Eye for Design: A Spotlight on the Sunrise Design Team

Sunrise Senior Living  |  July 28, 2022
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Design is all around us. From the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive and even the phones that seem to be forever glued to our hands. When it comes to senior living, design is at the forefront of everything, especially our built environments. This is not only to make sure the spaces are beautiful and feel like home, but that they ensure the safety and comfort of our residents, no matter their lifestyle. So, what does it mean to design for senior living and how do we turn our communities into a home? We went to the experts, the Sunrise Design Team, to find out.

Meet the Team

Co-led by 15-year veteran team member Nicole Bergquist and Tina Ruiz-Ellen IIDA who has more than 20 years of design experience, the Sunrise Design team is a powerhouse of talent with a range of experience in the design industries.

Nicole came to Sunrise from the high-end, luxury residential design space while Tina had designed, collaborated, and managed architecture and interior architecture projects in the high-end residential, restaurant, retail, and hotel hospitality industries for 16 years. The team’s skills range from interior design to planning and site management in a variety of fields and disciplines, many of which have a focus or conception on the design of senior-focused spaces.

For this team, it is important to employ a mix of the design principles they were taught in school with the unique and changing needs of our residents and their families.

“Form follows function. As designers and architects, we are taught this principal of design in school. As I reflect on how it applies in my life as a designer at Sunrise, I believe this principle has never been more important than in the buildings and spaces we occupy as we age or when an injury occurs,” shares Nicole. “When our mental or physical abilities no longer match our lifestyle aspirations, as designers we can help make sure that the environment meets us in the middle to empower independence and interaction in the space where we live.”

Principles of Designing for Older Adults

At Sunrise, design goes beyond accessibility. Of course, all of our communities are supplied with the appropriate and necessary features to make them safe and functional for our residents in Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. But our team knows that Sunrise is home, and it should always feel like that which is why we work diligently with our residents to improve their built environments. Through resident committee meetings, we are able to incorporate both ideas and feedback so they can live the lifestyle they want and deserve.

“I remember an art installation where one of the residents in our memory care neighborhood was a designer as well in her career. I was personally trying to decide between two options for how to hang a piece of artwork. She happened to be in the area where I was working so I had the opportunity to ask her opinion. She had a great solution and we implemented it,” Nicole shares. “Being able to work with and for clients who appreciate our efforts is what, at Sunrise, we call the second paycheck. It makes the job worth doing. Creatively speaking, I love that seniors today are looking for and demanding an elevated hospitality aesthetic that goes beyond the traditional senior living community appearance. We are combining high end residential looks with scale and proportion that promotes independence and it is all because of the clients we serve.”

Special care is taken in the design of our Reminiscence Neighborhoods which provide comfort and security for residents living with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other forms of memory loss. Our team thoughtfully combines design elements to promote resident safety and security throughout the neighborhoods and strategically place them within each property for proximity to living and dining areas to promote easy navigation and social interaction.

A unique feature of these neighborhoods is the curated Life Skills Centers. These Centers feature furniture or built-in equipment designed with evidence-based research to support residents with memory loss to perform tasks that are unique and applicable to their preferences. From painting to baking in a therapeutic kitchen these activities bring purpose and meaning to life as well as foster social interaction. Other features include Reminiscence Kits and Lap Baskets which are specially designed to support the social, emotional, and physical needs of those living with memory loss.

“Our team has designed and crafted a space where residents feel safe, secure, and comfortable again in their environments. These spaces encourage them to participate in meaningful life skills, trying new things, and most importantly the ability to feel like you are being successful,” shared Michelle Minor, Vice President of Engagement and Program Services. “The purpose-built focus like the lean rails, the use of colors chosen based on data and research, the chairs with higher arms to support residents being able to move more independently, the therapeutic kitchens that allow for residents to participate more in cooking and programming, the reflection rooms and so much more. Our team provides something that is so very special and unique to Sunrise.”

Making Sunrise Home

No matter your age or circumstances, our design team understands that we are trying to find a place where we can live well and live comfortably, whether that is a studio apartment in Manhattan or a country house in the middle of Iowa.

For those moving into one of our 270+ Sunrise communities across the U.S. and Canada, our design team believes that the key is balance.

“When moving to a new home, we are all searching for the perfect balance between old and new,” says Nicole. “At Sunrise, we recommend that residents bring as much of their furniture and accessories which they have collected over a lifetime with them as they can.”

“Having familiar belongings will make a resident feel at home,” Tina shares. “We always talk about bringing along their own furniture, art, imagery or collectibles that bring joy into their lives. However, moving into Sunrise is also the perfect opportunity to obtain a few exciting new elements to mix in and create a balance and new home environment for this new chapter!”

Design doesn’t need to be stagnant but should change to reflect the new moments in our lives.

Both Nicole and Tina agree that one of their favorite elements of personalized design at Sunrise are the shadow boxes outside of each resident door. They recommend getting the whole family involved in decorating it. Not only will the resident get a lovely family memory, but it can also give them something they proud to show off to their fellow residents.

Whether you are looking to make the move for yourself or your loved one, we invite you to find a Sunrise near you via our website and schedule a tour today.


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