My very first job, besides babysitting (please, I was raised Mormon therefore I had my first babysitting job at nine), was waitressing at an assisted living community in Lake Oswego when I was 15. It was every day from 5pm – 8pm for dinner service and I loved it. The community itself was really happy and the seniors had fun. They were always in good spirits and seemed to genuinely like being there.
At the same time our 98 year old great step-aunt was living with us who had suffered from severe Alzheimer’s and had lost a lot of her sight and hearing. Despite the fact that she donned a less fashionable yet slightly hipster beard, she was an every day presence in our house for over 10 years. I remember on July 4th, we always had to keep her very monitored because the fireworks (that she could hear) reminded her of bombs from when she was a nurse in the war (I think WWII) and she would try to run and go for cover — outside, often in the neighbors shrubs. And these situations made me realize, Oh right … she was once 16 too, except she was a nurse in WWII instead of in high school …
LONG STORY SHORT, I have a thing for seniors and have known from a very early age that I would be one someday (hopefully) so they deserve SERIOUS respect.
Which brings me to Fran at the Sunrise Senior Living Community in D.C.
Sunrise Living had a national contest for a makeover for one of their residents, and Fran, who nominated herself and was dying for a makeover of her space, won. As much as I’d like to say that Fran deserved it more than anyone, it’s simply not true — because they ALL deserve it. If there is one thing I’ve learned with my limited time with seniors is that every one has a pretty incredible story. And I feel like this generation might have even more; Fran’s husband was the first African American fighter pilot in Korea and went on to be a general in Vietnam. She was born in the ’30s, lived through segregation, the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, etc. and happily lived long enough to see Obama get elected. Her whole story is incredible and kinda makes me feel like I need to be more inspired to do bigger things, but give me 40 more years and we’ll all be there.
Anyway, back to the makeover. Fran, like most of us at this age, has too much. The apartments in Sunrise are spacious, but you still have to most likely downsize when you move in. Here’s what it looked like when we started:
The major needs were:
1. Storage. Fran, like myself, had tons of papers and crafts, which is fine, but not the proper attractive storage to house said paper, which is not so fine. So we needed cohesive, inexpensive, attractive storage pieces that were accessible to Fran, who’s in a wheelchair. Nothing too tall or cabinets that were awkward when opening outward.
2. Color. Fran loves color, specifically teal, aqua, turquoise, and salmon/coral. Asking me to use teal and aqua is like asking Kim Kardashian to show cleavage — it’s really what I want to do anyway, but when someone asks me to do it? I’m gonna really DO it.
3. Style. Fran is a fan of mid-century modern and definitely veers away from traditional design. She likes clean lines and high quality. The loopy valances for instance drove her crazy. She had a ton of really awesome Danish pieces that she bought from a dealer in Scandinavia in the ’50s while they were living in Tripoli. So they’ve owned it for 65 years. It feels like home to her, and it feels like awesome to me. Plus, Fran is happy and funny and it needs to feel happy and alive. So stylistically it was off.
4. Seating. While Fran is in a wheelchair and doesn’t need any seating (certainly not a sofa that was going to take up a lot of precious storage space) she did need somewhere for guests to sit. She has four daughters that needed a more inviting place to hang out and hopefully entice them to visit even more. PLUS, Fran is very popular at the community so she has a lot of friends that pop by all the time.
We had three days and $3,000. It’s a challenge, folks, but also like Kim K., totally doable. The good news is that A. all the apartments have a ton of light, which helps out design wise, and B. we could do whatever we wanted besides change the carpet or knock down walls.
Here’s how the space looked three days later:
Ah, yeah. Now that is a happy room. We flipped a lot of the furniture, opening the layout and giving more access to the beautiful windows with so much pretty light. The walls went a very happy Benjamin Moore Ocean Spray, which instantly enlivened the space and just made it feel oh-so-inviting. The window mullions were already a dark teal so I knew that that would actually add to the color scheme. The window treatments look wildly different but all we did was get rid of the peach traditional valance, which instantly modernized the room.
The desk with computer monitor and the TV were both in front of the windows, so we moved them to walls that weren’t in front of the windows and replaced the TV with a flat screen, to take up less space.
A good trick is that if you don’t want to clutter a lot of counter space and you need more storage space, add some floating or bracketed shelving. It engages the vertical space, adds interest, and these showcased Fran’s more special accessories that she doesn’t need access to. Of course I added a brass animal from Target because like a vampire with human blood, I feel compelled, nay, emotionally forced to add a brass animal to every space. (I’m rewatching “Twilight” while writing this, forgive me).
We moved her bookcase between the windows to engage that vertical space and add some contrast to all the necessary horizontal and lower pieces of furniture. We brought in those club chairs to provide a comfy seating area for guests and to soften the room, which, let’s face it, has a lot of pieces of square hard furniture. I chose the coral as our accent color because Fran loves salmon but we were afraid that salmon and aqua could go ’80s really fast. We just saturated that color a bit to make it coral. Those chairs were the only things that we really planned in advance because with seniors you want to make sure to get seating that is easy to both get into and get out of, which is dependant on the seat height, arm height, and seat depth. These are not crazy low and the height of the arm allows for assistance getting out of the chair for all of Fran’s friends in the community who come to visit. These things I don’t think about too often so I definitely learned a thing or two while doing this project. We added the round side table because A. round is safe on the hips, and B. it took up very little space, and took up even less “visual space” since it’s open wire and C. was $59.99. So good.
