Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Christwood retirement community to speak at a marketing event. Christwood is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) located about 45 minutes from New Orleans, just across Lake Pontchartrain.
Marketing director Elizabeth Jackson, who has been working at Christwood for about 6 years, was kind enough to invite me to join her for breakfast the morning of the event and then she took me on a 15-minute tour of the community. Since my last few blog posts have discussed the future of CCRCs, I wanted to share a few relevant things I observed on my tour of Christwood.
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A unique atmosphere
The first thing that I noticed about Christwood was that it didn’t feel like many of the other CCRCs I have visited over the years. There were several things that were unique about the overall design and architecture of the community, as you’ll see in my photos here. This excited me because I think there is too much conformity in the design of CCRCs, and uniqueness often gets lost.
Now, I know that what really gives a CCRC its character and identity is the community of people and the culture, but I still think communities should strive to be distinctive from a physical standpoint. Imagine going house-hunting and every house you looked at was the same. That wouldn’t be very exciting. I feel the same way about CCRCs and other retirement communities.
Comprehensive wellness center
So, what was it specifically that was different about Christwood? There were a few things that stood out, beginning with the dining area where Elizabeth and I enjoyed breakfast. This was a very casual café setting that was part of a larger wellness center.
It felt very much like a modern-day YMCA. Along with the café, there was a separate check-in counter where residents would pick up a towel as they entered the wellness center. There was a large indoor pool, a workout room that doubled as a pickle-ball court, a spa, and other services. What really caught my attention was that each of these areas was being utilized by large numbers of residents.
Casual, cozy spaces
As we continued the tour Elizabeth showed me a small room just across from the lobby area that had a really warm and inviting vibe, mostly due to the wood paneling and lighting. This is the room in the large photo at the top of this post. There was coffee available all times of the day, as you can see on the far wall, and the room doubles as a wine bar in the evenings, which I understand is rather popular!
Most CCRCs that I’ve visited over the last few years have a main dining room, which is often a little more formal, with a café/pub for casual dining or takeout. Some have three or four dining options.
One of Christwood’s formal dining areas felt much more like a local restaurant or private club than a retirement community. You’ll see in the picture the warm paint tones, the walk-up bar in the back right, as well as the walk-out patio in the back. When I mentioned to Elizabeth that the room felt really comfortable and relaxed, she told me that their executive director did not want Christwood to feel institutional in any way. This was evident as I walked around the community. I could absolutely see myself having dinner in that room.
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Suite-style apartment layout
Finally, the area at Christwood that really blew me away was one of the newer buildings for independent living. Unlike many CCRCs and other retirement communities, the residents of this building don’t walk down long hallways to get to their apartments. Rather, the apartments face inward towards a common space for socializing, much like you would see at an Embassy Suites hotel or even on a college campus.
Elizabeth told me that they hold functions regularly in that common space, including art shows. In fact, you can see the work of local artists hanging on the walls all around the room. At the other end of the room, which you can’t see in this picture, is another small café with tables and chairs. I believe this type of layout is far more conducive to socializing and a sense of community than some other designs.
An exceptional CCRC design, an innovative community
I’ve seen many very nice life plan communities in my travels over the last few years. But seeing Christwood helped me realize that there is so much more room for creative design, distinction, and a less institutional-style setting.