“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

While this statement has been credited to the likes of Oscar Wilde, Will Rogers, and even the ad slogan of Head & Shoulders Shampoo in the 1980’s, its interpretation has often been adapted to support the desired viewpoint. However, when applied to the built environment, its literal meaning holds true… or does it?

In the case of a senior living community, a positive first impression can mean the difference between a prospective resident and their family leaving a tour disappointed, or saying, “I could see Mom living here.”

The elements that make that first impression a positive one depend on the specific community and the needs of the prospective resident, but generally involve some version of the “wow” factor. For senior living communities with older facilities, creating that “wow” first impression may require some physical updates.  A refresh, or “repositioning” program can make a strong impact and result in higher conversion rates of prospective residents.

HCM employs a strategic planning method named SPARC3 (Strategic Possibilities Acquired through Research, Collaboration, and Creative Change) to identify key issues and master plan for the future. HCM works with a client’s key staff, stakeholders and board members within existing communities to envision potential long-term solutions for the repositioning of the communities. SPARC3 is a deliberate, HCM-led process that uses clearly defined steps to gather data about the current community, envision future residents and their needs, and to create a master plan, in order to achieve results that give an existing retirement community a refreshed image, amenities package and apartment-homes to appeal to potential new residents.

Riderwood Village

One striking example of a first impression transformation story is Riderwood Village in Silver Spring, Maryland. This Erickson Senior Living community has worked with Hord Coplan Macht (HCM) on several projects in the past and looked to our design experts when they decided to renovate their Lakeside Commons building. Erickson primarily wanted to provide residents with more dining options and updated amenities. Stakeholder engagement included a resident focus group and a town hall to gather input and ensure value to the overall community.

Several spaces, such as the restaurant and theater, were renovated to have more of a modern, luxe feel. Riderwood Village leadership especially wanted the restaurant to have a unique identity and feel like a destination. This was achieved through breaking the large existing space into a series of smaller, more intimate spaces, and creating an upscale look with new finishes and furniture.

Besides creating value for the existing community, Riderwood Village wanted to attract new residents, and placed an emphasis on adding amenities to support more active lifestyles. These included new dining options (a pub and a café/market), an art gallery, and a fitness center. An outdoor component with a firepit was incorporated as well, both as a commons space for social interactions and as an additional dining area. This outdoor area allows the Commons to take full advantage of the campus space and increases outdoor experiences for residents, which are a crucial element of wellness.

Laurel Circle

Another community contemplating a facelift was Laurel Circle, a continuing care retirement community in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Laurel Circle has reinvented itself within its market, both through updating its image and increasing the services provided. After switching to management by Life Care Services, Laurel Circle decided it was time to change their image, and brought on HCM to help.

HCM worked alongside Laurel Circle leadership and residents to determine the best course of action for the community, eventually planning extensive interior renovations and several future expansions. The first phase of renovations was completed in Spring 2020 and includes sought-after amenities such as a new welcome lobby with adjacent café. The design team transformed a dark, dated vestibule into a light, airy space with luxury finishes and clear wayfinding. The café provides easy access to snacks and light meals, supporting residents with independent, active lifestyles. The lobby serves not only as a front entrance and welcoming center, but also as a comfortable place for socialization among residents and their guests. Updated finishes create a modern, but classic, feel throughout the space.

Now, when prospective residents and their families visit for the first time, they will see bright, open spaces full of activity where there used to be enclosed vacant rooms with dated furniture. They will see residents utilizing the new amenities, socializing over a cup of Starbucks coffee or grabbing a fruit smoothie on their way to the new Wellness Center or Boutique Salon. This active, engaging “first impression” was Laurel Circle’s desired goal, and HCM is honored to have had the opportunity to bring this dream to life for the community.

Oak Crest Village

Another community looking to transform their “first impression” and increase wellness amenities for their residents is Oak Crest Village in Parkville, Maryland. HCM worked with Oak Crest leadership and key stakeholders to pinpoint priority areas for the repositioning of their campus. The Town Center clubhouse was identified as a critical component of a successful revitalization; the selected improvements included a major renovation of dining, lobby, library and common areas, as well as an addition for a Wellness Center.

To meet the end of a better first experience, the “front of house” spaces and sales offices were remodeled to provide potential residents and their families with a sneak peek of the best that Oak Crest has to offer. The other renovations primarily focused on increasing options, comfort, and flexibility for residents. To this end, the existing dining venue was transformed into three distinct options, including an exhibition cooking display, a communal bar, and an outdoor dining space. An interior vegetative wall allows residents to interact with nature year-round.

Increasing resident wellness was deemed a high priority and resulted in the addition of the Wellness Center and several new outdoor amenities. The Wellness Center includes a showpiece indoor pool, an indoor pickleball court, fitness studios, a fully-equipped gym, and locker rooms. Here, residents participate in water aerobics, volleyball, pickleball and other group fitness activities, simultaneously benefitting from social interaction and an active lifestyle. Central outdoor spaces were added as well, to provide more accessible spaces for residents in a park-like environment. Outdoor amenities include a fitness lawn, a bandstand pavilion, loop fitness paths, bocce ball courts, and putting greens.

The Oak Crest Town Center project was part of a long-range campus plan and has been a catalyst for programming and design upgrades across the campus. By providing a greater diversity of amenity options to residents, Oak Crest has created spaces that facilitate wellbeing and improve outcomes for their community. By providing a greater diversity of amenity options to residents, Oak Crest has created spaces the facilitate wellbeing and improved outcomes for their community.

Making a good first impression can be essential to the success of a community’s continued growth, but it doesn’t have to be difficult! By strategically optimizing and upgrading existing spaces, senior living communities are able to transform their images, provide increased value to current residents, and create a “wow” factor and sense of belonging for prospective residents and their families.

Meet the expert: Greg Dehne is a Principal in Hord Coplan Macht’s Senior Living Studio with over 20 years of experience in the programming, master planning, design and construction of complex senior housing, senior-related healthcare, multi-family and mixed use facilities. He has an extensive background in assisted living, longterm care and memory care facilities and is well versed in ADA, Fair Housing, Health Department and municipal building codes. Greg works closely with clients to achieve transformational goals across a broad range of campuses.

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