This area was probably the most challenging because all those binders needed to be easily accessible as they are Fran’s photo albums and she looks at them a lot. Nor did we want to switch them out to less, well, plastic albums because we didn’t want to even attempt to transfer them in case we ruined the organization of them. Plus, they were in our color palette. The armoire next to them had some clothing storage but was basically unused. It was one of the provided pieces of furniture so she had no sentimental attachments to it, likewise with the recliner. We did a bit of reorganizing (and yes, her daughter helped her sort through some of the files and put in storage the less commonly accessed boxes).
Ah. So much better. Really all we did was color block the binders, and bought some white magazine holders for the looser items, and some pretty storage boxes for the loose items. (All from Ikea.)
Wait, maybe this was the most challenging spot. Fran had a plethora of plants and craft supplies. I wish I could criticize even a tiny bit, but that would be like Snookie making fun of Tanning Mom. So I channeled my inner clutter addict (no H-word today) and we organized the hell out of this craft station.
Why can’t I do this for myself? We transferred all her items drawer by drawer so she still knows where everything is, but by making all the storage pieces cohesive it looks so much cleaner. For the desk we chose these drawer bases to save a lot of space and add storage. For the smaller items, we bought the other drawer systems that were the same style as the others — simple, white, and streamlined. Of course we spraypainted the cheap silver handles on them gold, as we do, which elevated them a ton. That stone lamp was hers, but we updated the shade with a new one from HomeGoods. And there is no chair (and no area rugs) because she is in a wheelchair.
For the plant situation we decided to corral them together and create a vertical garden on the windows with brackets and shelves. We changed out the pots to be more in line with the color palette, bought a few more to fill out the collection, and stacked them up on the shelves. Don’t worry; Fran has someone that comes in and waters the plants.
We just bought simple white brackets from Ikea and white glass, although we thought we were buying the clear glass shelves so it wouldn’t block the view/light but once we opened them we realized they were white glass, which was fine. For accessories, we put old and new photos of Fran and her family in cute frames. Again, the frames were consistent whereas before she had random frames that weren’t necessarily high quality or cohesive, so these new fresh frames helped a lot. (HomeGoods and Target).
Here’s the space with the mid-century chair for all your pinning needs. :)
That chair has been Fran’s for 65 years. I mean, they really don’t make them like they used to, at least not affordable these days. And the fabric is original and perfect for our color scheme. Nice job, Fran. You made my job so much easier by liking good stuff.
Let’s go into the bedroom now, shall we? Fran had a beautiful screen and a great mid-century nightstand and a standing lamp she loved, but otherwise we had free reign to do whatever we wanted. She needed color, a proper headboard, and some pretty lighting and styling.
So that’s what we did:
We loved that piece of art, so we used that as the jumping off point for the design of the room. We pulled this more medium tone teal from the colors in the trees and it instantly gave the bedroom some life, while at the same time making it cozy and warm. The headboard was a much needed (and inexpensive) way to create a focal wall in her bedroom. We chose an upholstered one because, well, I love them the best because they are just so soft, inviting, and more comfortable. We kept it white to contrast with the wall, and yet keep the room feeling fresh and happy. We added a touch sconce on the left so Fran can easily turn it on and off while in bed and she doesn’t have to reach over too far. And we made sure that the bedding had contrast between the top layer and the sheets so if/when her eyes are weak she can differentiate all the layers.
This side of the room had just too much, but that mid-century piece was beautiful. Her daughter helped us organize these things and took some to storage and put others in the storage in the living room.
Ahh. So much happier, cleaner, fresher, and way more deserving of a very good night’s sleep. Truth be told, when we shot this her TV was in her temporary apartment down the hall where she stayed for the three days. It came back that night and now lives on that dresser where the books are.
But meanwhile, this is just so pretty and calming. This room got a ton of light so that teal was just so alive and created an instant feeling in the room, whereas a neutral color would have made it feel more, well, neutral. This color tied in with the living room, but provided enough contrast to make them feel like the two different spaces that they are.
So how did Fran react? Just as a reminder, we went from this:
And in came Fran:
I mean, could my job be any better? Could design work be more satisfying? Orlando and I arrived on Monday and transformed her home completely in three days, and made the deserving Fran oh-so-happy. Sometimes I can’t believe how fulfilling decorating can be.
Thank you so much Sunrise for asking me to be apart of this project. Ultimately, the reason I wanted to do it was because I think that your home should reflect your personality at any age, and the reason I chose to work with Sunrise is that their communities are so happy, fun, safe, and they allow each resident to make their apartments feel like their home. Bring your pets, paint the walls, bring all of your furniture, accessories, pianos, lighting — anything. You get 24 hour monitored care in a really homey, happy environment. The food is GOOD (we ate there all three days), there are movies every night, a hair salon, day and night outings, game nights galore, and ultimate freedom to do whatever you want, but with guidance and monitoring to make sure you are always healthy. There are over 300 Sunrise communities spread around the U.S., so if assisted living is something that you’ve been considering for a family member, I highly recommend Sunrise. I’ve visited three now, and all of them have impressed me. I spoke to an elderly man in the one at Westlake and he grabbed my hand and with tears in his eyes told me, “I just love it here so much.” I get chills just thinking about it. Sold.
Aunt Flossie would probably have loved it here.
Sunrise is having their “Tour of Homes,” starting June 2 – 8, which means when you stop by one the residents open their doors so you can see how they live. Plus, you get a design guide by yours truly that will help you design with seniors in mind. There’s a lot to learn, but I did the research for you.