Style Awards Winners Interview
With Neil Butler, Head of Design
What inspired the design that we see in Bentley House?
The concept design was based on the local mill buildings from the area whilst trying to work within the existing structure of the office building.
Throughout Bentley House, it’s clear to see there’s a real attention to detail in making spaces look appealing as well as practical. Is it difficult to combine dementia-friendly design with an attractive finish?
We took our design consultants to the Stirling University Design School to give them a good grounding in what is important for our residents who suffer from dementia. Sometimes it’s very small things that can make a real difference. We avoid low coffee tables as they become a trip hazard, signage is set low at 1.2m above the floor as this is an easier viewing height, we provide contrasting backing plates and wide light switches so they’re easily seen.
Contrast is important but we’ve achieved this by light/dark colours rather than going to bright reds and yellows that wouldn’t work with the interior look of the building. We don’t want to treat our dementia residents any differently from everyone else.
Bentley House looks and feels very luxurious. Has there been an increase in demand for luxury care home residences?
There is a strong demand for care homes across the board and we aim to be the best and to help raise the standards being achieved by our competitors. We’re attempting to provide 5-star care in a 5-star hotel environment but are also conscious that we must provide a domestic scale to our buildings as it’s a huge leap to move from your home into a 95-bed care home.
We also see plenty of communal spaces providing a real sense of inclusion. Why do you think it’s important to incorporate this into the design?
The most important thing to realise is that our homes become ‘their world’ for our residents. We try to provide a variety of experiences throughout the home to help stimulate our guests but also to challenge and provide conversation starters.
Eating is extremely important but would you want to eat in the same place every day? At Bentley House, you don’t have to as you can choose the Bistro or Restaurant and if you feel like it we’ll even provide room service. It is vital to keep the mind and body active as you age and we encourage our residents to join in with the daily activities that we organise. Then, of course, you can see a film in the cinema or get your hair done in the emporium. There are lots of choices.
What are the main challenges you faced when designing Bentley House? Is there anything that looked good on paper but wouldn’t work?
The biggest constraint was working within the existing building structure but some of the design challenges caused us to revisit our design principles on our new homes where we’ve actually used some of the design ideas from Bentley House.
It was important to break down the external façade; this was not an office building but needed to feel like home and our architects did a fantastic job in this. Many visitors don’t even realise it is a refurbished office block.
The original garden design focused on the restaurant but when we walked the site after clearing areas we saw we were missing the morning sun and hence we enlarged the Bistro garden, at the front of the home, opened up the doors and provided a canopy for shading on the very hot days.
Hospitality venues and restaurants may focus on design much more than a care home as it’s the visual appeal that gets customers through the door. How difficult is it to create a space in which your visitors will spend much more time than a simple evening/weekend?
Funnily enough achieving the ‘wow’ factor as you enter the home is just as important to us as when you visit a restaurant. Families feel guilty that they are putting mum or dad into a care home and we need to make them feel that it’s actually a great place and that they can relax in the knowledge that their parents or grandparents will be really happy there.
Past that though, we have to focus on the care needs of the elderly so no steps or trip hazards, good contrast between floors and walls and other recognition points, a different colour carpet on each corridor, your own individual front door colour within smaller streets (not corridors) and an address with your individual apartment number.
Do you have to take into account your visitors will be spending their lives there?
There’s a lot to do at Bentley House; different places to eat, spa bathrooms and a hair salon so our guests can be pampered, a night at our own cinema, a variety of daily activities such as yoga, painting, flower arranging and you can even go to the shop.
Does this impact the design choices in any way?
Yes as we also choose lots of different interior features and finishes. There are lots of standard chairs and tables but then something odd that will help spark a conversation or an opinion.
Lots of our residents comment on the activity room wallpaper saying they would choose that at home. They’re always talking about it and that’s exactly what we wanted to achieve…conversation.
What are your favourite styling features of Bentley House? Why?
I love the cinema, which, with its operatic quality transports you to Covent Garden in an instant. Full of deep rich reds, the onlookers from the gallery in the wallpaper and then the curtains draw back and the movie begins.
What do you think sets your venue apart from others?
We have transformed an old office building into a 5-star hotel-style care home…everyone is surprised by the quality that’s been achieved by our team. This is what everyone should strive to deliver for the final place to call home for our older generation.
What do you think made the judges choose your venue as the winner this year?
I hope it’s that they didn’t expect to find what they found inside. This is not a normal care home and we don’t want to deliver normal.
Find out more about Bentley House by visiting their website here or to find out about the brand new Vision Style Awards 2017-18, please watch this space.