Most interior designers don't have to worry about holes in the floor that don't exist, or bugs on the wall that aren't there.

But designing for seniors is different, as a group of students from Century College in White Bear Lake recently discovered.

The students were offered the chance to redesign a care suite at the Pines in Richfield, one of more than 20 senior care communities owned by Augustana Care in Minnesota and Colorado.

Working with input from residents and staff, they discovered some of the issues that make designing for seniors different from sketching out the decor for a bank or a suburban rambler.

"We steered away from carpet patterns of light and dark, because the residents may perceive the dark areas as holes," said design student Lindy Haglund, presenting decorating concepts this week to Augustana's management team.

Haglund explained that the students also rejected wallpaper patterns with "squiggles," because they may look like bugs on the wall to older people.

Blue walls in dining areas were out, because the color is calming and may actually induce residents not to eat. Yellow or red are better choices, because they give off energy.

Fabrics and flooring must be durable and washable, and the style has to appeal both to residents — not too modern — and to their caregiving children or grandchildren — not too traditional.

After presentations from two teams of students, the Pines chose a mix of concepts and materials from both groups. Larson Building of Buffalo will handle construction for the 550-square-foot suite, which houses eight residents. The project should be finished within the next two to three months.

"It has been such a blast to watch you all grow," Mary Jo Thorne, Augustana's regional director of housing, told the students. "You've handled criticism with grace. Your professor should be very proud of you."

Haglund, of Buffalo, returned to school for her degree after staying home with her children for 20 years. She called the design project "a fabulous experience."

Her thoughts were echoed by Megan Koren, a student from Lake Elmo who's also graduating and is already working in design at the International Market Square in Minneapolis.

"I want to own my own business someday, so it was really great to work with a contractor and do a real commercial project," Koren said. "Seeing the process from start to finish was really valuable."

John Reinan • 612-673-7402