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Wise Senior Housing Renovations Make for Success—Now and Later

By Dean Maddalena

The senior living market is changing fast, with new players coming into the space from other industries—most notably multifamily developers who see the superior Return on Investment that senior living properties have to offer. Together, more competition and increasingly demanding consumers are setting the bar higher for senior living interior design, for both existing communities and new builds.

Today’s senior living community must offer an attractive, mainstream lifestyle while interweaving the unique needs of its residents throughout. Fortunately, savvy strategic interior renovations can address these pressing realities.

The term “renovations” itself is a broad concept and can range from superficial facelifts on finishes and furnishings to architectural changes that support more major new amenities and service levels. The key to a wise renovation strategy is determining what upgrades you should make to stay competitive as newer providers move into your local market. It’s also important to remember that an environment that attracts and holds the best talent, is also a major element in staying competitive.

It’s a Family Affair. Designers should keep in mind that many adult children are involved in the decision-making about where their parent(s) will move. When space is planned out, it should be with an intergenerational feel that appeals to both visiting parents and children. Fortunately, there is a wide range of materials available which are extremely durable, meet high standards for functionality and healthcare, and create an attractive residential look and feel. Examples include furniture designed with senior ergonomics in mind, such as high-seat, padded arm chairs, as well as walk-in baths and textured wallpaper.

Focus on the Resident. When people come to a community for a tour, they are looking to get a real sense of what it is like to live there day-to-day, while also checking on the personalities and experience of the staff. Keeping the common areas current is important to entice a potential resident, but just as important is making sure the apartments contain the amenities and design touches that would make a person feel at home.

Know Your Goals. A repositioning of a community is often done to reinforce a new brand direction, updated service model or the introduction of new amenities and services. As you are building or renovating, make time for the planning of space, creating flexibility for repurposing available space to match residents’ needs. It all goes back to having an intelligent, strategic plan.

Create Future Options. Wise renovation strategy can also pave the way for more options for the owner down the road. For example, active adult properties may not incorporate a commercial kitchen but build the infrastructure and lay out the spaces to add one if needed. This gives the owner the option to sell the property to a conventional multifamily owner or an independent senior living owner/operator. It’s also possible to build in the opportunity to convert a portion of the community to assisted living by utilizing the code-required building type. Because senior living trends change often, communities are building multipurpose rooms that can be used for a variety of activities, such as religious services, exercise classes or club meetings.

Match to Budget. Phasing a renovation over a number of years helps the owner with affordability. It is important to design every space in the master plan so when all phases are complete, the design is cohesive. Apartment renovations can take place as units are flipped which spreads out the cost. Simply repainting, and adding new artwork and accessories can give spaces a fresh, updated look.

Remember Your Staff. A senior living community is not just a home for its residents, it’s also the workplace for the administrative and caregiving staff. Keeping a work environment current, safe and supportive of the staff’s daily tasks sends a clear message that they are valued. It also brings pride to all that enjoy a beautiful and functional space.

In summary, recognize that renovations can get and keep your senior communities on track and winning their share of market in each location you serve. Renovations are a far more nuanced set of solutions than you might imagine. But when properly planned and executed, refreshing your interior design may be your single highest impact, lowest cost method for achieving your overall goals. Doing so will improve the “user experience” of everyone connected with your social community; residents, adult children, families and staff. That spells success for any community!

CREDIT: Dean Maddalena is the founder and President of StudioSIX5, a senior and intergenerational design firm based in Austin, Texas. A licensed architect and member of the American Institute of Architects, NCARB, IIDA and ASID, Dean has dedicated a large portion of his career to the research and design of senior living environments.