Craik: [00:26:22] I think of a family room.
Hanh Brown: [00:26:24] That’s what I think of and guess what? Older adults. That’s also their memories of the heritage that they’re carrying and you’re providing a setting for them for their next mile
Christine Weber Craik: [00:26:36] and creating settings where their families are comfortable visiting and they can feel comfortable sitting by the fire because they’re used to it sitting with family. Yeah.
Hanh Brown: [00:26:45] So now would it be safe to say that when you design your senior living environment in New York, in Nevada, Florida, and LA. They’re quite different because it’s very regional, locally driven. So that would be a safe thing to say on a personal level. What do you think is your biggest strength that enables you to have a unique.
[00:27:07] Impactful effect on older adults.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:27:09] Gosh, probably the fact that I enjoy building relationships, I really enjoy meeting people, talking to people, drawing out what are their challenges? What are their opportunities? What are the things that keeps them up at night? What are the things that make them feel good or make them feel comfortable?
[00:27:27] It’s all these little details that you can glean from talking to people that enhances. Your work interior design designing in a vacuum just for me. It, it doesn’t work as well. Or you can go into a space. You can cut and paste pictures from magazines, and you can create this beautiful space and that beautiful space and make it feel like a hotel.
[00:27:49] But does it speak to the people who are going to be using it? Does it speak to the people who you maybe leasing the space and from an owner and that developer perspective, even operations perspective, are you creating something that’s just beautiful or are you creating something that is. Compelling somewhere where people have to live and they may not even understand why, but it’s because you’ve engaged the senses.
[00:28:13] You’ve designed it in a restorative way so that it feels good for your target market, for the people who are going to be living there. That is so important. And. Yeah, it’s different in every city. So you really have to do your homework.
Hanh Brown: [00:28:25] Thank you so much. Got a lot of insight there. Do you have any other thoughts that you would like to share?
Christine Weber Craik: [00:28:31] It boils down to using restorative and sensory design being mindful of biophilic elements. Re-engaging outdoor spaces is key, especially in 2020 with the pandemic. If you can re-engage outdoor space and make it usable space, that’s going to. Make a big difference for existing communities and also new builds.
[00:28:56] Thinking about how do you bring in if you’re have a community say in Canada, where in the wintertime it’s not ideal. Can you create sunrooms or can you create spaces that give that feeling of being outdoors, but it’s still comfortable and thinking about sustainability. Is it something that’s going to last long-term is it energy efficient, your building?
[00:29:18] Is it. What kind of life cycle does it have, are your finishes going to last? Long-term not just in terms of durability, but in terms of classic and timeless design, I think now’s the time to push the envelope of what’s possible. It’s time for a radical change in senior living. I think we’ve done the same thing over and over for so many years and senior living evolved from 1950s hospital design, and then it just changed from there.
[00:29:44] So we have to look at it from another angle. Look at it from a hospitality and a residential perspective. And re-imagine what these communities could look and feel like and revitalize them. And while it’s been such a difficult year, especially for senior living providers, it’s been tough. It’s been really tough and kudos to these developers and owners and operators and nurses and caregivers who have just gone through such a tough year.
[00:30:13] If we can help them by designing spaces that help with. Physical distancing, but invisibly creating pathways through that, or maybe one way pathways that we can create. We need to create spaces that where people can interact safely in their social cohorts and their social bubbles, and this all helps.
[00:30:34] With operations that helps the staff helps people feel valued. It helps people feel seen, and boomers want more from senior living. They want more and it’s time. And if nothing else, the silver lining of 2020 is that now people are talking about it. We’re all aware of it. It’s in the media, it’s in the paper every day.
Hanh Brown: [00:30:56] We should leverage the fact that it’s in social media and add more positivity and put the light on all the compassionate, empathetic folks, serving older adults. Yeah. To override some of the misunderstood or what’s been in the media for the past. Yeah. So I think it’s wonderful that we have this opportunity to connect and just bring in light on this very important work.
[00:31:23] And also the compassionate, this a serving heart. That many people are in the senior living. So, yeah. Thank you.
Christine Weber Craik: [00:31:31] Thank you very much. So nice to meet you. Thank you. Bye.