This article is brought to you by Senior By Design. The article is based on a live question-and-answer session with Reid Bonner, President of Senior By Design, at the SHN BUILD event in Chicago on November 18, 2021. The interview has been edited to more length and clarity.
Senior Housing News: Reid Bonner is President of Senior by Design. Reid, tell us a bit about yourself and a Senior by Design.
Bonner: I am Reid Bonner. I am the president of Senior by Design. We are based in Dallas, Texas, and we create interesting and wonderful interiors, what we call “heartwarming” interiors in our senior communities. I’ve been in design my whole life, and when we started doing senior residences it replaced the joy I had with any other type of job. As we grew older I started to select people in the design field in Dallas.
I have brought dozens of people into our team that I have known for a very long time and who are the best in their field. We have a fantastic, unified group that has the same goal, and it has almost become like a ministry.
SHN: It’s great. So far, we’ve talked a lot about branding throughout the day. How to explore the personality of a brand when it comes to a new project or a renovation?
Bonner: It starts at the very beginning. We have to go see each location and then sit down with the developer and make sure we understand everything about the location and the surrounding area. Maybe the land itself was a farm one day and we want to incorporate elements of it into the building or the story. All of this study begins with the location, and while there isn’t much of a story, we’re looking for other elements to create a strong, vibrant personality.
I want to make sure that when we create and fabricate this personality, we are focusing from the start. We bring containers and products from all over the world to find immediately identifiable items for this community. We focus on interesting objects with impact that give a lot of excitement and it starts at the front door.
SHN: Behind the scenes, you mentioned that soul-warming design is the ethic of your design philosophy. However, budgets are tightening and we must do more with less. How do you approach the balance between heartwarming design and cost concern when considering new projects?
Bonner: We approach this by determining what this community is going to be before anything else. For example, we have a development in New Holland, Michigan that just opened, but I’ve already started buying Dutch antiques overseas and bringing them in. They could even go into the office where they’re going to have their marketing trailer, because I want to make sure that the personality that this community is going to have is there from the start.
We are then able to start researching and sourcing. The challenge with some of these costs, however, comes down to one thing Senior by Design has. We have a 40,000 square foot design center warehouse just outside of Dallas. Most of the time we have between $ 2-3 million in product, thousands of artwork, hundreds of chairs and other stuff that I find all over the world. I love to find things that I have never seen in my life and integrate them into our communities.
Therefore, to answer your question, if we are on a tight budget, I can play with any songs that I could find. Maybe I bought a piece at an auction and was able to get it for a fantastic price – I don’t need to put a lot of margin on it. We can use the items we already have and fill them into budgets.
Or it could be something we go to a manufacturer for. Say Baker Furniture has a nice chair that’s perfect for the elderly and maybe it’s an ugly yellow color or something. Then here is the furniture for the next season and the new color is blue and white stripes and a different wood tone. I can buy all of these chairs and custom upholster them when new opportunities arise.
We get chairs that would have sold for between $ 800 and $ 200 a piece, and then we cover them in an elderly-friendly fabric suitable for a specific project. As a result, I can charge a very small amount, the chairs look much better, and everything is within budget. It would be easier for me as a design company to take a different approach, but that doesn’t get the personality. I have to make sure that all of these rooms in this interior look interesting.
Some of our communities organize art and furniture tours for residents, their families and friends. They go through the building because a lot of the rooms have fantastic stories and some of them are even museum quality. We put plaques next to these interesting pieces of furniture, art, and other selections and tell the story.
This makes the pieces very personal to them, sometimes bringing in the regionality of the city or neighborhood they are in, and our elders especially love this story. It is fascinating and interesting. The warehouse is also a great way to give the greatest look. I always feel that with each of our clients, I am the guardian of their money. If it’s their community that they hired me to design, and we have X amount of money to work with, then I need to extend that as far as possible. Sometimes things get cut off. The lighting could be turned off. Something around the outside can be pointed out when we assess the cost.
Not that long ago, I was at High Point Market and saw a showroom with beautiful lighting, and I said, “I could buy all of this. It’s every piece that I love, ”and the owner said,“ By the way, I’m the owner, and we’re moving this showroom to another market to have it for sale. Actually, we have a group that’s coming this afternoon to buy it, ”and I said,“ Well, how much does it cost? ”He told me and we come from the buy. I bought hundreds and hundreds of chandeliers. Now the warehouse was in a complete panic when I said, “Okay, guess what we’re gonna do this week? I need 10,000 feet grid ceiling squares, because we’re going to hang chandeliers.
Instead of providing our developers with a typical chandelier that would cost $ 10, we were able to get them out of our warehouse. It was the same scenario as the pulpit exam I gave earlier. We did a little markup on them and gave them a much bigger element of impact, which is sometimes the key.
Art in any type of commercial setting is often too small. Sometimes the lighting is not bright enough to get this wow. My whole career has consisted of stepping into any space, be it a hotel or a hospital, why there is no “wow”. I say to myself: “Art is not big enough. Impact pieces don’t just ‘oh my god’ that sort of thing. Or art history doesn’t move through the building in an exciting and interesting way. “
Therefore, we created the warehouse, which originally was one, and then became five warehouses. We have no surprises. When the time comes for the installation, we have already organized everything that will go into the upcoming installation. Everything on the site is pre-organized, staged and photographed.
Everything is prepackaged and everyone knows exactly where it’s going in the building, and sometimes I can have 20 people in the building. Two weeks ago we had 20 people doing a setup in a four story IL in Florida and a three story AL in a memory care center. We brought in a huge team and finished it in about four days. The fifth day was an adjustment because it was pre-created.
SHN: How do you define the result of success with your clients today?
Bonner: Good question. First, we never go over budget. We also have this great excitement that comes from the staff that work there and the tours that take place there. The interiors we create all have stories, from a tiny town in a rural area to a large metropolitan city. Every building is different, but every building has a soul and part of the soul comes from the furniture and the art.
When the staff and future residents are enthusiastic, it usually translates into faster occupancy. Leasing goes up immediately and it’s a snowball effect that we can track. I have also had the opportunity to own some of the buildings that we have created. A lot of design companies don’t own the retirement homes, and I do. I have been doing this from the very beginning. It’s my money. This is our building. We make sure we get it all done, and then we study this census report. We can review it later and see if the results get back to the bottom line.
This article is sponsored by Senior by Design. The Senior by Design team strives to evoke a sense of home, warmth and style in their spaces, as these spaces influence behavior. Floor-to-ceiling, this team searches for special pieces to display in their spaces – carefully preparing each fixture and accessory to enrich the lives of those who will live in the community. Offering the best and most cost effective interior design, Senior by Design believes in thoughtful design that will generate all the memories and features of the home. To find out more, visit seniorbydesign.com.