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Renovation on a Budget

June 1, 2005
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Think renovating is too costly? A designer shows how a Michigan facility refreshed its interiors on a shoestring by Kathy Krueger
"Cinderella" comes to life at South Haven Healthcare Centre BY KATHY KRUEGER
Renovation is becoming an increasingly urgent issue for our aging nursing facilities. Changing consumer expectations and growing competition from assisted living have made renovation a key to survival for many of these facilities. The problem is, of course, that the budget for any major environmental overhaul is usually lacking, especially when nursing home finances are under such tremendous pressure.

Fortunately, an approach toward resolving this dilemma exists. Case in point: the recent renovation of South Haven Healthcare Centre, a 125-bed facility in South Haven, Michigan. The steps it took to revive a closed-down wing and an old, defunct beauty salon show what is possible on a small budget.

The Setting
One 30-bed wing of the 35-year-old facility had been closed in 2001 and used to store old furniture and equipment. An old beauty parlor nearby had similarly been converted to storage (although it did house a popcorn machine). The general color scheme of the area was a dingy yellow and green. The area needed a major cleanup for starters, including asbestos removal from some of the flooring. Confronting these spaces for the first time, I thought to myself, "Talk about stark and monotonous!"

It was clear, though, that the then-administrator knew what she wanted in an environmental upgrade, presenting us with an 18-page list of goals and specifications. It was also clear that the use of color was going to play a big role in restoring this area to attractiveness. In fact, in ordering carpeting, the administrator asked the manufacturer to customize the color according to a palette we had supplied her from our array of wallcovering and wall-protection products, handrails, door protection, and borders and fabrics. The color scheme she selected incorporated dual-tone designs of emerald green, blue, and burgundy. She was obviously acquainted with one cardinal rule of low-cost renovation: Focus on color because color doesn't cost anything.

Sometimes facilities, like this one, feel stuck with their walls of cinder block. Cinder block is an unattractive building material at best and, even though these walls can be painted to cover blemishes and upgrade their look, painting alone won't do away with the institutional look. In this case, we covered the cinder-block corridor with a rigid vinyl that protected against cart and wheelchair damage and required minimal maintenance. We also wanted to create a homelike look for the corridor that would extend into the resident rooms. Items as simple as wallpaper borders, colored handrails, and color-coordinated resident rooms can bring this off.


Within the rooms, we wanted to carry over the look of the bedspread and cubicle curtain designs (the rooms were doubles) to the window treatments. Window treatments often get lost in the budgetary shuffle because some operators feel they can't afford to upgrade them. The solution was to order a relatively low-cost, solid-color woven for the cubicle curtain and carry over that material to a new set of drapes. Fabric, in itself, does a great deal to add life to a room. As for the casegoods, although there wasn't a budget for new ones, the owner hired people to clean and paint the facility's existing casegoods, which certainly helped with their appearance.

We wouldn't be able to wallpaper all the walls in the resident rooms, so we only covered the wall at the foot of the resident's bed. Some operators favor the headwall for this treatment, but my view is that the resident doesn't get to enjoy it as much in that location. In the bathroom we replaced the old, corroded grab bars with impact-resistant metal ones with baked-on enamel colors.

When we moved to the old beauty parlor, it was immediately evident that the space-about 20' + 20'-was much too large to reuse it for that purpose. The administrator had an idea: Why not make the space into an ice-cream parlor for residents and staff alike? It also got a theme: It would be called The Bunny Patch. Here is where another resource came into play that other administrators seeking low-cost renovations should consider: The local high school service club offered a young volunteer artist who created a beautiful Bunny Patch mural that livened up the space (and also served to cover an unattractive built-in closet). This artist also created a wonderful mural for the chapel. The labor was free-and I'm sure the art teacher donated the paint.


As a final important step, I insisted that the facility do something about its cinder-block lobby and its pair of rundown chairs. They installed drywall in the lobby, put up wallpaper, and added a sofa, two chairs, two tables, a floor lamp, and a table lamp-and a faux fireplace that provides the final warming, homelike touch to the space.

On a concluding note, I've noticed how, in small nursing home projects throughout the Midwest, fund-raisers often are used to pay for these projects one step at a time. A $25,000 project starts out as a $3,000 one because that is all the local golf outing raised at the time. But, step by step, they get to their desired total. The point is, don't be discouraged by the initial sticker price for a decent renovation. With patience, common sense, local support, and appropriate product selection, you'll make your facility the best that it can be.

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