Cellars at Pearl, San Antonio, TX
Courtesy three Cellars at Pearl, San Antonio, TX

There’s a new formula out there for 55-plus residential living. Gone are the drab and dreary institutionalized apartment complexes. Cafeterias? Forget it. Today’s senior set is more apt to indulge in a tasting flight of Pinot Noir before sharing tapas and then unwinding in the hot tub, and are increasingly being drawn to communities designed not for aging, but for elevated, experiential lifestyles geared toward preserving and even recapturing youthfulness.

Architects and designers are following suit, creating properties that key and cue on specific patterns and colors that can actually aid in memory retention, wayfinding, comfort, and a sense of place. With a light measure of nostalgia (and that means the ’80s, not the ’50s) along with visuals to connect with the metro they’re living in, seniors can show marked improvement in cognitive stability and the interest and ability in making new neighbors and friends, leaving community developers to pose the question: Can our properties help us stay younger, longer?

“Oh, absolutely,” says Wendi Stallings, founder and principal of Private Label International, an interior design studio that develops hospitality and lifestyle brand experiences for clients including Aimco, Alliance Residential, Crescent Communities, Forest City, Greystar, Hilton, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. “Think of just the last couple of years, where we’ve moved across all asset classes to embrace more outdoor living, more plants, and more biophilic design. It’s because it engages us, it invigorates us, it makes us feel more alive.”

Stallings, whose firm has worked on award-winning senior properties and even portfolios designed for getting younger in place, says multifamily developers who are keen to hone in on older renters need to stop thinking about aging in place and start embracing reinvention and uplifted moods to capture more of what can be a lucrative market. “It’s not about an age, it’s about a mindset from your consumer attitudes. 55-plus doesn’t want to be told they are 55-plus and treated a certain way,” she explains. “They’re ready to reinvent their life, embellish their hobbies, and enrich themselves in a celebration of lifelong learning and growth.”

The result has been a turn toward what Stallings calls layered luxuries: communities that not only look and feel vibrant and young by design, but are offering a resident experience made nearly effortless by the thoughtful incorporation of low-touch, high-function technologies, services, and amenities.

Launched in 2016, Fetch is a multifamily package management service finding success as just that type of value-added prop tech. With dedicated distribution centers in each of the markets they serve, Fetch manages the last mile of delivery, warehousing items as small as an envelope or as big as a sofa until a resident specifies a delivery window, when a Fetch rep then brings the package right to their door. The company is serving more than 200,000 units in 17 different metros.

Courtesy Fetch

“Our 55-plus residents behave just like our 30-year-old and 40-year-old residents, which is to say they order a lot of packages,” says Fetch founder and CEO Michael Patton, who adds that the pandemic has increased package delivery volume overall by 30% to 50%, and has boosted the share of oversized packaging from 2% to 3% to 5% to 7% as renters sheltering in place purchased furniture and housewares from places like Wayfair and IKEA.

“Seen through the lens of the 55-plus renter, Fetch brings that furniture right to the apartment door, so they don’t have to figure out how to get it up from the leasing office,” says Patton. “But we also don’t have storage fees, so we can hold packages for our renters indefinitely without them having to worry that it will be returned to sender if they happen to be out of town visiting family or on a vacation. Typically we have the same drivers delivering to specific properties, and those delivery people tend to become a friendly face and a part of the community, especially at properties geared toward senior living.”

Property managers do need to be sensitive to overloading 55-plus renters with too much technology all at once. The key to a layered luxury resident experience when it comes to programs and apps is to boost lifestyle options and flexibility without demanding additional screen time.

Rocky Berg is a principal architect at Dallas- based three, where he leads the senior living business development unit. With a portfolio roughly split between for-profit and nonprofit clients, the firm has more than $600 million worth of active construction in collaboration with major senior living developers like Greystone and Greenbrier.

“We only expect the senior living business to grow, and, across our markets, it’s all about the experience,” Berg says. “Many senior residential communities benefit from having a variety of on-site venues intended to encourage intergenerational interaction. Likewise, indoor lounges, bars, cafes, and wellness amenities all add experiential value, as do outdoor spaces with fire pits, grills, decks, event lawns, and water features.”

Indeed, today’s senior living communities are replete with full-service spas and salons, wellness and fitness centers, game rooms, libraries, art studios, pools, and outdoor living spaces. The goal of each amenity is to foster community and social activity in a safe and comfortable atmosphere to encourage life-long learning and growth. And the design has to be fresh, youthful, and alive.

“Like any dynamic place that consumers are drawn to, it has to be both,” says Stallings of activating well-designed amenities for a richer resident experience. “55-plus renters are entering a new, exciting chapter of life, and are gravitating to places they want to be seen in, want to feel good in, and are expecting to have fun in. Property management, ownership, and design need to be in concert to succeed for them in that way.”