Senior Living Renovation: A Comprehensive Guide for Success

by Melissa Keeney | IIDA, NCIDQ, RID |Director of Design

In today’s senior living landscape, renovation projects are becoming increasingly common as investors and banks exercise more caution when financing new constructions. When embarking on a renovation journey, there are crucial steps to consider to ensure a successful outcome. Let’s explore some of these considerations that seasoned design professionals can expertly guide you through.

1. Establishing Project Goals:

Before diving into renovations, it’s imperative to identify the core reasons behind the endeavor. Whether enhancing marketing strategies, adapting to changing care approaches, or improving operational efficiency, clarifying these goals sets the trajectory for the entire project.


  • What are the current challenges?
  • Why is the renovation needed?
  • How can you support your residents better?
  • What changes could improve staff efficiency and support lean methodology?

As you move forward with the renovation, all design decisions should support the project goals.

2. Identifying Stakeholders:

Engaging key decision-makers and stakeholders from the outset ensures a holistic approach to planning. Each perspective offers valuable insights that shape the renovation process.

  • Ownership, operations, and administrative representation ensure that design efforts meet the overall strategic and operational goals.
  • The Marketing Team can provide input about the local competition and expectations from future residents and their adult children.
  • Staff and caregivers provide insight into daily functional needs, habits, and activities.
  • Involving the facilities team will ensure proper routine maintenance is established and increase the lifecycle of your built environment.
  • Engaging residents can ensure they feel heard and valued throughout the process, ultimately leading to more successful outcomes and a stronger sense of community satisfaction.
    • Sharing project goals helps them understand the reasoning behind decisions.
    • Form resident committees with diverse representation to ensure various perspectives are considered.
3. Scoping, Budgeting, and Team Formation:

Defining the project scope, assembling the right team of professionals, and establishing a realistic budget are fundamental steps.

  • Identifying Project Scope and Consultants:
    • Determine architectural and interior changes necessary to achieve project goals.
    • Based on the scope, engage consultants such as architects, interior designers, structural engineers, and MEP consultants as needed.
    • Consider hiring an owner’s representative to manage the budget and project consultants, especially for larger repositioning projects.
  • Establishing Project Budget:
    • Start financial planning early to secure project funds and guide design decisions.
    • Collaborate with an experienced design and construction team to effectively plan and allocate the project budget.
    • Consider various costs such as construction, labor, materials, subcontractor quotes, and finishes.
    • Identify your FFE (Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment) costs.
      • Work with FFE planning and design consultants to create layouts and itemized budgets based on functional needs.
      • FFE planning consultants can help establish a timeline and align product lead time with the construction completion dates.
      • Consider inventory reports if utilizing existing furniture and plan for move management services if necessary.
    • Account for unforeseen conditions by including contingency funds in the budget.
4. Design Considerations:

Whether renovating entire campuses or specific areas, considering the overall renovation phasing, blending old and new elements, and catering to staff needs will contribute to a successful outcome.

  • Be mindful that you are establishing your new design intent/brand at the start of your renovation. You’ll need to consider how to blend new finishes with existing finishes, such as standard wood or metal finishes, in other areas and how to provide a cohesive overall brand.
  • After your renovation process, you will still need to market other areas that have not been renovated. Evaluate whether you need to make other minor upgrades to those areas, so they are still marketable. These changes may need to be incorporated into your overall renovation budget.


  • Decluttering spaces
  • Fresh paint colors are a minor investment but will help tie the new palette into the old spaces.
  • New furniture or artwork in key locations.
  • Staff areas—Remember to consider upgrades in staff areas.
    • Staff retention is a common challenge in the senior living market. Considering their needs for respite spaces and functional needs will convey that you value them. When staff members are happy, this is reflected in their attitude, and they provide better service and care for the residents.

Staff Breakroom

5. Construction Management and Resident Comfort:

Temporary Wall With Hand-Painted Mural

Construction during a renovation can be very disruptive to residents and staff. In larger renovations, it’s important to work with general contractors who have experience in senior living environments and understand the importance of creating a construction phasing plan that minimizes daily disruptions.

  • Use temporary walls to redirect walking traffic away from construction zones, prioritizing resident safety.
  • Clear pathways and signage can help residents navigate around construction areas efficiently.
  • If public spaces cannot be detoured and are occupied during the day, consider scheduling construction work for overnight hours when resident traffic is minimal.
  • Be mindful of work hours near resident apartments or units, ensuring they do not overlap with normal sleeping hours.
  • Maintain clear communication channels with residents and staff throughout the construction process. Provide regular updates on the construction schedule, progress, and any changes that may affect residents.

Community administrators may begin receiving feedback that questions the design choices while construction is underway. The overall big picture is hard for residents/staff to visualize until it’s completed. It may be helpful to provide finish boards or renderings for residents to reference and see the overall design intent and remind them to wait for everything to come together.

6. Flexibility and Adaptability:

Unexpected conditions are inevitable in renovations throughout the construction process. Ownership, staff, the design team, and the construction team must pivot and quickly solve problems to minimize delays or interrupt daily operations.

Once residents and staff move into the space, there will be an adjustment period where staff and residents will be figuring out how to adapt to the new space. Educating the staff on the design intentions will aid in a smoother transition so they can reinforce the intended new operations. Anticipate minor adjustments may be made. Some of the spaces may not function exactly as the design team anticipated.

7. Celebrating Success:

Finally, upon completion, hosting a grand opening to unveil the transformed spaces is a rewarding way to celebrate the journey and showcase the collective efforts that went into the project.

Renovation projects in senior living communities present unique challenges, but they can yield impactful results with careful planning, collaboration, and a focus on resident well-being. Seeing the joy and satisfaction on the faces of residents, families, and staff as they embrace their revitalized surroundings is the ultimate testament to a job well done.

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