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Design that Unites Independent Living with Assisted Living

In 2011, The Freshwater Group, the development arm of Watermark Communities, acquired a senior living community in Pella, Iowa. “We purchase communities where we can add value. This was a well run community, but it had opportunities to improve,” recounts Rachel Rangelov, Regional Director of Design & Development at Watermark. “The building was aging and had design flaws that segregated independent living residents from assisted living residents. Each section had a separate entrance; an awkward series of tight spaces and locked doors. The only shared access was through doorways via the business office.”

The separation created two worlds under one roof, an unwieldy operation of inefficiencies, unacquainted employees and isolated residents. The divided layout begged for reconciliation with the other half.
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After acquiring the property management surveyed residents about the community. Residents lamented the lack of space for socialization as well as a casual dining area with snack options as most residents ate sporadically in the dining room.

Key employees contributed additional input and submitted the recommendations to the Watermark design team, including Rachel Rangelov and the interior design firm. “We wanted to transform the building to foster a sense of community,” says the senior interior designer on the project.

What began in early 2015 as a project to unify the community mushroomed into a complete renovation of the common areas. “The project had challenges, including re-engineering the building’s internal structure, moving a load bearing wall, reallocating office space, and reconfiguring the lobby’s mailroom,” admits Rangelov.

Office space was reconfigured and the resident coffee area removed. In its place was an open, grab-and-go style café stocked with snacks, sandwiches and light fare that connected the assisted and independent living areas. Casual seating was added to host the diners, coffee clubbers and visitors. The café now receives traffic and natural light from both sides of the building.

“The dining staff was hesitant about the burden to service the cafe,” admits Rangelov. “In working with the food services manager we created ways to serve the café from the main kitchen.”

The café is the hub of the building and the gateway into the dining area. Barn doors on the dining entrance provide flexibility to change venue size based on the activity. The dining area was also overhauled to increase its functionality as a multi-purpose room.

Opening into the front of the café is the redesigned lobby. The receptionist’s work area was reconfigured to include a cashier station. “Having the receptionist assist in the café is ideal to increase services without adding staff,” says Rangelov. The spacious lobby provides a warm welcome to guests with a large stone fireplace.

“We paid extra attention to the décor of the community using artwork and accessories from area shops which embodies the culture of the area,” Rangelov says.

Renovations were unveiled in May 2016. When asked if she thinks that project achieved its goal, Rangelov concludes, “The banter, laughter and smiles in the café each morning is evidence of a successful project.”