Voices: Claire Richards, Associate Principal, StudioSIX5 – Senior Housing News

This article is sponsored by StudioSIX5. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with StudioSIX5 Associate Principal Claire Richards to learn how senior housing developers are planning new properties with the needs of current generations and future generations in mind. Richards also shares insight into the influence of multifamily housing and hospitality in senior living, and she explains how StudioSIX5 finds inspiration beyond senior living to push the envelope of smart, sustainable design.

Senior Housing News: What career experiences do you most draw from in your role at StudioSIX5?

Claire Richards: My career path is precisely why I was hired at StudioSIX5. I came from the student housing, multifamily and hospitality industries, and I was brought on six years ago when StudioSIX5 ventured into the active adult arena. I was brought on to bridge the knowledge and the lingo in senior living across different types of projects.

I know that StudioSIX5 has undergone some changes in the past few years. What are the changes and what were the reasons for them?

Richards: We expanded how we viewed senior living, how we approach projects and the types of projects we are involved in. We’ve been exclusively senior living for 16 years, but our client success led to new opportunities beyond that niche. Other firms were getting into senior living from hospitality and multifamily, so we expanded our expertise into other areas as well. We have bridged into student housing, multifamily and hospitality, on top of bolstering our purchasing services to offer better volume-added pricing.

We also created an in-house visualization studio with full rendering and virtual reality capabilities to help our clients see the design that they sometimes have a hard time picturing. We’re currently working on programs that make it easier for cost-conscious communities to scale renovations — ready-made packages that you can pick from for a lower fee. This model allows different communities to have different scopes of refurbishing, and allows scale across multiple communities with a certain amount of cost predictability.

Part of that is us buying the flooring and decorative lighting mentioned previously. We add value for our clients so they don’t have to go through several rounds of VE and subs. We get some purchasing power with that, especially across multiple properties, but at the end of the day, it’s about designing smarter.

Let’s talk about convergence in senior living design. How does StudioSIX5 define it and why is it on the rise?

Richards: We define “convergence” as different disciplines joining forces to create new services and new products that benefit the inside and outside communities. People have higher expectations for community interaction and health in today’s climate, so developers are looking for ways to adapt. They are working to incentivize inclusivity with surrounding amenities so they can lower construction costs and use their properties more efficiently.

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As convergence increases, what are the top trends that you’re seeing in senior living design?

Richards: I really don’t like to follow trends. If we’re all following the same trends, then what’s going to set us apart from everyone else? We want to give our clients and their customers something new and different. How can we create something unique if we’re like everybody else? We don’t really like to follow trends. We like to look outside of what everyone else is doing and get some inspiration there.

We’re seeing an increased interest in WELL design in buildings, and we’re looking at design directions that are more sustainable and allied segments where we can really get some integration and not be so siloed and segmented in senior living.

At a foundational level, what do you believe that residents want from senior living, and what senior living traditions should be ignored?

Richards: Seniors, like all of us, want a comfortable home that meets their needs and desires. That’s going to change as different age groups enter into senior living. Just because things have always been done a certain way doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. To stay relevant and competitive, you have to plan for the next generation while catering to the current residents. That’s why we look to hospitality, multifamily and other industries to anticipate future needs.

You said you look outside of the industry instead of following the trends close to home. What are some of the wilder, bolder design ideas that StudioSIX5 has tossed around?

Richards: It depends on the developer, the architect and the capabilities of everyone working on the project. We’ve seen some amazing things with chef-designed restaurants in the hospitality industry. If you can visit a hotel that features a José Andrés restaurant, why can’t you go to a senior living community with a similar concept that’s open to the public? We’ve had one property form a partnership with the Mayo Clinic to study gerontological research — that clinic is open to the property and others in the community as well.

Another client opened a public coffee shop in its community, and markets its storefront by offering coffee samples from a converted food truck. The interaction between the community in the building and the community outside of the building.

How have senior living residents changed since getting vaccinated, and what impact do you think that that will have on senior living design moving forward?

Richards: As seniors got vaccinated, they were so excited to get back out there. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in outdoor amenities and mixed-use spaces that can be reconfigured as needed. The interaction people have with each other is so important, and it’s even more apparent after being locked down for a year.

Entering 2021, no one knew fully what to expect. What has been the biggest surprise to you in senior housing this year, and what impact do you think that surprise will have on the industry for the remainder of the year?

Richards: What most surprised me is the industry’s resilience. I know there was a lot of hesitancy after some of the outbreaks last year, but people are still aging and that’s not going to change anytime soon. I think properties are realizing they have to be open to change at a moment’s notice, and that will push the evolution of design. I am excited for what the future holds, and I think the rest of the year will only get better.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This article is sponsored by StudioSIX. To learn more about how their award-winning interior design can change the way you deliver senior housing, visit studiosix5.com.

The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more — shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact sales@agingmedia.com.


Jack Silverstein

When not covering senior news, Jack Silverstein is a sports historian and staff writer for SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron, making regular guest spots on WGN and 670-AM, The Score. His work has appeared in Chicago Tribune, RedEye Chicago, ChicagoNow, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Chicago Magazine, and others.