Apple Pancakes. Not for Breakfast. For Inspiration.

February 27, 2019

A nine-year-old boy with autism and a head chef at Disney World inspired a food revolution that changed the special needs menus of American restaurants. Kevin Brown, father and keynote speaker, shared this story to kick-off the 34th annual SFCS By Design conference held February 19 -21 in Roanoke, Virginia.  It was his autistic son who ordered apple pancakes for breakfast and a Disney chef who recognized a special opportunity. That moment that launched a lifelong friendship and changed the way restaurants at Disney accommodated their customers with special needs.

Brown set the tone to kick off By Design and the 2019 conference themed, “Inspire the Future.”

His keynote sought to inspire conference attendees to reach beyond what is required to achieve the remarkable.

“True success and fulfillment,” he said, “comes only when you are willing to serve others...with no strings attached. That’s what it means to be a hero.”  

Senior Living Focused

The Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center and the Taubman Museum of Art were once again the perfect setting for the 2019 event with several hundred of the nation’s leading professionals and faculty in the field of senior living in attendance.  

The conference delved into current trends and new directions for the senior living industry and explored how Life Plan communities offer opportunities and unique solutions for this complex market segment.

Speakers covered a wide range of topics, from overcoming staffing challenges to rethinking dining menus to repositioning communities to meet the changing needs of residents. The concept of senior living has come to be viewed in a much more contemporary way – it’s not “a home” but their home for the next stage of their lives.  It’s a part of the evolution many properties are incorporating into their decisions and design.


The Rising Demand for Middle Income Senior Housing

Middle market housing for seniors is among the biggest challenges facing the country today. Over the next 20 years, seniors in the 65+ group will almost double and the 80+ age groups will more than double.  The same trend applies to households 65+ and 80+. According toLifeSpire of Virginia’s president and CEO, Jonathan Cook, that growth will create a myriad of challenges for middle income Americans as they age. “Not only does it create a housing crisis for our older citizens,” Cook said, “but the labor force will simply not be able to keep up.”

These challenges were addressed by a variety of the speakers at the SFCS By Design Conference and many creative solutions for middle market residents were discussed. The challenges this upcoming population shift will bring don’t just impact upper- and middle-class families. These are issues which are drawing increased attention in a wide range of ways.

The number of low-income adults is also set to grow due to the sheer growth in the older population, but also because of a decline in retirement plans and the larger proportion of adults carrying mortgages into retirement. The result is an increasingly high demand for affordable senior housing and an extremely low supply.

Purposeful Solutions

The industry is experimenting with different formulas to try to meet the demand. For example, facilities with fewer customizable options, à la carte services, no or low food plans, simple layouts and efficient use of space are common solutions. Many are available as rental units in order to avoid the high entrance fees that accompany many formulas.

Innovative construction techniques, like pre-fab units, give developers the means to create more units in a given footprint yet keep some of the more popular community features, or at least make them accessible, through partnerships and associations with marketplace providers.

For those who like resort life, the conference also showcased a new style of senior living - especially if residents are interested in independent living combined with community and camaraderie.  The renovation of the John Knox Village in Lee Summit, MO, is a prime example of the growing trend in market rate communities with an emphasis on enriching the lives of older adults through community living.  John Knox offers amenities like large apartments with high ceilings and lots of natural light, multiple dining venues.  The Village features outdoor dining, a cultural center, elevated wellness, theatres, lounges, aquatics, and even pocket neighborhoods.  The lifestyle is so appealing that many pre-retirement individuals and couples are moving in.

Food and Dining Drive Facility Appeal

Food and dining are integral to socialization. Developers now design communities with three or more dining venues, with diverse settings, to serve all generation groups, from the greatest generation, boomers and gen X to millennials and gen Y in sight. Some communities even vie for 5-star hotel chefs.  Food plans include casual and full-service formats, variable menus, seating options, visual themes and features as well as technologies like Wi-Fi and resident portals with nutrition information.

Many dining strategies include popular features like wood-fired pizza ovens, visible rotisseries, private dining rooms, special dining locations such as a wine cellar or chef’s tables, water features, fireplaces, tableside dining, and teaching kitchens.  It is intentionally like resort living.  The competition for residents is driving architecture, environments, features and amenities ever higher.

The Future of Senior Living

Senior living, it seems, is coming of age. The trend is towards de-institutionalization and ever more livable, enjoyable communities with modern amenities. The nursing home model is fading out of existence as new technologies and techniques make even assisted living, memory care, and continuum care communities vibrant for all of their residents. SFCS Architects is among the leading design firms creating exciting new solutions for senior living in all market segments.

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