We’re speaking with WDA Senior Interior Designer Rachel Gooding about Madonna Gardens, a successful project she recently completed near Salinas, California. In a few questions, she walks us through the project, and the assisted living and memory care interior design strategy behind it.

Give us a high-level overview of the project.

Madonna Gardens has some history to it. It was built in 1966 in a mid-century modern style and was owned by the Catholic Church to be operated for retired Catholic Daughters and parishioners. Over the years, it has developed a strong connection to the Salinas community. Sadly it fell into disrepair and low occupancy until it was purchased and revitalized to serve as a general assisted living and memory care community.

The client’s goals were to create modern amenities for modern residents, while emphasizing the history, connection with the community, and agricultural industry of the area. We were able to achieve that and complete the project in early 2019.

What was your design inspiration & themes? Walk us through the thought process.

Since the building had some mid-century architectural elements, we wanted to present a design that worked within that framework and didn’t fight it. We embraced the angles and clean lines, while also keeping it warm so that it wouldn’t feel too off-putting, contemporary, or commercial to residents. Of course, we wanted it to feel like home. So we embraced the existing architecture and relied on the local area for the color palette, artwork, furniture inspiration and other elements. For example, our color palette was mainly greens and blues, in respect to the strong agricultural community and the area’s geography being near the mountains and ocean. The artwork features historical and local imagery. And one of my favorite aspects is how we maintained legacy pieces, like reupholstering original furniture that has been there since its founding. (Some photos below!)

"Before" picture of chairs from Madonna Gardens before being reupholstered

Wing Chair “Before”

Wing Chair at Madonna Gardens "After" reupholstering

Wing Chair “After”

Any key elements that helped bring this design concept to life?

Yes, certainly. The owners wanted to emphasize health, wellness, and activity with an outdoor connection. In fact, the building is on a very large piece of beautiful property, so key elements to us were showcasing windows to the outdoors, bringing in natural light, providing multiple access points for getting outside, and creating multiple outdoor amenities.

There’s a central courtyard that is split in half to have a secured memory care interior courtyard and an assisted living one. There’s a beautiful fireplace that serves as a focal feature between the two. There’s also a large walking path with a bocce ball court, and outdoor fitness station, and there’s potting stations [planter beds] for growing vegetables and flowers since many residents likely had connections to the agriculture industry. There’s also a secured back memory care garden that has some trees that have been there for decades and historic rose bushes. Essentially, all sides of the building are surrounded by garden views and outdoor activities.

One very special element is the outdoor reflection space. We took some of the stained glass windows from the original chapel featured them in an outdoor space, therefore incorporating both the history and the outdoor living elements – while also creating a wonderful place for reflection, relaxation, and spiritual connection. (We included some photos of this below.)

Stained Glass Windows from Chapel Before

Stained Glass Windows from Chapel “Before”

Stained Glass Windows in Reflection Space After

Stained Glass Windows in Reflection Space “After”

Inside, we offered multiple community spaces for both large and small groups, widened the corridors to remove the “tunnel-like” feeling that existed before, and really focused on opening up the space to be more communal rather than several small areas off of old corridors.

What did you want to achieve with your furniture selections?

This was a very important aspect to our design efforts. To stay in line with the mid-century modern furniture, we brought in pieces that featured cleaner lines. But because of the heritage pieces we were maintaining, we also brought in some pieces that felt a little more eclectic, collected and curated with some design elements from the past. The end result was a special, thoughtful, comfortable appeal that felt very natural.

What’s one of your favorite little design details?

The legacy pieces that were reupholstered were certainly my favorite. The building has had a long-standing relationship with the community and we wanted to honor the past by celebrating those pieces and give them a new life. It was truly fun to reupholster pieces that had been with the community for its entire lifecycle.

Have you heard any feedback from the residents?

Yes, one story I love is of a memory care consultant that toured the building and was brought to tears. She said it was exactly the type of place to support memory care programming and dignified care for people with memory impairments. We love hearing feedback like that!


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