Using Compelling Wall Art

What is this even a picture of? Found at a community where I consulted.

How many times have you walked into a senior living community and found bizarre, boring, or just plain unattractive artwork on the walls? I know that I have seen this time and time again. Many times, the artwork has almost no rhyme or reason, is hanging in a weird spot, and has a too-large, gold frame around it.

Here’s my general rule of thumb: if you would hate it in your house, don’t hang it in a senior living community. The people who live in senior housing communities really do live there. They are stuck with the artwork that the designers hang on the hallway walls. There’s no reason that we cannot give the residents beautiful, interesting art to enjoy throughout the day.

Dementia care communities are almost more at fault for this. A lot of times, I have seen artwork that confuses even me: why is this here? What purpose does it serve? Why are these patterns so hectic and hard to see? I want artwork on the care community’s walls that help define the space.

One other thing I really dislike are these boards:

What purpose does this serve? I call them “reorientation” boards, because they seek to reorient residents to time and place. Really, residents don’t often read these boards, and the ones who do could just look outside. We don’t need to remind residents with dementia what year it is—let them believe what they believe.

Here are some good examples of using art to help define a space:

Used in a dining room setting


Used to help define the “laundry” room space where residents could fold and organize clothing


The ties are an interactive station for residents, but the artwork helps give an explanation for the space

Another great thing that you can do with a blank wall is to find a way to show off residents’ artwork. I think that a lot of communities shy away from this practice because they’re afraid it will look “too childish,” but there are ways of getting around that. One way to add an adult-like feel to residents’ art is to have them paint on canvas. Also, canvas prints are really easy and inexpensive to hang up!

My final and, really, favorite way to add wall art to a senior living community is to buy frames to insert residents’ photos into. I like to take photos while residents are participating in an activity or going on an outing. Not only does this allow residents’ families (and residents themselves) to look at nice photos of themselves, it also gives prospective families a chance to see that residents there have a lot of interesting activities to choose from.

Which gives more identity and purpose to the wall space? The framed photos of residents, or the one with a flower and butterfly?

Amanda: I agree with Rachael, artwork should be interesting and purposeful in dementia communities. I have done some similar projects with a resident gallery wall, as well as a ‘Family Wall’ where there were pictures of the residents in the community-they were a hit! Another thing I like to do is include local photography or subject matter. Images of local landmarks or things that are unique to the area are always great conversation starters. Lastly, I will mention that larger artwork should be installed with security mounts-not wires or nails. Not only do security mounts prevent residents from pulling art off of the wall, they protect the artwork from theft.