Elements and Systems - Finishes, Furniture & Fittings

In line with the Universal Design Homes principles, fittings should be easy to understand, use and manage. This covers a wide spectrum of considerations in relation to furniture and fittings, signage, and technology. 

Materials and finishes are also critical, for instance, bold floor patterns and dark lines can confuse people with dementia, (Passini et al., 1998) while Zamora (2008) found texture and colour can be associated with falls on pathways. Finishes and materials can also provide important orientation and way-finding cues to reduce the risk of getting lost and disoriented (Fleming & Bennett, 2017). 

Additionally, one study by Coutureau et al. (2021) showed how copper surfaces (i.e., finishes to door handles, handrails, and grab bars) had no protective effect in preventing the transmission of COVID-19. This led the authors of this research report to question the degree of virus spread through surface contamination, which in turn puts the value of surface decontamination in question in the context of COVID-19.   

In relation to surfaces, and finishes, Allen and Marr (2020) state that frequent cleaning and disinfection of surfaces may also help reduce secondary airborne transmission. They highlight the role of technological controls such as ultraviolet C or UV-C (short-wavelength ultraviolet) germicidal irradiation, which has been shown to be highly effective in deactivating COVID-19 virus replication (Biasin et al., 2021). UV-C germicidal irradiation uses ultraviolet light/energy to kill organisms (i.e., virus, bacteria, and fungi), and often takes the form of ultraviolet light sources. UV-C fixtures can kill airborne pathogens and be installed in such a way that prevents direct UV exposure to people. 

They also refer to the cleaning of surfaces using vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. 

Marshall (2001) argues that good wayfinding signage between key spaces and multiple cues (e.g., sight, smell, sound) have positive effects on residents. However, a balance must be struck e.g., large arrows on the floor along with the large format signage using words like ‘toilet’ (Namazi and Johnson, 1991) may conflict with the creation of a homelike environment.  

The site layout and design determine many key aspects of a RLTC settings such as onsite pedestrian, cycling and vehicle movement, and parking. Universal Design guidance such as ‘Building for Everyone’ (CEUD, 2014) and the Universal Design Guidelines for Homes for Ireland (CEUD, 2015) provide detailed guidance to make site design accessible, easy to understand, and easy to use for a wide range of users.  

The main doors are all double doors which are difficult for wheelchair users. No electric opening. Code pads to exits and add time delay for residents who may not be that dextrous.

- Family member

[Floors] too shiny for dementia patients – reflect like water.

- Staff

Fixtures and fittings greatly assist residents. Wide passages, well signed.

– Resident

No signage for [outdoor] pathways, and some become very slippy in winter.

– Resident

Key Findings


There is a need to balance clear signage without compromising the ‘homeliness’ of the setting. 


Furniture, fixtures, and finishes need to support people to move freely through the setting, including those in wheelchairs or who require a mobility add.  


Similarly, while only raised by one staff member, floor coverings need to be neutral, and avoid causing confusion. 


Finishes, Materials, and Fittings

  • Finishes, materials, and fittings should strike a balance between being homely, being accessible, and taking infection control into consideration.
  • New research that emphasises the role of airborne transmission means that surface transmission is now deemed lower risk for COVID-19. Therefore, there is less focus on finishes, materials, and fittings as part of the COVID-19 infection control strategy.
  • Furniture, fixtures, and finishes should support all users to move freely through the setting, including those in wheelchairs or who require a mobility aid.
  • Floor coverings should be neutral in colour and avoid causing confusion i.e., avoid shiny surfaces, strong patterns etc.

Orientation and Wayfinding

  • A signage system focusing on infection control should be included in the design of the setting. This may include signage indicating a one-way circulation system; signage indicating distinct zones (i.e., infection risk zones, zones for visitors and residents); signage to point out sanitation stations and promote good hygiene. Depending on circumstances, signage may be temporary (i.e., during a pandemic emergency), or permanent (i.e., signage related to hand sanitation stations).
  • Signage should be balanced with more homely touches, to prevent the setting from appearing institutional.

Download the report on Building Elements and Components here.