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Sunrise Senior living Suite makeover

Many of you might remember the makeover for Sunrise Senior Living I did last year where the lovely Fran won a suite redesign by us.  It was one of my favorite projects ever. It was just so rewarding because I truly think it made her life happier and thats all you can really want/expect out of your job, right?

At Sunrise Senior Living they invite anyone who lives there to turn their space into their home by really doing anything to it (yes, including wallpaper!). You can paint, bring in your own furniture (even pianos and pets) and really make it yours. If they insisted on generic design I wouldn’t have partnered with them, but they wanted to highlight the fact that you can make your room or suite totally you by doing whatever you want to it. In fact a couple of words about Sunrise in general: they are a nationwide community for seniors that is dedicated to providing personal care for each senior, while maintaining dignity and independence. Also they have a lot of happy hours, movies, even a beauty salon where they can get pampered. In fact if you wanted to you could pack your day full of activities that they provide – to help them stay and feel young. I’ve now been to five Sunrise locations and have been impressed with all of them. The one in LA that I visited felt like SUCH a party – everyone knew each other really well, and was having so much fun together.

OK, back to the makeover:

There is kinda nothing more satisfying than someone winning a free makeover they are just so grateful and happy which makes our job so much more satisfying – it’s a win/win for everyone involved.

So I’d like to introduce you to Dominic and Helen; two incredibly sweet and deserving seniors.

Their son nominated them to win the makeover (there were over a hundred entries) and they were chosen. Dominic was a POW in WWII for 19 months and he is one of the happiest, most jovial people i’ve ever met. Nineteen months, folks. That is a lot of time – he deserves 25 makeovers.

They call him ‘The Mayor ‘at Sunrise because he’s just so social and funny – not to mention a massive flirt. He’s a ladies man, but man, he loves Helen soooooo much. They’ve been together for 67 years and are clearly still in love. So sweet. Again, I will say (and I said it last year) that the Sunrise communities are awesome – its like fun college dorms for seniors – but with way more amenities. There are so many happy hours, activities, field trips to bars/museums, musical events, dances, etc … plus a lot of really personal care (everyone has their own care giver that knows them VERY WELL) and physical/medical help when they need. Oh and the food is strangely good and super healthy. Every time I’m in one I just think: I’ve got to start saving or getting insurance for this, because its such a lovely place to live.

Anyway, their suite, however, was lacking. Their lovely son purchased all the furniture the week before they moved in and he’s not exactly a decorator (which is why he entered them into the contest). It was functional but just not very pretty or personal. Here’s the before:

Bedroom Makeover

Fairly generic and just not a place you are PSYCHED to hang out. Luckily none of these pieces were sentimental to them so they said we could replace all of them …. EXCEPT the recliners. They said that if we found recliners that were as comfortable (and within our small budget) that they would be open to it, but ultimately comfort for them was more important than style and while obviously that is a design challenge, I totally agreed. I wasn’t going to be that jerk that was like ‘here are your new minimalist club chairs’ that were hard and uncomfy. Its like giving a family with three little kids a white silk rug. These guys were indeed the most comfortable chairs in the world so I couldn’t really compete with that.

Bedroom makeover

The headboard/side tables/lamps were all just fine but stylistically not really saying anything about who they are. Plus, frankly, they were kinda bumming me out.

Bedroom makeover

Before I got started on this redesign I came up with a bunch of tips  and product pics for designing for seniors. They have different needs and as they age we want to make sure that their physical weaknesses are addressed first and foremost so that they can live their life as comfortably as possible with as few frustrations as possible. So below is the general moodboard/design tips I came up for designing for any seniors (It’s not Helen and Dominic’s design plan – stay tuned for that).


1. Ivory sconce | 2. Side table | 3. Upholstered headboard | 4. Tufted ottoman | 5. Blue/green | 6. Bronzed beige | 7. Tufted sofa | 8. Drop leaf dining table | 9. Desk | 10. Table Lamp | 11. White sconce | 12. Storage boxes | 13. Ferns | 14. Floating wall shelf | 15. Quilt set | 16. Rounded nightstand | 17. Tufted ottoman

1. Ivory sconce A retractable sconce like this by your nightstand frees up surface area and the position of it is flexible so you can move it around to make sure that your reading needs are met. I love this one for reading, but if its the only lighting that you have near the bed then make sure you get a fabric shade as metal shades have only directional light – great for reading but not for ambience.

