Fusty furniture and dowdy floral prints just don’t cut it anymore in today’s retirement communities.
Take RidgePointe, an independent senior living community in Minnetonka that recently got a designer makeover of its common areas. Out went the blah beige-on-beige decor that had been there since the 1980s. In came sleek new furniture in modern shapes and sophisticated colors like midnight blue, citrine and charcoal gray.
If the two lobbies now resemble those in an upscale hotel, that’s no accident. Interior designer Cy Winship drew inspiration from favorite ones he’s visited. “Some of my best memories are of walking into beautiful hotel lobbies,” he said. Before the makeover, the lobbies were “so dull. Now they feel special — like a Chicago hotel lobby.”
You can picture a concierge behind the new front desk, with its marble-look top, LED-lit tile mosaic base and laser-cut wood-panel backdrop. And the velvet-clad chairs create a luxurious, lounge-y vibe, with wide, squared-off arms, big enough for perching.
Welcome to the latest look in senior living. Once-tired buildings are getting stylish upgrades worthy of HGTV, and new facilities are using sleek contemporary design to woo today’s style-savvy seniors — and their even more discriminating adult children.
“We wanted to make people proud to bring in guests ... excited about where they live,” said Paula Rickett, marketing director for RidgePointe. “Why not have it look like a grand hotel? Design matters to everybody.”
The HGTV generation
That wasn’t always so. Gabrielle Langan, community director at the just-opened Avidor, a 55+ active living community in Edina, has observed an evolution in the senior housing market.
“Absolutely, design is more important,” she said. “Even a few years ago, people didn’t care about the apartment, they cared about the care piece. Now they care a lot more about the apartment and its features.”
Many are moving from houses they’ve lived in for years — and often remodeled — making them well aware of design and its impact.
“They’re looking at all the fine details,” Langan said. “They appreciate the gray neutral flooring. Senior living used to be more gaudy — a lot of gold and maroon. Now they want open-concept, large living areas and large bedrooms.”
Each Avidor property has its own distinct design, Langan said. The newly opened Edina property, for example, “is very modern, with lots of gray and white.” An Avidor in Minnetonka, scheduled to open next summer, will have “lake colors,” she said.
The Waters Senior Living, which operates nine properties in Minnesota and several in other states, also relies on design to appeal to today’s customers, according to John Hunsicker, senior vice president, development and capital markets.
“There are two customers: the senior living residents, who are 80-plus. That group is more design-conscious than it used to be. But the drivers are the adult children. There’s very much of a new design-oriented aesthetic,” he said. “Does the average 85-year-old have a strong point of view about stainless-steel appliances? Their children have a strong point of view. Stainless and granite look like the kind of quality they would expect.”
As a result, “Design is a big deal in our branding,” Hunsicker said. “People’s perceptions of senior living is from their experience of visiting Grandma in the nursing home — institutional, dark, smells bad, people look old and unhappy. Our brand is about creating a new, different, vibrant, energizing environment.”
To that end, ceilings are higher, lighting is enhanced. “Everything is designed to look like a home environment of today, balancing familiar elements with what younger family members want to see.”
Point of pride
At RidgePointe, the tired “before” interiors had become a deterrent to signing new tenants, said Rickett. “One couple had been looking for a couple of years. The wife said, ‘These lobbies are kind of dated.’ They came in the last time [after Winship’s redesign] and, ‘This is beautiful!’ ” — and signed a lease.
Longtime RidgePointe residents also are fans of the new look.
“I love it! It’s up-to-date,” said John Samuelson, who spends more time in the common areas than he used to, drawn by the “great colors” and inviting seating areas.
“You are so proud to bring your guests,” said June Abrahamson. “And it makes us feel so much better to see youthful things instead of old-type furniture.”
RidgePointe’s new spaces look sleek and modern, but the components were carefully chosen with the realities of aging in mind. Sofa and chair seats are 19 inches off the ground, for example, and arms were selected to be “the perfect height to get up and down,” Winship said. “If they were 16 inches, they couldn’t get up easily.”
The velvet-upholstered sofas, chairs and tufted ottomans are tough and durable Crypton for easy cleaning and stain resistance. The wallcovering on interior columns is a bio-friendly product, Xorel, made from byproducts of sugar-cane processing. It’s tough and tear-resistant. “A walker could hit and dent the wall but not puncture it,” Winship said of the material. Modular carpet squares make replacement easy. “If anything spills, you can take up that piece.”
A modern wall clock replaced the traditional grandfather clock in one lobby. Golden oak tables were stained espresso for an updated look.
The game room, which formerly had a grandma’s parlor aesthetic with plum paint below a chair rail and floral wallpaper above, now has a sophisticated clubby vibe with geometric patterned wallcovering in black, charcoal and silver, and sleek “Corbusier knockoff” chairs, in faux leather with silver frames.
“This is cooler than you think you’re going to see,” Winship said of the room.
Not every element of the new design was welcomed unanimously by residents. A bold modern carpet with a pattern reminiscent of a forest floor took some getting used to. “It was controversial at first,” said Winship.
But other features have been big hits, including the bronze-painted gallery wall in one lobby featuring reproductions of well-known artists’ work.
“Before, they were scattered all over the building,” Winship said of the paintings. “After the gallery wall went up, people started doing research on the paintings and even having art salons.”
Now the gallery wall is Abrahamson’s favorite design feature at RidgePointe, she said.
“I sit in those chairs and look toward that wall. All the colors in the room are picked up in the pictures. It’s amazing what he [Winship] has done here.”