Furniture for later life

An older woman sits at a table in a room with a tv behind her.There is much written about older people and their attachment to their home, but what about furniture? I’m sure most of us are familiar with grandfather’s “favourite chair”. So, what makes it a favourite? Comfort, ease of use, or does it go further than that to self image? A study on furniture in later life has some interesting findings for furniture in all types of housing.

First, some interesting questions. What kind of relationship do older people have with their furniture? How does moving to a new home affect their relationship with their furniture? What can that relationship tell us about the affect of furniture design on older people? The study found that older people had emotional bonds with their existing furniture. It is part of their identity. This leads to the conclusion that it is important for people to take their furniture with them when they move. It gives a better sense of home even if it is a new environment. 

Issues arise in places such as nursing homes where staff have their preferences for furniture design. Also, family members can make choices that aren’t the preferences of the older person. As with many studies, the conclusion includes the need to involve older people in the design process, particularly in residential care settings. Furniture can support and enrich older people and should be part of understanding the living conditions and their emotional bonds, culture and history. 

Furniture for Later Life: Design Based on Older People’s Experiences of Furniture in Three Housing Forms is by Oskar Jonsson. It is a doctoral thesis so there is a lot of information. Unfortunately, Oskar tells me he did not publish any shorter papers from his thesis. However, the Table of Contents provides links to the key information. 

Extract from the abstract:

The background is the lack of furniture that responds to the demands of older consumers and the lack of knowledge about relationships between people and furniture in their home environments and in various forms of elderly care environments. Generalizations made regarding old people’s needs have proved to be too limited in scope to meet their needs and wishes. The purpose is to improve knowledge and awareness concerning the ways in which old people act on, are influenced by, reflect on and appreciate furniture in their homes.

The results show that there is great variety in what old people express regarding furniture and reveal a diversity of interests, needs and wishes. In the light of  these results, it is unreasonable to reduce old people to a homogeneous group or attempt to specify their needs in advance. Despite this, the results reveal needs and wishes for furniture that provide comfort, pleasure and independence and that contribute to desired experiences of dignity, meaningfulness and freedom.