2. Side table.  This side table is both a stool for extra seating and a surface for setting drinks – we love how multifunctional pieces like this can be. Plus, its round so it doesn’t have any sharp corner so hips and shins are most likely free from harm.

3. Upholstered headboard.  I love how warm and simple a headboard like this is. Its much more inviting to get into and more comfortable for reading in bed.

4. Tufted ottoman  Comfortable, inviting, traditional and yet updated. And I love how this one again, has extra storage.

5. This soft blue/green provides a calming energy.

6. This bronzed beige color brings warmth into the space without being too muted.

7. Tufted sofaA small-scale sofa like this is perfect for a cozy home and it’s big back offers a lot of comfort and support.

8. Drop leaf dining table A drop leaf table can be against the wall like a console or buffet when guests aren’t over and then when you are ready to entertain you simply pull it out and viola – room for 4!

9. Desk This desk is small-scale and could act like a buffet, sofa table or desk – yet is so simple that it can work with many styles.

10. Touch Table Lamp A touch table lamp is so extremely convenient so there is no middle of the night searching for switches or fumbling around. You just reach out and its on.

11. White sconce The sconce is chic and modern and has an easy switch that can be reached while laying down.

12. Storage boxes hides all the unsightly items and is a good way to store photos and cards.  These are good because they have a handle on the front for easy access.

13. Ferns are an easy plant to maintain and provides a sculptural but soft energy to the room.

14. Floating wall shelf A shelf like this (especially in the longer 45 – 60” lengths) is great to place art or family photos on. Instead of hanging and rehanging them on the wall you just hang the shelf once and rotate pictures, add to them and create a collection of family memories so easily.

15. Quilt set Go for a pretty texture for your bedding. This can be mixed with a pattern or another solid and the texture provides warmth and easy differentiation between the bedding layers.

16. Rounded nightstand I love the warmth of the nightstand and of course how it provides storage that can be hidden away. Its traditional without feeling too rickety and antique.

17. Tufted ottoman Any time you can combine storage into a piece of furniture do it! This ottoman is great to keep blankets or magazines close and within reach.

So using those tips and ideas I came up with their mood board:



Lets talk about their particular needs and wants:

1. Dominic wanted a mini-bar – somewhere he could entertain his friends in his room because he’s such a social dude.

2 They wanted something fun to play music off of (that music box does records, cd’s as well as ipod or iphone). They both LOVE to dance which you’ll see down there later.

3. They wanted to keep their recliners as they are super comfortable and easy to get in and out of. A design challenge for sure, but I was up for it.

4. He loves to garden so we needed to bring that in somehow.

5. Helen wanted light blue/green as the dominant color.

6. They didn’t have any personal items – so we needed to bring in some family photos to help it feel more personal.

The above mood board was our first one, with teal/aqua being the dominant color, gray to ground it and help it feel more masculine, woods to warm it up and ochre/mustard as its accent color. I liked it but it wasn’t feeling very fresh.


This one I liked more, (we switched out ochre for coral) but it looked WAY too much like the color palette from last year, so we needed to mix it up a bit.

Instead of the coral we brought in some navy and it started feeling much better.

Moodboard 05 700

We had about two weeks to prep which sounds like a lot but when you are installing in Ohio and shopping online for furniture it becomes hard to find pieces that are available (to ship and be delivered in time), what you need and what you want. So it was a mad rush to get everything either made or ordered and shipped out in time. Ginny and Brady headed out there two days early to do a lot of the accessory shopping and project manage the wallpaper/paint situation, and I came out the day before to style it all up. I wasn’t able to meet Helen and Dominic in person before so it was so fun to be able to chat with them because they were just so grateful and excited.


We gave them sneak peeks here and there and they had approval over the wallpaper and the color palette, but otherwise it was all a surprise which makes the reveal that much more fun:

Bedroom Makeover

They LOVED IT. Gosh, I love a good reveal. They were so surprised, totally speechless and just full of joy. That’s not the best pic of Dominic right there, he looks terrified, but trust me that he reacted (which is why I’m laughing so hard). To see the whole thing in action (and hear more about them and their story) check out this video of the project.

Bedroom Design

Such a happier space, indeed. We chose this floral wallpaper because we wanted to speak to their love of gardening – plus it’s just so happy and traditional, but in an updated way. It was tricky finding the mix of what feels/looks fresh and fun, and what is their style – which  is more traditional and safe. This wallpaper felt like a good compromise – I loved how simple it was (with just two colors  and birds/flowers) but it still felt approachable to them.

