Designing for a Generation

photographer: Mark Boisclair Photography

It’s not often that assisted-living communities achieve the right balance between safety and quality care, luxury, and comfort. Thoma-Holec Design, a Phoenix-based company, is determined to achieve this. Thoma-Holec’s director for design development Keith Stanton discusses the company‚Äôs eye for creating beautiful senior living spaces that set the standard in the industry.

(c) Thoma-Holec Design LLC

How did Thoma-Holec Design get its start?

Our founder, LuAnn Thoma-Holec, started her own firm in 2006, but prior to that she worked at a firm that was involved in all areas of design. She was drawn to senior living projects and spent time speaking to clients to learn what it would be like to start her own company. She decided to start her own business and created Thoma-Holec, as it is today.

What is the process like for designing a new senior living community? Are you a frequent remodeler or reworker of existing structures?

We do three types of projects: renovations, new construction, and updates to older projects. We ask for new projects to be started in the initial stages, while they are laying out the building. This allows us to bring our expertise and help control the rooms, the layout of the amenities, and adjacencies.

Our renovations are customized to each client. We have worked with many small- and medium-sized operators, as well as those who are involved in acquisitions. We try to make their buildings up-to-date as much as possible, since they are often affected by local competition.

For buildings we have previously designed, we know the original finishes so that we can update them as they age. After discussing the client’s future spending plans, we will create one-year- to five-year plans that help them plan for the future.

(c) Thoma-Holec Design LLC

What are some of the most important elements you need to keep in mind while designing for senior living?

Safety is our number one concern. We will not try any creative idea that could possibly endanger residents. We try to give residents a warm and welcoming feeling. To minimize disruptions to their lives, we also bring elements from their homes like the Amazon Echo.

How do you elevate aesthetics of design without sacrificing the residents’ comfort?

It’s all in the furniture we choose. The same furniture you will see in hotels, resorts, and restaurants is used by us. We also pay attention to the materials they are made from. The chairs are designed with arms so that our residents can get up easily. This is something you won’t find in a multifamily home or hotel. We are also mindful of the dimensions of furniture so seniors don’t feel as if they’re falling in them. This is why we often custom-design pieces.

Would you talk about how you were able to achieve this balance with the LivGenerations Pinnacle Peak project in Scottsdale?

The Pinnacle Peak Project is the third of a series we did for LivGenerations. They are a multihousing developer who also owns several upscale senior living communities. Pinnacle Peak was designed to provide residents with a walking experience.

They demolished an office building in order to make a site for the community. It’s also adjacent to a shopping center. This is where walkability and variety are key. The community wants residents to feel integrated, but residents can still walk to the mall if they don’t feel like using the amenities. They can also go to the grocery store and pick up their groceries if they wish. It’s independent-living-focused but has an assisted-living licensure. This project features a lot modern art and sculpture, something you won’t see often in senior living communities.

What do you think that does for the environment there?

The sculpture at the entrance is a trademark piece of LivGenerations and was created by Gary Lee Price, a Utah-based artist. It is a bold piece that encourages imagination in residents. The sculpture shows a young boy reading a book while imagining that he is flying in a paper airplane. LivGenerations wants residents to feel that they can still fly through life. The sculpture is placed in the foyers of every community and connects them all.

We always try to include historic photos and imagery from local communities in the wing dedicated to dementia-related cognitive impairments. We ask the local historical society for photos that we can license – black-and white photos of the area that residents might recognize. Pinnacle Peak has photos of Pinnacle Peak’s Pinnacle Peak patio, which Scottsdale residents would recognize. A photo of the large cowboy sculpture that welcomes you to town is also available.

(c) Thoma-Holec Design LLC

There are also a lot of themed rooms and amenities for residents to enjoy. Talk about how to plan and create these areas.

We ask our clients what they feel comfortable having in their community, and what they can be staff for. Then we look at industry trends. We often design large, lively fitness areas because wellness is such an important component.

Pinnacle peak has a tearoom residents can rent to enjoy tea with their family. Barley’s Bourbon Bar is one of five dining venues. It’s a saloon-style space with rustic treatments and a copper top that gives it an Old West vibe. There are a variety of barstools to support our residents, as well as lower tables that can be used by wheelchair-bound people. We love to create destinations, so we meet with developers to discuss which locations would best reflect the area’s flavor. It is vital to offer residents a variety of great experiences.

(c) Thoma-Holec Design LLC

Do you have a favorite room or element of this project that stands out?

It would be Barley’s Bourbon Bar. To give the space a more local feel, we actually bought individual sets of cowboy boots. The space also has a jukebox. It’s obvious how meticulously thought out the design of this bar.

Another favorite of mine is the piano lounge. You can use it as a social space for gatherings or as a quiet place to relax when there is no music playing. The ceilings and furniture in the room mirror the piano’s.

What is the most rewarding part about creating senior living spaces of this caliber?

What touches us most is watching the residents move in and seeing the smiles on the faces. The residents wept with joy at many of the pre-COVID ribbon cutting events. These people love these communities and many have told us that they had never imagined they could live in such large areas. It is truly a blessing to be able make such a difference.

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