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  • By Lisa Jevens

Interior Design Adds the 'Wow' Factor to Senior Communities


Step into any of Chicago’s new or newly remodeled senior living communities, and you may think you’ve accidentally entered a fancy hotel, a relaxing resort or a stylish home straight from HGTV.

That’s the magic of interior design. It provides exactly what communities want potential residents to experience: The wow factor.

Just ask Mark Zullo, marketing director of The Merion. Located in historic downtown Evanston, The Merion is an independent living community housed in a stately Tudor-style building that underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation last year.

“It’s jaw-dropping,” Zullo says of the beautiful new interior that resembles a classic urban hotel with its muted color palette, cut glass chandeliers, and black-and-white marble patterned floors. The new look of The Merion conveys the sophistication of a bygone era. Indeed, sitting under the potted palms in the Emerald Lounge might make you feel like you’re starring in a classic movie. “I don’t want to say ‘luxury,’ which translates to ‘expensive,’ but it’s a beautiful environment,” Zullo says.

Twice the appeal

Zullo and other community directors know that attractive, up-to-date interior design certainly helps when wooing new residents and their adult children, who often accompany their parents to shop for a new home. Appealing to two generations is tricky, so interior design trends in senior living tend to follow the looks that people currently see in stores and catalogs and with which they are familiar, without being too cutting-edge or slick.

Thoughts on the aging process

That still leaves a lot of leeway to personalize the look of a community through design. When Beacon Hill in Lombard undertook a two-year, $23-million expansion and renovation in 2014, it offered an opportunity to reset the tone of the place, says Executive Director Blaire Goldstein.

Beacon Hill is a CCRC with 379 independent apartments and 110 skilled nursing home beds, 26 of which are for memory support. The community added a 28,000-square-foot building to its sprawling campus, which included a new theater, lounge, multiple dining venues, dining preparation space, entertainment and fitness rooms. It also renovated 90 percent of the common area, relocated the pool, locker rooms, and lobby. It also added a full restaurant in the lobby with specialty coffees and sandwiches for guests and residents, and installed Wi-fi throughout.

“The challenge was all the dark brown brick that was part of the original 1984 buildings,” says Goldstein. Rather than covering it up, it was softened with light modern tones on the walls. A light-colored stone floor-to-ceiling fireplace was added as a focal point and gathering place in the lobby. The public spaces are enlivened by accessories that pop, such as a mirror-front credenza, creamy upholstery and crisp white lampshades. “We used the gray and blue tones that are popular today, but it’s not super modern,” Goldstein says of the new look. “It’s more ‘comfort modern.’ The furniture pieces are more accommodating for older adults.”

Beacon Hill also added interior courtyard space, outdoor seating with an outdoor fireplace, a circular lazy river, a game room for Wii tournaments and outdoor barbecue space with seating. The decision to make the place feel more resort-like was a conscious one, says Goldstein.

The individual apartments at Beacon Hill remain the same until a new resident moves in. Then they can choose their own colors of granite for their counter tops, plus cabinets and paint colors. “The reactions I’m getting are ‘wow!’, ” Goldstein says. “It’s such a transformation from where we were. And the residents are happy with all the choices they have.”

For the active adult

Home developers in active adult communities who target mature buyers incorporate trends in their model homes, combining popular styles with the tried and true. For example, a model home might have trendy textured wood on the floor and metal accessories, with a well chosen warm neutral color on the wall. But the furniture will have a comfortable, inviting look and the bathrooms will skip high-maintenance and high-cost materials like marble tile.

Andy Konovodoff, president of K. Hovnanian Homes of Chicago, says active adult homebuyers are primarily looking for efficiency and low maintenance in a home with a modern layout for entertaining.

K. Hovnanian is currently selling Meadowridge Villas in the Prestbury neighborhood, in Sugar Grove. These duplex townhomes range from 1,623 to 2,540 square feet, base priced from $252,995 to $284,995.

“Buyers want high-end finishes that they and their guests can appreciate, such as attractive wood flooring, granite countertops, upgraded kitchens, a seating area with barstools, big countertops, and open floor plans,” Konovodoff says. “They want space for their grandchildren. Most of the Meadowridge Villas have a loft or bedroom or two on the second floor, with first-floor master suites.”

Konovodoff says his buyers are the younger retirees planning for the future, so they are thinking long term with the look and features of their home. “They are going to live in that house a long time and maybe not move again,” he says.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section on March 17, 2017.

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