Bird Wallpaper

I wanted to wallpaper the entire room but Dominic said that he thought that would be confusing and maybe he was right. So we decided to match the color of the wallpaper to get the right paint color for the other three walls.

Bedroom Makeover

We switched out the dresser with this vintage one that we found in Columbus that had way more character and worked with the tones of the nightstands. We added some photos of their family, a plant for life (the caretakers will take care of the plants) and a simple curvy lamp to balance out all the squares.

Products: WallpaperHeadboard | Sconces | Shams | Sweater blanket | Pillows | White bedding

Bedroom Design

That mini-bar was perfect for them because it had rounded edges (again, good for not bumping hips/shins) and then yeah, it was filled with scotch, gin, tequila and margarita mix (Helen loves margaritas). We added the two knobs to make it easier to open up (and did it in a contrast color to make it easy to see).

Products: Side tableEtched bowl (used as plant pot) | Lamp + Lamp shade | Striped jewellery box | Bar | Knobs | blue pot | White pot | Record/CD player | Mugs


The plug-in lights were great for freeing up surface space plus you don’t need to have junction boxes installed. We used a simple white conduit cover to cover the chord (super cheap, from any hardware store) and is a great solution for a rental or a space that might be more temporary.

We made three terrariums, filled with plants, because Dominic loves gardening so we wanted to bring in some miniature gardens.  He was so excited to take care of the terrariums himself and I assured him that they are probably going to need some help as I had no idea what I was doing when I planted them together.

Products: Blue frame | Blue vase | Lantern (used as terrarium)

Bedroom Makeover

Cute nightstand

The nightstands were from Crate and Barrel and  i liked them because the wood warmed up the space, they provided storage and they were approachably modern.

Products: Wood nightstand | Sheet set

Bedroom makeover

Products: Cream lamp + Drum lamp shade | Blue dot frame | Wood photo frame | Gold pot | Brass frame mirror | Books | Dresser- vintage


Products: Geo lantern (used as terrarium) | Marble box | Striped jewellery box | Plug-in light dimmer 

Bedroom Design

The plug-in dimmer thing is one of my favorite inventions. You plug your lamp (or sconce) into the end of it and then plug it into the wall and you can control your lamp/sconce from that – dim it down, turn off/on, etc. It seems like not that much further to reach, but if you have physical weaknesses it can be a stretch (literally) to reach up there, and just not necessary when an option like this exists. They are super cheap and so helpful.


Those recliners had to stay and I actually don’t totally mind them for Dominic and Helen. I searched and searched and searched to find some recliners that could replace them and every time I thought I nailed it, I asked myself ‘Are these going to be as comfortable for Dominic and Helen as what they already have’ and the answer was, ‘no way’. Sure, I found some that were $1500 each and they looked slightly better, but that was almost the entire budget so obviously that wouldn’t make sense, plus they weren’t that much better. So we happily left those bad boys in there.

Products: Trunk  1. Ivory sconce | 2. Side table | 3. Upholstered headboard | 4. Tufted ottoman | 5. Blue/green | 6. Bronzed beige | 7. Tufted sofa | 8. Drop leaf dining table | 9. Desk | 10. Table Lamp | 11. White sconce | 12. Storage boxes | 13. Ferns | 14. Floating wall shelf | 15. Quilt set | 16. Rounded nightstand | 17. Tufted ottoman

Meanwhile after the reveal we turned on Frank Sinatra and had a dance party, naturally.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema

He insisted on swinging me around white intensely and kept telling me that my hips were too stiff and that I needed to loosen up a bit, so he ditched me for Helen pretty quick.

good b-roll.Still005

I get pretty sentimental about this job because I think that the elderly are dismissed a lot in our society – way more here than in so many other countries. Ironically I never really knew my grandparents very well, (my  mom side had passed before I was born and my dad’s parents weren’t totally involved because he suffered from pretty severe PTSD from WWII his entire life) but to me, and especially now that I’m a mom, they deserve soooo much more respect than they are given. I just keep thinking that is going to be me one day, if I’m lucky, and needless to say, I hope that my life is as full of love and life as it is now, so any way that we can help make seniors lives a little more fun is a very good thing.

I now insist that you go and hug a senior.

Sunrise is having their “Tour of Homes, ” starting June 1 – 7, which means when you stop by you can take a tour of the community and check out actual resident suites so you can see how they live and what they do with their space. 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.

*This post and project is in partnership with Sunrise Senior Living – a nationwide community dedicated to championing the quality of life for all seniors. 

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