After years of working in the business of catering to the seniors housing market, Lori Alford and Tim Hekker started their own firm two years ago, Avanti Senior Living, based in The Woodlands, a Houston suburb. Named for the Italian word avanti, which means “to go forward,” the business focuses on a “forward-thinking” approach for those seeking independent, assisted, and memory-care housing.
“We wanted to make senior housing sexy by making the architecture more attractive, almost like a boutique hotel,” says Alford, the company’s COO.
Unlike many competitors’ developments, Avanti’s first prototype, Avanti Senior Living at Towne Lake in Houston, offers a more modern, light-filled, warmer look. Interior designer B. Dean Maddalena, AIA, founder of studioSIX5 in Austin, and designers Ben Howell and Tyler Washburn, with architecture firm PRDG in Dallas, achieved the effect with a mix of styles. The one-story, 75,000-square-foot structure has a limestone façade that’s an update on Texas Hill Country style. The interior, meanwhile, is more contemporary, with a mostly neutral palette and punches of color in the furnishings, accessories, and artist Juli Juneau’s commissioned blown-glass works.
“When we’ve talked with seniors, we’ve found they want something more current than typical jewel tones and traditional decor,” says Maddalena.
To meet ADA requirements, most of the flooring is carpet or vinyl plank; common areas are well lighted; and hallways are wide.
The team knew that the newest generation of seniors desires greater service and more resort-style amenities than prior generations did. So this project, scheduled to open in early August, features multiple courtyards, a library with computer station and fireplace, an art room, a lounge/wine bar, a spa and wellness center, and a choice of dining rooms with food prepared fresh rather than pre-made. The development even provides technology to assist caretakers in tracking resident health.
“We give them a cool bracelet with an alarm if they fall, a GPS equivalent to monitor steps, and a way to know how often they eat. Our goal is to be proactive rather than reactive,” Alford says.
There’s also a room for doctor visits.
Instead of looking for sites close to seniors’ existing homes, Alford and Hekker, Avanti’s CEO, look for neighborhoods where boomers live. “People bring their parents close to them rather than the reverse,” says Darrel Smith, president of Oakbrook Builders in Round Rock, Texas, near Austin, which also knows the senior market well. Avanti already has other sites in the works in Houston and Dallas and is planning more for Louisiana, Florida, and Arizona.
Family, too, as well as staff, is another reason for the project’s upbeat decor, since they spend so much time on the premises. The staff have their own spaces to unwind, as well, with ping-pong tables and beanbag chairs—key, since their jobs can be stressful.
To compete, Avanti decided not to be the most expensive in the market, but a rung or two below. At its first Woodlands site, that will mean a monthly lease of $3,900 for the majority of assisted-care rooms, $4,500 for slightly more upscale ones with nicer finishes and outdoor access, and $5,500 for memory-care units, housed in a different corridor.
The assisted-care rooms were also designed to be larger than those at most similar developments, with studios averaging 463 square feet, with the sleeping area set apart from the living area; 607-square-foot one-bedrooms; and 775-square-foot two-bedrooms. Memory-care studios average 350 square feet because, for safety reasons, they lack kitchens.