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Episode 43: Shannon Remaley

Shannon Remaley, Director of Senior Living Interiors at Meyer’s Design and FF&E 


Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. The senior living podcast here in Philly at Interface Seniors Housing Northeast. We are excited to have Shannon Remaley. She is the director of Senior Living Interiors at Meyer’s Design Studio senior living. Shannon, thank you so much for being here.

Shannon: Thank you.

Lucas: So, Shannon, there’s been a lot of different panels today. You were the major overachiever. You had the 7:30 a.m. panel.

Shannon: We did, we did. Bright and early. We were trying to wake up the conference.

Lucas: And you did. You started it off right. And the topic of your panel was called “Design & Build: Projects Redefining Senior Living.” Josh has a big development background. You’re talking design, build and constructions near and dear to my heart so this is a topic that I’m really interested in.

So, to the audience that will be listening to this that didn’t have the pleasure of being here, number one introduce your background and how you got into seniors housing and design and then we’ll go into some of the nuggets on the panel.

Shannon: Okay, great. So, I started off in senior housing basically right from the start. So in design school interning at design firms we did hospitality and senior living work and I was kind of hoked from the beginning (and) very much enjoyed the work and found it very fulfilling and just continued growing form there.

Lucas: And when did you start with Meyers?

Shannon: I started with Meyer about six years ago.

Lucas: That’s incredible. We’ve noticed when we talk to people in design and in construction, a lot of time they don’t start in seniors housing. They start in some place else and then move in so that’s an interesting aspect.

Josh: Yeah, you seemed very intentional. You actually knew what you were doing and got into it. Most of us are like ah, we just landed here by accident.

Shannon: Yeah, well, I very much had a passion for hospitality and as I said we did both and they’re both so very linked together. So, when we started out my firm started out in both arenas like I said I just kind of stuck with it and enjoy it. It’s a passion.

Josh: So, I’m going to chase a rabbit for just a minute because one of the things we’ve been talking a lot of about Lucas on the show at the conference has been bridging the generational divide. A lot of different whether that’s the resident divide between residents but a lot of it has been around this idea of how do we tap into the younger generation that’s coming out of school, that’s going through school to get them interested. So, I’m interested because I haven’t heard that too much that hey, wow, I was involved in senior housing design and things like that and kind of just fell in love with it while I was in school. So, one of the I guess disconnects is what are we doing well to connect people with the industry but what are we not doing well. So, what do you feel like your school was doing well that kind of plugged you into that.

Shannon: I think it was interesting, one of the panelists on a different panel was talking about senior living and how it used to be the broccoli on the plate and now it’s not necessarily the broccoli on the plate. I think if you think about what senior housing used to be and when you think of those old nursing homes, I think that stigma is changing again very much linking to the influence of the hospitality. And I’m not so sure it’s necessarily what my school did or did not do, I think it was just a hands-on experience just as with anything in life. The hands-on experience and really learning firsthand what the market is about is really what influenced my decision.

Josh: So the exposure?

Shannon: Exposure, absolutely.

Josh: Just learning. Lucas and I have talked about that a lot. We feel like maybe your program, maybe it wasn’t the institution, but your program being tied to the industry in design, maybe that in and of itself exposed you to that and that may be something to where you know we don’t hear that a lot in like the business schools and things like that to where maybe they’re not exposing as well. So, that might be something for future topics that we throw in the hat so that’s really cool.

So take us from that experience that led you to being involved in this awesome regional conference. You had a pretty power-packed panel today. What were some of the overarching themes and discussion points?

Shannon: Yeah, so today on our panel we kind of had a few main topics. One of them is definitely as everybody knows there’s an influx, there’s no shortage of new communities coming  on the market so we’re talking about how existing communities are renovating or repositioning themselves to compete in that market and several ways that they’re doing that.

Also, the tick in over 55 communities which we’ve seen a huge increase of in our senior living clients as well as our multi-family clients and I’d briefly mentioned that it’s interesting how their approaches and backgrounds will pan out into that industry.

We also talked about urban infill but also not just vertical infill but horizontal infill and connecting communities, making them walkable and integrating the outside community into the senior living community.

Josh: So, that’s a lot.

Shannon: It was a lot.

Josh: So, I mean, let’s talk a little bit about that in maybe reverse order. So, you talked about the urban and the infill and you used a term ‘horizontal?’

Shannon: Yeah, more of a horizontal infill versus just looking at it as narrow-minded as just urban infill which is definitely a trend and a huge arena that I think we’ve heard everyone talk about today. But, also just the more suburban communities that are in downtown areas how we can very much treat them just the same as walkable semi-urban communities almost.

Josh: That’s fascinating. So, I;m really fascinated about that. We might have to do a little deep dive on that for a couple minutes. But, what are some of the trends when you start looking at repositions and it may be the same with the repositions and the new builds, some of the trends. Everybody’s talking about what is the next generation looking for in design and amenities and program services. So, I’m assuming you touch a lot of that because you’re designing for that. So, as we’re starting to see people plan for that, I mean, what are some of the trends you’re seeing? Are those very much across the board nationally kind of the same or is there very different trends regionally?

