The words “senior housing” can conjure up some vivid imagery—of linoleum floors, fluorescent lighting, tired upholstered armchairs, and dusty faux plants. That’s because for decades, the customer experience at these facilities (not to mention good design) has taken a backseat to durability and regulatory compliance. But we need look no further than a handful of modern Front Range retirement communities to see that change is afoot.
“Senior housing as we know it has become a new real-estate endeavor over the past 25 years,” says Susan Juroe, cofounder of Balfour Senior Living. The collection of nine luxury retirement communities (with eight in Colorado and one under construction in Ann Arbor, Michigan) offer a continuum of care, from independent and assisted living to skilled nursing and memory care—plus super-stylish decor. “At Balfour, we have always believed health, safety, and good design can co-exist. You just have to care enough to create solutions to make a community feel residential rather than institutional.”
One of Balfour’s newest locations, Balfour at Littleton, which opened in November 2018, has interiors so colorful and fashion-forward, we just had to know more about this Louisville, Colorado-born company. Here, Juroe, who develops the design concepts for all Balfour properties, fills us in.
Why is good design so important for your properties?
Data shows that people who live and work in beautiful, colorful, and positive surroundings with natural light and access to nature are happier, healthier, and live longer.
Does each Balfour property have a unique concept?
We let each location inform our design direction, and we start imagining and planning the concept for each property well in advance so that we have time to commission custom art, furniture, and accessories that are unique and interesting. We are constantly scouring the country for new companies and artists that share our design goals.
For example, in Louisville, we designed a ski-lodge-themed property—complete with antler furniture and lighting fixtures—since there is a fabulous view of the Flatirons and Longs Peak. At Balfour at Riverfront Park, Robert A.M. Stern architects helped us imagine a sophisticated, urban doorman-style building with a European courtyard. And Balfour at Lavender Farms—an assisted-living property in Louisville on the original Balfour campus—is organized around a formal garden with a custom fountain and plantings that evoke the French countryside.
Is there an aesthetic you—or your residents—gravitate toward?
The aesthetic varies with each new building theme but generally combines an equal mix of contemporary and traditional design elements. The unifying premise is that our decor must be comfortable, unpretentious, and sophisticated—and of-the-moment. The Balfour resident is educated, accomplished, well-traveled, curious, and fun-loving. They want their new home to feel like the one they had, and like the one they just saw in Architectural Digest. Who doesn’t like a bit of cashmere, beautiful florals, and a collection of Cecil Beatons while curled up with red wine on a real leather sofa?
How does functionality influence your design selections?
[Informed by] 20 years of feedback from our residents, we are particular about the weight, dimensions, and functionality of Balfour’s furniture. If something is trending in design, we have it custom made to meet our standards. We have also given a lot of thought to the fact that we accommodate adult children, grandchildren, and caregivers, so we want certain pieces to work for guests.
As for longevity, we want fabrics to be cleanable, but lasting forever is not the overarching reason to make a design selection. Balfour’s capital-expenditure program has us constantly evaluating vendors and products and replacing and updating our decor.
The color palettes you’ve chosen are surprisingly (and wonderfully!) bold.
Balfour has always focused on the customer experience, and color is a big part of that. Bold colors generally elevate people’s moods, and you can feel the excitement and energy in the air when you walk into a Balfour community. I have found that combining two or more unexpected colors in a room—and layering a bold color with complementary colors, textures, and patterns—is where the magic happens. There are, however, risks when using bold colors, many of them costly. I have learned from some spectacular failures when I’ve tried to push the envelope. I can always count on immediate and passionate feedback from residents.
Share three of your favorite design details at Balfour at Littleton.
Collecting objects for Balfour at Littleton involved visiting museums, tack shops, and antiques stores, as well as engaging friends and family to help assemble an interesting collection of equestrian art, found objects, books, and tack. Some of my favorites include:
A walking stick collection: I enlisted my father to stop at antiques stores in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana to find interesting walking sticks. I also found a retired veteran who took up carving while he worked as a prison guard in the military; I visited him in my hometown of Hillsdale, Michigan, and came away with some very intricately carved pieces.
Ribbons and bits: I donated ribbons won from my days performing at horse shows to create around 80 framed displays. We also received a donation of 30 bits from a horse trainer’s personal collection, which were arranged in resin and now hang behind the concierge desk.
Saddles and hunt caps: We collected scores of English saddles and velvet hunt caps from various sources including Hearts and Horses, a therapeutic riding center in Loveland, Colorado, and the Middleburg Humane Society in Middleburg, Virginia. Local artists hand-forged an iron bust that serves as the base for 80 hunt caps that are displayed in the barn rafters in the memory-care area.
Does Balfour’s elevated design carry over into residents’ private rooms?
Yes, the trim is the same in the living units. Balfour always selects fixed finishes based on what is popular in high-end residential homes.
What do residents tell you about how these spaces make them feel?
We had a welcome party for our first [Balfour at Littleton] residents and I was moved by the sincerity, thankfulness, and appreciation the families shared with me. I think our residents and their families know this is a crusade for us; that we are deeply passionate about great design and seeing our residents happy.