Tap into diners’ talents for dining room decor

artistic doors

When Bill Fugate, a resident at Lutheran SeniorLife Passavant Community in Zelienople, Penn., saw the design plans for a new building, one detail immediately caught his eye: The big double doors decorated with ironwork that lead into the dining room.

Having picked up blacksmithing as a hobby about 25 years ago, Fugate continued to do ironwork while living at Passavant. “They knew I had a shop here on the back end of campus, so they asked me if I wanted to it,” Fugate says. He recruited an on-staff nurse to sketch the ironwork designs for the door, as well as sconces in nature-inspired shapes such as tree branches and flowers. Some supplies were provided, but both volunteered their time.

From colorful crayon drawings to whimsical murals, artwork created by students can be found decorating K-12 cafeterias all across the country. Other operations are starting to follow suit, making the most of the artistic talents of diners sitting right there at the table.

Giving residents the opportunity to exercise their talents can be rewarding. “My wife and I have been a very active part of this community since we’ve come here, and I just thought it was a good opportunity to make a contribution that would be worthwhile and would be pleasing to other people,” Fugate says.

Though having a professional artist in your midst is a boon, diners don’t have to be professionally trained in order to play a part. At the Village at Summerville in Summerville, S.C., residents worked together to create a mosaic of a palm tree that hangs on the dining room wall. “That brings the outside in, because of course, we have the palmetto trees in this area,” says Steve Scranton, director of dining services. Quilts made by residents also hang on the walls of the memory care and skilled nursing dining rooms. “It gives it more of a homey feel,” Scranton says.

Because the community’s life enrichment department heads up activities—including quilting and mosaic-making—close coordination between departments is crucial to make these kinds of collaborations work, says Scranton. Bringing up the idea for discussion well in advance is the best way to set up for success, he says. “It’s best to do it toward the end of the year, November or December; when [activities departments] start putting their calendar together for the next year, schedule a meeting,” Scranton says. “It’s all in the planning and the team effort.”  

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