James Mullen wants to preserve the beauty of the historical mansion he purchased more than 25 years ago.

The mansion, which was once used as a summer house in the 1930s, is in need of a new life after the bustling advertising firm it once housed moved to Boston.

Mullen’s vision is to turn the 50-acre property in Wenham, Mass. into an independent living oasis for senior citizens while taking extra care to keep the essence of the mansion intact. 

“I’d like to leave the building in a distinguished way,” Mullen said. “I want to preserve the manor house and allow us to build beautiful housing around it.”

Penguin Hall will become the foundation of a new community which will feature five other buildings, all connected to the original mansion. The community will also feature an around-the-clock concierge for residents and help with setting up in-home healthcare services.

Mullen teamed up with Chris Wise, a developer who builds age-in-place senior communities, where seniors can stay in their homes as long as possible. Communities developed by Wise offer an alternative for seniors who don’t want to move into an assisted living facility.

“There aren’t hallways that are buffed and waxed with a nurse running up and down them,” he said. “It’s a home.”

Choice and Control

Wise developed the concept when his grandmother began aging. The first apartment building he developed was a 10-unit-building in Chatham, Mass.

In fact, his grandmother was the second resident of that building, and stayed for seven years.

“After six months, she said she had wished she had done it 10 years earlier,” Wise said.

The properties developed by Wise function like a hotel when it comes to care services, he said. But the thing his grandmother liked most was being able to share evening meals with other people in the community if she chose to do so.

“Everything is about choice and control,” he said. “You have a 24-hour staff and you have optional food services. You just pay for the meal or you have a full blown apartment too if you want to prepare your own.”

The model proposes a creative solution to help deal with the pressure seniors will put on the housing market in the coming years. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates the population of Americans age 65 and older will grow from 35 million in 2000 to about 73 million in 2030.

A La Carte

Mel Gamzon, president of Senior Housing Investment Advisors, applauded the idea of blending in-home care with homeownership and the feel of a community.

Gamzon’s Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company serves as a real estate consulting firm specializing in senior affairs.

“This proposed project is indicative of innovations that thoughtful developers are currently considering,” he said. 

Gamzon noted much of the appeal of the proposed development is that services are will be “offered on an a-la-carte basis”, leaving the residents the freedom to choose what they need and who they should get it from.

Wise said by outsourcing hospice, healthcare and visiting nurses, residents will be able to use whomever their individual doctor suggests.

“In most retirement communities, you don’t have a choice,” he said. “You work with the home healthcare agents that the building hires. But when you’re in your own home, like at Penguin Hall, you could have your neighbor do your eye drops and you can have your same house cleaner that you’ve had for 20 years come by.”

In addition to medical needs, the community will also host social gatherings and provide fitness options, such as a gym and a putting green, for residents to stay active.

But the gardens are Mullen’s favorite part of the property by far.

 “This was a summer house,” he said. “So they always made the rear of the mansion more beautiful so the family could go enjoy that area. The formal gardens in the back are really, quite lovely.”