If you’re familiar with Warner Design Associates, you’ve probably met or spoken with our Co-Founder, Cynthia Warner. Cynthia is our lead designer and creative heart, and when not in the office is often found traveling to client installs making sure everything is just right, celebrating with partners and clients at grand openings, and attending or speaking at industry conferences. As she impacts so many in the senior living and interior design industry, we thought we would take a moment to ask her questions and share a little more about our Co-Founder.  

Our Interview with Cynthia Warner

How did you decide to start Warner Design Associates? 

In 1990 Mark [other Warner Design Associates Co-Founder] and I had been working at a furniture dealership for several years in San Francisco. He was in sales, and I ran the design department. The business’ main focus was to supply furniture to acute care hospitals, corporate accounts and government accounts, but there was not great attention on the design aspect of these market segments.  Mark and I decided to increase focus on the design and renovation of skilled nursing and gero-psychiatric facilities. After working on a number of renovation and new construction projects together we decided we were a great team and wanted to expand on the design aspect of these environments! We also saw the potential in the senior living market and wanted to focus on that segment.  Starting our own firm was something we always wanted to do, so in March of 1991, with two small children, we bought $1,300 worth of used office furniture at an auction, rented a 500 sq. foot office and ordered business cards. After 25 years in business, the rest is history!

What do you enjoy about working with senior living communities, including independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, CCRC and hospice communities?  

There are so many rewards in working in the senior living industry.  Knowing that we influence the environment and can bring independence and comfort to the lives of seniors as they transition into a new home is a reward in itself.  This is a story I like to share: while working on a new construction project in Fresno, California my client told me that a gentleman had stopped by the marketing trailer during construction and sat in on the marketing presentation.  After a few days he dropped off his deposit but was concerned that he was making this decision based on photos and material boards and not able to actually see what his new home was going to look like.  On the day the gentleman moved in he could not contain himself, he was so overwhelmed with the interiors, the warmth and sense of home that he teared up when he saw his new home.

What senior living interior design trends do you predict next?

After attending a number of educational and design conferences I think there is a big focus on the design of 55 and over communities.  Many seniors want to have an option to “downsize” and remain social with people in their age group. Today’s seniors are much more active than a generation ago. The 55+ communities offer apartments, condos, or gated developments with single-family homes.  They typically provide amenities such as dining options, fitness centers, tennis courts, pools, spas, golf courses and a club house.

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the senior living commercial design industry throughout your career?  

When assisted living communities first started to appear in the late 1970’s they were designed to offer an option to the institutionalized setting of a skilled nursing facility.  In the early 1990’s when we became fully focused in this industry, there was a real push to create a less institutional environment.  Seniors wanted independence and privacy, they did not want shared bathrooms and communal showers. Assisted living communities were designed to provide medical and daily care while providing dignity and respect. Today’s senior living Communities continue to provide dignity and respect but go much further.  In many communities, the focus is to promote self- direction and allow the residents the ability to make their own decisions that emphasize choice, dignity, privacy, individuality, and independence in a home-like environment.

What is the best way for designers in this industry to stay on top of the trends?  

Attend design conferences, network with other professional such as architects, providers, and policymakers.  There are a number of advocacy groups and organizations within the senior care industry.

How do you learn and understand the unique desires of each community, and create relevant interior designs?  

We always make it a point to fully understand the client, their philosophy and mission statement towards the care of the residents they serve and learn more about the current or future residents themselves. That means understanding their market and who they are marketing to.  Once we understand who the end user will be we work with the client to create a home for their residents.

What’s your favorite interior design “find” lately? (Tool, vendor, product, trend, etc.) 

A few weeks ago Rachel [designer at WDA] and I toured an art facility in Toronto, Canada.  We were very excited to learn about their ability to “print on demand”.  They have the ability to print any image on various sizes of paper, canvas, wood, metal and acrylic.  They have a number of proprietary images and are able to custom print many of them.  This flexibility will allow us to select images that are project specific and to customize the sizes and final look based on the project and region.

What has been one of your best career memories or proudest moment? 

That’s hard to say, there have been so many wonderful memories and proud moments throughout my career. With every groundbreaking, team meeting, successful installation and ribbon cutting comes a tremendous amount of pride knowing that I was a small part of a senior’s future.

What do you normally do on the weekends (when you’re not working!)?  

When I’m not traveling I enjoy spending time with my husband Mark, our friends, family and our two granddaughters.  I love to cook, eat, hike, practice photography and hang out in Tahoe.  We bought our first season passes to Mt. Rose so I’m looking forward to spending some time on the slopes this winter.