Renovating for rehab

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Alden Estates of Skokie has been renovated to blend residential and resort-worthy elements.
Alden Estates of Skokie has been renovated to blend residential and resort-worthy elements.

A visitor to Chicago's northern suburbs might think that Alden Estates of Skokie is a clubhouse for the neighboring golf course, not a rehabilitation and healthcare center. That's because a recent renovation transformed an institutional-looking skilled nursing facility into an inviting building that blends in with its beautiful surroundings.

Erected in 1960, the original building was “large and plain,” according to Rob Kim, head architect of the Alden Design Group. Kim and his colleagues gave it a more residential character. They changed the plain windows into dormer windows, pulling them out from the wall by two feet. They also mixed materials and colors, with a metal accent roof setting off the main asphalt shingle roof, and bright paints around windows and eaves complementing dark brick siding.

These elements are unified around a main focal point: a canopy that shelters an entryway.

The exterior renovations were only part of the $6.5 million project, completed in June 2011. Interior changes were driven by a new focus on inpatient rehabilitation. 

Now with 28 private rooms, Alden Estates of Skokie does not serve long-term nursing residents anymore. However, the project created a template for other Alden locations. Like many SNFs, these Alden facilities will increasingly blend nursing and rehab, says Robert J. Molitor, Alden's chief operating officer.

The goal was for the Skokie location to to feel upscale and residential.

The private rooms are homelike, with plenty of built-in storage space. Couches can be swapped for sleep sofas, allowing visitors to spend the night — especially helpful for residents making a transition from the hospital, says Lindsay McKenzie, the center's administrator. 

The resident bathrooms presented a challenge. They are relatively small, and federal regulations for grab bars limited design options. To stretch out the vanity area, ADG Director of Interiors Tamra Thorout opted for a banjo top that extends over the toilet. A medicine cabinet recessed in the wall saves space, and five-foot mirrors add to the sense of spaciousness.

The common areas blend indoor and outdoor (thanks to skylights), an aquarium and an aviary. A mural displays vines seemingly growing up the walls. Thorout was inspired by the center's surroundings, which residents can admire from two patios, one overlooking the golf course and one that is more private.

The new therapy gym blends form and function. The physical therapy area has a sports theme for motivation, with vintage ski and beach posters. But the decorating is subtle, respecting that residents may be in pain and in need of soothing. A 50-foot hallway leads to the occupational therapy space; the precise distance is useful for patient goal setting, and the separation of the spaces reduces chaos, says Molitor.

“When we went into this, we were trying to see where healthcare is going in general,” he explains. 

It appears they were successful in anticipating market trends and what residents value: The renovated center is taking reservations three months in advance. 

Lessons Learned

Contrasting colors and bay windows create a three-dimensional exterior with a residential look.

Consider local architecture styles and landscaping for inspiration.

Separate physical and occupational therapy spaces for a more serene environment.      

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