A Certain Sense of Place: 2019 Senior Living by Design Award Winners Create Shared Community and Culture Through Every Detail

by Jane Adler

Publish Date:

Sunday, December 1, 2019 12:00 pm EST


News Organization:

Senior Living Executive, Alexandria, VA

Source URL:

Good building design creates a sense of place. The design takes its cues from the cultural cues and environment around it, resulting in a community that fits in with its surroundings, but also feels like a destination.

This sense of place provides an emotional footing, too. It grounds residents, so they feel part of their community connecting them to local history and to their own history.

This year’s Senior Living by Design award winners provide a sense of place. Each design respects the past, but also looks forward to the future.

Another case of working with the neighborhood to preserve a cultural treasure can be found at Sunrise at Silas Burke House, a new assisted living and memory care residence in Burka, Va. Designers shined up a jewel of a historic home on the property as they incorporated classic American details in the new building.

The five winners and the 29 Senior Living by Design nominees showcase forward-facing design trends, use of materials, and concepts that have promise for the long term. Together, they make up a collection of inspiring and engaging communities ready to welcome residents home.

Sunrise at Silas Burke House

With echoes of the past, Sunrise at Silas Burke House brings to life a vibrant senior living community in Burke, a town in upscale Fairfax County just outside of Washington, D.C.

The town is named after Silas Burke, a prominent resident and landowner who circa 1824 built a home for his family. That home became a beloved local landmark known as the Silas Burke House.

Sunrise purchased the five-acre Silas Burke property in 2014. The goal: Build a new Sunrise community to serve local seniors and to preserve and restore the historic home to be used by the community.

The new Sunrise residences opened in 2018, and the company’s in-house design team also restored the historic home.

“This was a unique opportunity,” says Andrea Owensby, vice president of design, Sunrise Senior Living. “The house provided much of the inspiration for the design details.”

The new building is a traditional Sunrise-style mansion with 81 suites offering assisted living and memory care.

The Sunrise project was intentionally situated behind the historic home, to ensure the latter’s prominence.

Silas Burke House sits atop a hill. The slope of the land was advantageous, providing the opportunity to recess the new structure into the hill.

As a result, the building has two ground-level stories, one in back and one in front.

“Residents have more access to the outdoors,” says Owensby. “The double ground-level design also allows an abundance of sunlight into the building.”

Characteristics from the historic home incorporated into the residence’s design make a quiet impression in the exterior soffit brackets, chimney, front porch design and interior wall paneling in the grand foyer. The historic house’s original trim and molding designs carry, over as well.

A number of decorations purchased from the owners of the historic home are displayed throughout the Sunrise community, so residents can enjoy these art pieces, furniture, and photographs. In the grand foyer, a display of artwork and artifacts from the founding family honors the rich history of the property.

The interiors of the new building, however, have a modern twist. New materials were blended in to create different textures, which are also advantageous for residents experiencing vision or memory loss, helping them easily recognize and navigate different areas of the community.

The bistro stands out as a good example of how traditional and modern elements were cohesively combined. The focal point is a modern stacked-stone horizontal fireplace. Classic moldings and wood-inspired tile flooring adds warmth to the room. Much like in a family home, the furniture styles are eclectic, with a variety of styles and wood tones.

Spaces throughout the community provide multiple points of connection: a sitting room, living room, media room, library, art room, activity room, and several dining venues.

Connecting the new Sunrise community to the historic home is a spacious patio. The generous outdoor area features a fire pit, lounge furniture, and umbrella-covered tables and chairs. Stonework on the exterior matches that found on the historic home.

“We blended the old and the new,” says Owensby. “It was an exciting and challenging endeavor, and our residents and families are very happy with the final product.”

Taking Great Care with a Home that Holds a Community’s History

The land for the new Sunrise at Silas Burke House community came with a bonus: a historic home. Almost two centuries old, the Silas Burke House was an important landmark in the Burke community–the town was named for its builder.

As part of the development process, Sunrise agreed to renovate the house. Sunrise designers met with the family who owned the property to learn about its history and to make sure care was taken in the restoration process.

“Our intention was to update the house, but preserve its character,” says Andrea Owensby, vice president of design, Sunrise Senior Living.

The exterior siding and roof were replaced, and the windows restored. Porch light fixtures were carefully selected to blend with the home’s original Colonial design. The floors were refinished, and the interior moldings were restored.

Details mattered: Even an enameled iron sink that had served the family for generations was refinished.

The property’s original icehouse and windmill were repaired. The town’s first post office was relocated to the property, creating a historic-type village.

Sunrise forged a partnership with the county to host four annual events at the home, open to the wider Burke community. The home is also used as an additional activity space for the Sunrise residents. “It’s an amazing opportunity for our residents and our neighbors, and we’re proud to be a part of it,” said Owensby.

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