As a child, Jan Garde did not enjoy visiting his grandfather’s retirement home.
“I thought it was the worst place on Earth,” he told Senior Housing News.
Now in his 30s, Garde is working to bring an alternative type of senior housing to market with his startup, The Embassies of Good Living.
“Think of the SoHo House concept — we’re the more mature version of that,” he said.
The first SoHo House opened in London’s SoHo neighborhood in 1995, and now there are 27 locations of the upscale hotel/club around the world. Members have access to a range of amenities and programs; for example, SoHo House New York includes a spa, cinema, pool, hotel rooms, workspaces and restaurants.
A similar approach is being executed by NeueHouse. Garde cites these as touchstones that he looked to, as he strove to envision a way to bring intergenerational senior living to cities across the globe.
Currently based in Zurich, Switzerland, Garde built a successful career in brands and marketing for large companies. In 2014, he became head of design network for Deutsche Telekom, the largest telecommunications company in Europe by revenue.
But even as he built up an impressive resume, he had “a spark in his brain” related to senior living. As his friends and family began to enter that age group in larger numbers, he began to research the sector.
He visited more than 100 homes of various stripes, including high-end residences, state-run facilities and church institutions. Often, he was the only visitor besides residents’ family, he noticed. Ultimately, he came away with two main observations: The residents did not like only being around other people in their age group, and they feared being lonely and losing control of their lives.
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Convinced that a better alternative could be created, Garde began gathering a team in 2016. The Embassies of Good Living officially launched one year ago, in Dec. 2018.
“We really believe quality of life is ageless,” Garde said, of the philosophy that has driven The Embassies as the company has developed its model for future senior living.
That model is focused on urban markets that boast high quality of life scores, such as Zurich, Vienna, Munich, London, Stockholm and Hamburg in Europe; New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston in the United States; and, further down the road, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo and cities in Australia.
In these cities, The Embassies is scouting buildings located in city centers, in close proximity to retail, cultural activities, parks, and other attractions and amenities that are appealing and accessible to people of all ages.
The goal is to transform these buildings into mixed-use environments with potential offerings such as restaurants and bars, yoga studios, lounges, sports facilities, co-working spaces and art installations. Some of these spaces would be open to the general public, while access to others would be reserved for Embassies members.
Each building would also include about 50 living units reserved for older adults. About 80% of these would be permanent living spaces and roughly 20% would be for short-stay guests. The idea is that membership in The Embassies would be a gateway to becoming a resident, or “Ambassador,” and Ambassadors can take advantage of the short-stay rooms to support a globe-trotting lifestyle.
“If you’re an ambassador who lives in London and you’ve always done the trip to New York City during Christmas, we make sure that [as] you’re getting older, you can still go and stay for a period of time,” Garde said.
He and his team believe that through careful site selection and creating the right mix of amenities and offerings, The Embassies can become hotspots where people of all ages mix. To this end, Garde is aiming to have “very democratically priced” memberships.
“You don’t have to be a millionaire to have lunch with us,” he said.
Living at The Embassies would come at a high-end rental rate, which would help subsidize the lower costs for memberships. However, Garde does not want to limit residents only to ultra-high net worth individuals, and he believes that the monthly payment is a good value given that it also provides access to the “substantial service offering” of The Embassies.
“It’s comparable to living in a hotel,” he said. “You need assistance with shopping or mobility or with care, all these services are on-demand bookable services that you book as you go. You don’t move into a retirement home mentally, but into a beautifully designed space which is multi-generational and you can discreetly set up everything you might need.”
The Embassies intends to create partnerships with trusted organizations that can provide some assistance with daily living for residents who develop these needs. However, it is meant to be a residential and not a health care environment, so people who require more substantial needs would reach a point where moving out would make sense. This is no different than living in a single-family home, Garde emphasized.
“We don’t benchmark against senior care homes, we benchmark against home,” he said. “So, you can stay with us as long as you could stay in your own home and we’ll extend that time through our partnerships.”
In addition, The Embassies will “curate” its initial group of residents so that they are a mix of ages, to keep an intergenerational vibe even among the older adult resident mix.
Pace of growth
The Embassies has been bootstrapping, with Garde investing his life savings in the venture, he said. But the startup is now in the process of closing a seed financing and anticipates raising another round in about a year.
The plan is to run The Embassies on an OpCo/PropCo model, and potential landlords so far have been receptive to the pitch.
“Most of the landlords we run into, once they understand what we’re trying to do, mostly they’re rather positive about our offering because they themselves are our perfect customer,” Garde said.
Three potential landlords have already said they would want dibs on an apartment, he added.
So, Garde is confident in The Embassies’ ability to secure properties even in the highly competitive markets it is targeting. The capital needed to lease the buildings isn’t “crazy,” he said, and he estimated about $50 million to $100 million would be needed per location for the acquisition of the property, to start up operations and conduct needed refurbishments.
The company is evaluating sites in 10 cities across Europe and has a goal of 14 locations by 2028. About eight of these would be in Europe, with four in North America and two in Asia.
Although it is too early to disclose potential partners, Garde noted that The Embassies has been working with London-based creative agency Winkreative on brand strategy, with graphic design and illustrations by German companies LAMOTO and Gizem Winter, respectively.
While the overall look and feel of the brand must appeal to an intergenerational consumer base, The Embassies will favor high quality service over “hipness and coolness,” Garde said.
“We want people to look forward to tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t want to have a glossy image of an old person sitting next to his wife, but want to bring people together.”