Best Assisted Living Design of 2020: A Seamless Blend With Pocket Park, Care Continuum

A new senior housing community in the metropolitan Atlanta market highlights a forward thinking approach to senior housing development and design, with inspiration drawn from the local area.

Village Park Milton, an $81 million community in Alpharetta, Georgia consists of 50 independent living units, 48 assisted living units, and a dedicated 20-unit memory care unit with a garden and private courtyard highlighted by a green wall.

This is the latest development from Galerie Living, an Atlanta-based integrated developer and operator specializing in luxury, private-pay senior housing in the market. Currently, Galerie Living manages three communities under the Village Park Senior Living brand, as well as a luxury community in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, under the Corso brand.

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The company drew inspiration for Village Park Milton from a surrounding equestrian park and a revitalized downtown core to create a facility that complements what came before it, and blends in seamlessly with the greater community.

It is the culmination of 25 years of concept, and Galerie Living’s ability to create a seamless integration of assisted living into the greater campus helped it win the 2020 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards’ “Best Assisted Living” category.

The concept

Galerie Living conceived Village Park Milton to expand its presence in the Alpharetta market, Galerie Living Founder and CEO Tim Gary told Senior Housing News.

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The firm found a seven-acre former farm site near Wills Equestrian Park, minutes from Alpharetta City Center – a mixed-use master development including apartments, retail, office space, restaurants and single family homes, which Gary believed would be well-suited to capitalize on demand for senior housing product.

The equestrian park immediately informed Village Park Milton’s design. The community’s entrance is accentuated with oak trees that were preserved during construction, leading to the main building, where residents and guests are greeted with a stone fireplace and bistro seating.

A design doesn’t just start with floor plans and unit mix.

Galerie Living Founder and CEO Tim Gary

Having common spaces front and center is a Galerie Living hallmark, dating back to Gary’s industry beginnings in the mid-1990s. A Georgia Tech graduate, he believes his construction background gives him a unique perspective to how senior housing should look and feel.

“Most of the product in that time frame was your typical, 60-bed senior housing community, and the common spaces weren’t necessarily out front and center,” he said.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Galerie Living began building bungalows and cottages in its communities and bringing the common spaces forward, integrating them in the heart of the buildings and organizing them in a way that created unique user experiences. The concept evolved over the years into Village Park Milton’s layout.

Adjacent to the main building are six single family cottages and seven single family bungalows, surrounding a private pocket park with wide walking paths that connect to the equestrian park and beyond. This pocket park serves as the front door for all single family home residents, but is also available for use by all of Village Park Milton’s residents, including assisted living. It is designed to encourage social interaction and provide positive health and wellness outcomes, and has become home to activities ranging from tai-chi and yoga to painting classes.

The campus draws inspiration from the farmhouse vernacular of the park, as well as the original farmhouse on the site. High ceilings inform the interior design of the main building’s common areas, custom millwork can be found throughout the welcome/reception area, bistro and marketplace, and dining room. A library features floor-to-ceiling bookcases, suspended wood acoustical ceilings, custom furniture and art and views overlooking the equestrian park.

The centerpiece of the common spaces is a pool and adjacent courtyard. The pool is heated and features bubble jets, and is designed in a grotto style to provide both wellness and privacy. The courtyard is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, with several living units rising above. It features a fire pit, plantings and spacious seating, and can accommodate year-round entertainment.

All of this harks back to Gary’s belief that residents crave experience. To achieve that, designers need to remind themselves of the old architectural adage: Form follows function.

“You have to think three-dimensional when you’re considering a space, and how would I feel when I’m sitting in that space.” he said. “Do I feel like I’m out on an island? Or do I feel like I’m in a nice, protected cove within that space, and I can now enjoy conversation with someone.” 

The construction

Village Park Milton’s final design is the result of a collaborative process between Galerie Living’s in-house design, marketing and operations teams and THW Design, the architect and design firm involved in the construction.

Gary believes that interaction between marketing, operations and design teams during the concept phase is lacking in senior living, and the final designs suffer as a result.

“That’s where you start developing the personality of the community, and what that community is all about,” he said. “A design doesn’t just start with floor plans and unit mix.”

Galerie Living’s design process begins at the corporate level with what he calls “mood boards,” which capture the team’s ideas related to customer expectations and how design can fulfill that. This also creates a narrative and an initial vision of concept to present to the architect.

The detailed level of interaction between Galerie Living and THW helped tweak the concept closer to the developer’s vision, THW Design Executive Vice President Eric Krull told SHN.

“Those are always helpful, because we wrap the design around the concept,” he said.

THW wanted to draw on some of the vibrancy of downtown Alpharetta in the design process, and connect Village Park Milton with the greater community. The equestrian park, in particular, is open to the public and features a public pool, a dog park, softball fields and a cultural center.

You have to think three-dimensional when you’re considering a space, and how would I feel when I’m sitting in that space.

Galerie Living Founder and CEO Tim Gary

“We were looking for an opportunity to tie this new development into the fabric of the existing community,” THW Design Project Landscape Architect Brian Deriso told SHN. “What Galerie was able to do was to find this site at the edge of the city limits, but is by no means divorced from what’s going on in the city as a whole.”

The pocket park is a linchpin in this philosophy. In addition to connecting with the outside community, it serves to make the equestrian park feel like it is in the backyards of the single family homeowners. The walkways at the pocket park’s center, meanwhile, are arranged to provide each bungalow and cottage with clearly defined private space, allowing the owners to form a closer-knit community within Village Park Milton’s greater census.

“This is a concept that we can build on and continue to use as appropriate in future projects,” Krull said.

Keeping with the “form follows function” rule, Village Park Milton’s interiors were strategically planned around the common amenities, THW Senior Interior Designer Tara Clemens said. Notably, the courtyard’s design was planned around the fire pit, striking a balance between wellness and privacy.

The farmhouse vernacular of the surrounding area was a major inspiration for the design. THW and Galerie wanted to strike a balance between pastoral and modern. Wood from the property’s original horse barn was complemented with natural stone, custom tile patterns, antiquities, custom lighting and artwork to bring added flavor and give each space a personal touch.

“We really were trying to create an environment where seniors can call home, which elevated their experience and their health and wellbeing,” she said.

The completion

Village Park Milton opened last March, as the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic swept the country. The design of the common spaces allows Galerie Living flexibility in hosting smaller group events while adhering to social distancing guidelines. The single family homes, meanwhile, allowed the operator to safely stage move-ins by letting new residents quarantine there before moving into the main building.

But Covid-19 is informing the development processes of future projects in the company’s pipeline, while expanding on concepts that have proven successful.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we were very proactive on a lot of those common spaces,” Gary said.

The form follows function aesthetic is evident throughout, Steven Levin, Co-President of Hana 2.0 Property Group and one of this year’s judges, told SHN. He was impressed with how the landscaping connected the various care components and the bungalows with the common amenities, creating a blended community.

“That truly provides a sense of neighborhood,” he said.

Levin also cited the attention to interior and exterior design elements, which provided warm, rich tones that make Village Park Milton more closely resemble a resort than a senior housing community.

“It was enlightening to see a design that takes a step away from conventional assisted living,” he said. “You have to give it a second look to realize that you’re in a senior living development.”