Intentional Art Curation and Interior Design Foster Well-Being in Senior Living

Learn about the art and design decisions that promote a safe, accessible, and enjoyable environment for senior living residents.

Author: Jill Perkins
Image of room with art

At Leyland Community in Dorchester, MA, which offers affordable housing with services for seniors in Upham’s Corner, you can find artwork by Ekua Holmes. Raised in the bordering neighborhood of Roxbury, her artwork often draws inspiration from her childhood. 

Welcome tv screen at Leyland Community

That connection was intentional. As the art curator for Hebrew SeniorLife, I always make it a point to pay homage to and celebrate the area that the community I’m choosing art for is part of. In this case, I chose to reflect Dorchester’s vibrant, bustling nature with the bold colors and themes in Ekua’s artwork. 

I’ve worked for Hebrew SeniorLife for the past eight years and witnessed firsthand how art in the environment promotes healing and connection for frail seniors after curating the art for a newly remodeled household at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston in 2018.

I’ve also seen the value of a thoughtfully designed space during my work on design projects at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Center Communities of Brookline, and Jack Satter House in Revere. As our newest community, Leyland Community emerged as an opportunity to work on a project from the ground up. I was able to make choices around art curation and interior design that will help its residents live their best lives.

Important practical and safety considerations must be remembered when making art and design choices for a senior living community. If done right, you can give residents a place to call home that emphasizes their safety and well-being — plus provide them with access to beautiful original artwork that offers its own benefits. 

Viewing artwork promotes wellness 

There’s a lot of information about the benefits of creating artwork. But one of the remarkable aspects of art is that you don’t even have to be the one who makes it for it to foster joy.  

An interesting meta-analysis of 15 studies that used magnetic resonance imaging to see how people’s brains responded when exposed to paintings backs this claim up. The meta-analysis found that viewing paintings activates parts of the brain that play essential roles in emotional processing and the anticipation of rewards. The researchers theorized that it is likely due to the rewarding nature of the artwork.

Another study found that visiting art museums may lower blood pressure and stress in visitors. I’ve found that mass-produced prints don’t resonate with us and bring out our emotions the same way. Fortunately, our senior living communities contain handpicked artwork, so residents don’t even have to leave home to marvel at original works of art.

Important design considerations for older adults

Making interior design choices for a senior living community requires some additional attention to ensure residents are safe and their homes are accessible. Here are just a few examples of some of the considerations I kept in mind when making decisions for Leyland Community: 


Wayfinding is a strategy designers use to help people keep themselves oriented in buildings, and it is important for older adults to be able to physically and mentally orient themselves. Interior designers can deliberately place cues in buildings to help people understand where they are and how to get to where they need to be.

Artwork and color can be valuable landmarks for individuals to find their way. Imagine this: you’re in an elevator, distracted, lost in thought, or not paying attention. Whatever the reason, you accidentally get off on the wrong floor. At Leyland Community, there’s a wayfinding color for each floor. You realize the wall in front of you is blue — but your floor’s wall is green! You turn around and get back on the elevator. Without that wayfinding color, it may have taken longer to realize you were on the wrong floor. Striking artwork placed near the elevator doors serves the same purpose.

Wayfinding cues can be particularly helpful for older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment or memory loss. But they’re helpful to everyone, even if you don’t have a memory problem.  


Senior living communities necessitate striking a balance between functionality and design. That balance allows residents to stay happy and safe in their homes.

Abstract art in common room

Conversations with our architecture firm began years in advance for Leyland Community. We considered the best choices for the flooring, baseboard, and stair treads. Furniture has an aesthetic role to play, of course, but it also has a functional one. Chairs should have strong arms because many older adults use the arms of chairs to stand up and lower themselves. The apartments have handrails in the bathrooms, and some units are fully accessible for people with mobility impairments.  


It’s also important to be aware of the amount of lighting in every area of the building. Light plays a vital role in the health and safety of older adults and can impact fall prevention, sleep quality, and circadian rhythm.

Because there’s less natural light, you’ll find lighter wood throughout the common areas at Leyland Community. However, the apartments themselves have plenty of natural sunlight, so I chose a dark, rich-colored wood that gives them a homey feel.


People associate specific colors with certain emotions. A study on the role of emotion and color specific to interior spaces concluded that we could achieve more sensitive and relevant designs by effectively planning how to incorporate color into interior spaces. Being deliberate when choosing wall colors, for example, can significantly affect how people perceive the mood of a room.

Inside of apartment

I wanted to create a neutral, calm, and clean-feeling environment at Leyland Community — without making it feel clinical. The neutral yet inviting hues on the walls allow residents to make their apartments their own as soon as they move in. Any piece of art or furniture that they choose to bring into their new homes will match the space. That’s intentional! 

Art is at the heart of Hebrew SeniorLife

The thoughtfully curated artwork at Leyland Community isn’t the only way Hebrew SeniorLife prioritizes the arts. Residents of Orchard Cove in Canton, MA, often discover new talents and hone existing skills through our extensive arts programming. One popular resident group crochets and knits blankets, teddy bears, and other items for children in need. Residents at NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, MA, can explore their creativity in various classes in an expansive art studio or explore over 1,000 pieces of original artwork on display.

At Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale and Dedham, long-term chronic care patients can access expressive therapies to support their psychological, social, and emotional needs. Various expressive therapy modalities, such as art therapy, music therapy, and bibliotherapy, encourage verbal and nonverbal means of communication and self-expression.

If you’re interested in learning more about our arts-focused care, we’re here to help. Connect with us online to learn more.

Photos by Gregg Shupe, Shupe Studios

Blog Topics

Learn More

Affordable Living in a Neighborhood You Know

Leyland Community in Dorchester, MA, is the first senior affordable housing in Upham’s Corner. It offers affordable apartments with supportive services that keep older adults healthy, active, and engaged.

Expressive Art Therapies

Using music, dance, and art, our expressive art therapists provide psycho-social support to seniors experiencing a wide range of issues, including adjustment to aging, health status changes, depression, and anxiety.

Jill Perkins headshot

About Jill Perkins

Art Curator and Events Coordinator

Jill Perkins has worked as an art curator at Hebrew SeniorLife since 2016. She enjoys placing beautiful artwork throughout the facilities for all to enjoy. Jill holds a degree in fine arts from Lesley University.

Receive Blog Notifications in Your Email

Sign Up

Questions? Want to Learn More?

Contact Us