Shannon: I do think one of the big things we look at with communities is very regional focus. We try to make it relate to the community- make it make sense. You know, for example- this is just a small example- you’ll see art studios a lot in senior living communities, right? But we’re doing a specific community that is located in a very artistic community that goes above and beyond so we’re not just running an art studio but we’re doing an art gallery and we’re taking that to the next level. We’re trying to make regular programs relate to the community as best that we can.

I think when you look as a whole to amenities, really looking at flexibility I think that’s the number one term for kind of what the next generation wants. They want flexibility.

Josh: So, what does that mean? I’ve heard some other folks say that- be flexible. So, when you’re looking at that from a design and working with an owner or an operator to design something to be flexible, I’m assuming that’s space? Is that more flexibility for acuity? More flexibility for programming? What are we talking there?

Shannon: I think it can mean a lot of things but in my mind, it mostly means this one room is not for this one function. Nobody wants to be told, ‘if I want to have a cup of coffee and read my book, I have to go do it in that room.’

Josh: Gotcha.

Shannon: Or if I want to sit down and have a sandwich or talk with my relatives coming to visit, that’s that room for that. I think we want to try and approach the amenities spaces that people have the freedom to do what they want to do. As we were talking about- people want to bring that freedom they had in their home into the communities. I do multiple things in multiple rooms in my house and I want to feel that way when I’m in the senior living community as well.

Lucas: It’s practical. I think I spend a lot of time in Legacy communities- these older buildings where the spaces were very designated. You walk down the hall- there’s a space for the library; there’s a space for the card room; there’s a space for the x, y, and x; and they’re all empty.

Shannon: Yes.

Lucas: It’s not very good for marketing and it’s just not very good for the lifestyle of the community. So, that would enter into the categories that you discussed on. So there’s renovate, there’s remodel and there’s reposition and they all-all three of those- actually mean something different.

Shannon: They do, they do.

Lucas: So, when you’re looking at these Legacy spaces, obviously budget plays a factor but to me those older Legacy spaces, that’s a real good candidate for a remodel and reposition to change the space. Are you seeing that in the marketplace?

Shannon: Yeah, absolutely. One of the projects we highlighted this morning was the Atria Senior Living here in Philadelphia. That’s one of the projects that we went in there and a lot of the spaces felt unpurposeful. There was an empty library with nobody sitting in on it on every single floor five stories up. So, we really looked at what are people expecting today and what do they want to do there. And it’s not to say that you still don’t have a designated card room or you still don’t have those designated rooms, it’s just designing them so they do have the flexibility to morph into what people want them to be.

So, when we looked into that project, we very much looked at what each of the floors could be and what their destinations could be. So, one floor is very health and wellbeing focused and one in more entertainment focused and trying to pull people to travel throughout the community the best that we can.

Lucas: I love that.

Josh: Awesome. So, talk us through if there’s operators, if there’s owners, developers out there depending on the stage- what is the point that you’re typically brought on and is that the most ideal point? What is the most optimal time to partner with a design team?

Shannon: Meyer- we’re an integrated architecture and interior design firm, so I think that has endless benefits to it. Obviously the architect is usually one of those first people brought on. They’re looking at the site and planning out the building and so forth. The way our team and studio works is that the architect and designer work together from the beginning. So, as they’re starting to shape the building, we’re also starting to talk about what this building wants to have in it and what the outside can relate to the inside. So, we’ve been fortunate in those instances to be involved from the beginning. I think it really serves best for the project.

Josh: So, I can only imagine having those two arms collaborating together, you can avoid a lot of things where you end up with the interior design team wondering why is there not an outlet here? We designed a lamp to be here? And things like that. So, do you guys find through some of your checks and balances that you’re able to avoid a lot of those change orders- a lot of those last-minute headaches and things like that?

Shannon: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re even talking about when you’re looking at positioning where windows on the building go and designing the exterior design with the interior. When you see a prominent façade on the exterior, you want to have something be the same on the inside and you don’t just want into that room and it ends up being, you know, the back closet or the office. If it looks that way on the outside, we want it to look that way on the inside.

So, being collaborative in the beginning really helps foster that.

Josh: So, what I’m hearing- whether someone using someone like you guys that have all of that in house or they’re selecting an interior designer and a different architecture group- to make sure they’re collaborating on the front end?

Shannon: Absolutely.

Josh: That’s fascinating. Well, it’s been awesome having you here with us. Thanks for jumping in. This has been an awesome conference. Lucas, anymore thoughts?

Lucas: Yeah, in your hometown, correct?

Shannon: We are, just about 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city. So, Philly is home to us.

Lucas: That’s wonderful. Well, we’re really grateful for your time. A great panel and a great discussion and if people want to know more about Shannon and more about Meyer, we’ll connect with you guys in the show notes. I follow you guys on Instagram so I know that you’re there. And I know that you’re on LinkedIn so we’ll put all of that in the show notes for people to connect if they have any extra questions. This has been another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, Erdman and Sherpa.

Episode 43: Shannon Remaley