On My Mind: Q&A With Adrienne Faulkner of Faulkner Design Group

Adrienne Faulkner, president and CEO of Dallas, Texas based Faulkner Design Group, recently shared some of her thoughts on senior living design and senior housing with Senior Housing News (SHN).  Faulkner Design Group, which has been in business for 20 years and working with senior living for the past 10 years, has recently completed senior living work in the Dallas Metroplex as well as projects in California, New York and South Carolina.

SHN:  What are some of the design trends you see in senior housing in 2010?

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GPB_1237 Adrienne Faulkner 5x7AF:  One of the things that we are seeing is that there is a strong focus being placed on senior fitness rather than senior health. Care providers are focusing more on mind, body and spirit along with more preventative care programs.  In the skilled care area, we are seeing more design trends that are on a smaller scale and look to embody a neighborhood feel among the residential unit layouts.  The most important area is that maintaining flexibility in design to allow changes for the future as needs change through the use of universal design concepts that apply to society as a whole and not just one age group.

SHN:  What kinds of challenges/opportunities are you seeing on new projects due to the economic downturn?

AF:  The challenges of declining home values and the challenges surrounding construction financing has certainly been a cause for concern.  Even as budgets tighten for new projects, the needs and desires of developers, operators and residents continue to grow along with higher expectations.  More people are aware of their options, as technology and information are more accessible and provide an opportunity showcase what can be done.

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One of the positives of the downturn has been that the cost of construction has decreased as many contractors and trade workers are doing work at lower rates.  This allows us to get a higher quality work product at a lower price than we could 3-4 years ago.

SHN:  What kinds of amenities are currently “unique” today might become commoditized in a few years?

AF:  There are two things that come to mind.  One is the concept of a “mutli-generational” space, meaning having spaces that accommodate activities for grandchildren and family connections.  The other concept continues to be the use of mixed use living spaces that combine residential senior living, retail access, healthcare and other entertainment and educational options that are within walking distance or a short drive from the living center.

SHN:  Talk to us about the concept of senior living that has a hotel/resort-like luxury feel?  Do you feel there is any push back from the market right now on “luxury” senior living versus “value”?

AF:  One of the key concepts in our design firm is working with the entire team on the total customer experience which involves keeping the storyline from the time we brainstorm through execution.  The concept of branding and story-line should follow the feel of the project, where an incredible space is truly linked to an incredible experience.  Luxury does not need to be expensive, just creatively planned, designed and executed.  Everyone is working on tighter budgets but that challenges architects and designers to focus on the details to build it right and tight, meaning cost effectively in a design and operational sense with both short term and tong term costs to the owner in mind. 

Photo Courtesy of Steve Hinds Photography

SHN:  Let’s discuss what being “green” means to you and your firm?

AF:  We take environmentally friendly design very seriously at our firm.  It’s one thing to say that you are “green” which is a subjective opinion, versus working with companies that certify that their own products are truly environmentally friendly. The best guidelines to use follow certain organizations such as the USGBC, that hold manufacturers and firms accountable to established industry standards. We try to take our projects to that next level but it’s not easy.  Today it is still challenging to convince developers and consumers that the premium placed on certified green products and services is worth the extra expense.  As the concept of “green” continues to evolve and the broader population becomes more educated on environmentally friendly products and their benefits, we may see builders, developers and most importantly the end user become more willing to accept a premium, albeit a small one.  A lot of being “green” revolves around common sense concepts like well sealed spaces, better HVAC systems and better windows, ventilation and control systems (water and lighting).

SHN:  How are you incorporating senior living technology into your design work and with your other partners in the design process?

AF:  We start discussions on monitoring and other technology systems earlier on in the process but find that the need to make final decisions on products and vendors comes closer to completion.  These products tend to be larger ticket items and with the rapid changes in software and hardware vendors, it needs to be addressed carefully which leads back to being flexible in the design of the space. As for architectural and interior design integration technology, we feel all owners and developers will eventually require all consultants on the team to use Revit, which is a fully integrated drawing software package that can catch discrepancies in drawings early on, before they cost three times in a change order during construction. This is where we see the most costs that can be avoided.

SHN:  Thanks Adrienne.

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