As with any senior living community, Elim Park in Cheshire, Conn., competes for residents, and one factor increasingly of concern for modern seniors is quality of lifestyle, of which the dining and social environment is a considerable part. And in that area, Elim Park found itself behind the times.
Existing in the facility was a very large formal dining space and a coffee shop, but the dining facility, though well cared for and classically designed, was outdated and felt dark and cavernous due to the dark cherry paneling on the walls, and it offered limited choices in both meal experience and social spaces for residents looking to spend time outside their apartments.
Initially, the renovation idea was limited simply to expanding the existing coffee shop, but eventually it was broadened into the Oasis Project, which involved a major renovation and expansion of the dining and social spaces with the aid of design firm Connor Architecture LLC.
“The need for this project was driven by Elim Park’s desire to stand out in a crowd of senior living organizations,” explains Angela Grasso, Connor’s senior associate and director of interior design. “Initially, the simple desire was to renovate a tired and inefficient café space that could not accommodate the population and was also too out of date to attract newcomers. Another challenge was a distinct lack of variety and limited hours of operation that made the dining services feel institutional.”
The change involved expanding the building footprint by 5,000 square feet, which provided space for the new Springhouse Bistro and the Elim Park Baking Co. bakery café, connected through a common seating space that blends the concepts together. The space expansion also absorbed some of the seating needs from the old dining room, which was then split in half, with one part containing a new gifts/sundries market and the other an updated formal dining space called the Conservatory. Bridging the bakery/bistro area and the market/Conservatory area is an open space called Central Park where residents can sit, converse and relax in a park-like setting that has touches like a gazebo and a fireplace. An avenue called Main Street connects Central Park to the main lobby area and the onsite Nelson Hall Performing Arts Theater.
“We created an interactive and engaging retail dining multirestaurant platform where residents can come shop through a marketplace of choices,” Grasso observes. “The results are increased sales and participation in both the dining program and the surrounding activities.”
One great advantage of the new site design is that the public space now sits at the center of not just seven resident wings, which are arranged as neighborhoods made up of resident-owned apartments, but also near the healthcare and rehabilitation wings of the complex.
“This placement allows residents who are both independently living and those in assisted living circumstances to meet in the middle and spend time together to enjoy the public space,” explains Grasso.
The overall design character of the space was crafted to create a unique experience for residents. Each environment within the facility has its own design personality that in turn relates to each other and create an experience not unlike a “downtown” within the Elim community.
“We were inspired by New England character but wanted to make a contemporary space that would feel timeless and engaging as the population makeup changes from generation to generation,” Grasso says. She notes that the average age of existing Elim Park residents is 85 but the new facilities have to serve not only that population but also the newer Baby Boomer seniors moving into retirement age.
Meeting a need
“The new generation of residents who will be looking to make Elim their new home is more likely to be enticed by choices, by engaging environments, by flexibility and a more contemporary aesthetic,” she explains.
Inspiration came from both large and small cities, and building facades were examined for architectural inspiration for each food environment. The Elim leadership team was even taken to New York to tour different restaurants to see how they created different experiences through choices in areas like furnishings, finishes, logo and menu design, accessories and artwork.
Back at Elim Park, the designers created a sense of place by crafting layers of details that are reminiscent of what one would find at any restaurant in the world. Colors and textures were chosen to be unique at each restaurant concept and each was designed to be enlivened with open cooking kitchens.
Springhouse Bistro, for example, is configured around a brick oven and fireplace that exude a warmth and comfort in tones of copper, red and ochre, while Elim Park Baking Co. is an architectural confection with colors that look good enough to eat in a storefront of white washed woods and cool blues. The Conservatory sits under a pre-existing skylight that lets in plenty of natural light while the Market carries a variety of gifts and sundry items nestled into a custom millwork in a space reminiscent of a general store, and the theater lobby welcomes patrons in grand art deco fashion.
The construction process was done in phases so that current residents could continue to use the existing dining spaces until the conversion to the new spaces could be executed.
“This was a long but successful process keeping resident safety and comfort a top priority,” Grasso recalls. “We are still continuing with developing modifications to the design and looking toward future expansion in other public areas of the campus.”
In all, the construction project involved more than 16,000 square feet, at a cost of $3.9 million, a good investment in that it resulted not just an occupancy census leap from 84% to fully occupied with a waiting list, but also a customer satisfaction leap to 95%.
“Since opening, not only has the dining program received more attention, the social spaces have been heavily utilized, therefore creating a greater connection and increased social engagement,” Grasso observes
Elim Park operates as a Life Plan Community, which means that residents usually enter as apartment owners in the independent living program and then transition to higher levels of care as required. The apartments are available in various sizes and completely customizable, while the amenities spaces provide stress-free and attractive dining and socialization environments.
For a photo tour of the renovated Elim Park, go here.