Extreme Makeover - Seniors Home Edition

Globe & Mail

It's not your grandmother's retirement home.

Actually, it may be your grandmother's retirement home, even if looks and feels more like a hotel.

Choice and luxury are the strongest themes emerging in a wave of new seniors' residences springing up across the country. "People are more individualistic," says Gord White, chief executive officer of the Ontario Retirement Communities Association. "Five years ago, one-bedrooms were rare and two-bedrooms were unheard of. Now, they're building three-bedrooms with full-sized kitchens."

Older residences such as the Terraces of Baycrest are scrambling to adapt, tearing down walls to create spacious suites and revamping menus.

Unlike nursing homes, retirement homes are not government-regulated. The result is a range of housing from basic to super fancy. The newest homes use luxury hotels as templates.

"It's a different feel," says Cathy Wallbank, general manager of Tapestry at Village Gate West, a 168-suite residence that opened in Toronto last month.

The difference starts curbside at Tapestry, with valet parking. Inside, you'll see a concierge desk, a coffee shop with wireless Internet access and a 30-seat pub. The dinner menu includes a full wine list.

Even medical assistance is à la carte: daily or hourly, as needed. Monthly rent runs from $2,400 for a bare-bones bachelor apartment to $6,000 for a fully loaded package. "We all want those choices," says Ms. Wallbank, who spent 30 years in the hotel business. "It's all about what they want to do and understanding who they are." The industry is going upscale because seniors increasingly can and will pay for more choice in accommodations. The trend is expected to ramp up as affluent baby boomers hit retirement-home age.

But the current generation of 80- and 90-year-olds is not shy about demanding high-end options. "This group of people says, 'We worked hard all our lives, it's okay to spend money on ourselves as we age,' " Mr. White says. "They want to be served in the way they want to be served."

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