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Designing for the gay seniors population: a look at Len Cotsovolos's interior-design plan for RainbowVision Santa Fe, a gay-oriented seniors community.

Acabaret for aging drag queens probably is not on the list of features for most seniors-oriented projects, but it will be part of RainbowVision Santa Fe, an assisted and independent living community in New Mexico scheduled to open in April 2006. RainbowVision Santa Fe is being marketed as a welcoming, safe, and accepting environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) seniors and, as such, is offering design touches this population will appreciate.

The cabaret, explains Interior Design Principal-in-Charge Len Cotsovolos of Las Vegas-based L[C.sup.2] Design Services, connects to a full-service salon and spa, in which drag queens can prep for their performances. He's quick to point out that the salon offers more than "just a room with two hair stations"; a full range of services--including manicures and pedicures--will be offered in a luxurious and well-appointed environment. Perhaps more importantly, suggests Cotsovolos, the cabaret offers a safe environment for transgender people to be themselves--whether or not they are performers--and offers an entertainment venue for the other senior residents where their culture can be celebrated.

Another area designed to meet the needs of the LGBT seniors population is the fitness center. "The gay population is historically known for being health conscious, so we will have an intensive fitness center," explains Cotsovolos, noting that its features will include a juice bar, a yoga studio, a full circuit of workout equipment, a full-service locker room with dry and wet grooming, walk-in showers, a full-service spa, massage rooms, and a guest sanctuary. Regarding the latter, Cotsovolos describes the concept this way: "The common space/corridor outside massage rooms is an area that requires complete silence, so as to not disturb the guest undergoing a spa service within a massage room. I have designed this common space to be more or less a meditative or Zen area, where the ambient sounds of a water feature, soothing color palette, overstuffed furnishings, and controlled light levels will enable the guests to relax and focus on their spa experience. The sanctuary is that quiet meditative zone of the spa, where guests await their treatment and have a moment or two of reflection and transcendence."


In describing the features of RainbowVision Santa Fe, Cotsovolos is adamant that this is a community not for just LGBT elders: "I want to be clear that features are not designed 'specifically' for the LGBT population, but rather designed to be recognized and appreciated by them. This community is neither exclusionary nor prejudiced of the mainstream population. It is a community for everyone--including gays. Everyone is welcomed here." With that in mind, RainbowVision Santa Fe will provide amenities all types of people enjoy. For example, common and public spaces will include:

* retail spaces

* rentable artist studios

* a full-service kitchen with room service

* an outdoor cafe

* full-service conference rooms with the latest technologic enhancements

* large rentable banquet rooms for private functions (such as weddings--straight or gay)

Residential units are designed to appeal to many tastes. Upgradeable condos and apartments will have granite countertops, stone flooring, whirlpool tubs, and high-end finishes and lighting. Rentable assisted living quarters will be fully furnished. The assisted living apartments will be full-size, Cotsovolos stresses, with living rooms, separate kitchens, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms large enough to accommodate king-size beds.

Cotsovolos relied on his experience with designing restaurants, bars, guest rooms, spas, and other hospitality environments in creating a boutique hotel atmosphere for RainbowVision Santa Fe, his first seniors-oriented undertaking (he has been a consultant to the owner for more than a decade). For example, he designed the assisted living apartments with both a residential and a hospitality flair; he wanted to make sure that if a senior resident had a younger partner, he/she wouldn't feel as though "home" was an assisted living facility. In fact, Cotsovolos avoids using traditional seniors-living terminology when discussing the project: "We never refer to it as a retirement community because that's really not what we are focusing on doing. We're trying to design for the next section of our lives, and there should be nothing institutional about it. We think the boutique hotel approach will help us achieve that goal." Think of RainbowVision Santa Fe as not a retirement community, he says, but as a "lifestyle enhancement," a place where LGBT seniors can live in a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment.

Cotsovolos further explains how he translated hospitality concepts into a seniors environment and used a "destination" concept: "What will set RainbowVision Santa Fe apart is the true sense of 'community.' Not just because the residents are mostly gay, but also because the project was designed as a 'destination' with a clear sense of place, not unlike most resorts. You go outside your front door, and you feel that you are already someplace, complete with all of the amenities most people come to expect every day, such as entertainment venues, dining venues, retail spaces, conference facilities, full-service spa and salons, health clubs, etc. I adopted the destination concept from other hospitality projects we have designed, and which we did not get a sense had been addressed previously in other retirement communities that we had researched."

LGBT seniors do experience the same frailties as their heterosexual peers, and Cotsovolos has incorporated the usual ADA specifications along with other seniors-friendly features, including:

* smaller, more intimate and personal spaces

* wider circulation paths

* larger spans of flooring and fewer transitions

* handrails to assist in moving through corridors

* guardrails and chair rails to protect walls and corners from walkers and wheelchairs

* wider table widths and bases (where necessary)

* wider restroom stalls

* brighter, clearer lighting

* dimmable lighting

* automatic door openers

* static-free carpeting

* lower transaction counters

* easier-to-reach amenities, such as close proximity of the mail room to the front lobby, the adjacency of the salon to the fitness center, massage rooms' direct access to locker rooms, the salon's location behind the performance stage, the artists' studios' location beside a conference room, and retail space located right off the main lobby

* sound-absorbing materials to alleviate background noise

* seating groups throughout to allow residents to rest as they move through spaces

Being gay himself, Cotsovolos says his heart goes into the project: "I feel like in a way I'm giving back to my brothers and sisters. It's something that's very important to me and the rest of the gay community, that we can finally retire in a place of tolerance, where we will be accepted for who we are."

RainbowVision Santa Fe will be a safe place for gay seniors, but Cotsovolos doesn't think that will translate into isolation from or by the larger community: "There is no risk of isolation within this retirement resort. There are integrated activities planned with the local community, such as organized trips to local venues, scheduled rides to the city community center, the opera, museums and galleries, local sporting events, the golf course nearby, cultural activities, festivals, fairs, and local events, all which help join the residents to the larger community. In addition, the bar, cabaret lounge, restaurant, and retail venues all will be open to the public and will welcome visitors. It is hoped that gays from around the nation will come to visit the cabaret lounge, one of the only 'gay bars' in town, and help to make the restaurant a local hot spot and gay destination."

Time will tell if the idea of LGBT seniors communities really takes hold. Many projects have been proposed, but few have made it as far as this one. (To read about perhaps the first independent living environment for gay and lesbian seniors, the Palms of Manasota, and some factors long-term care managers should take into consideration when serving LGBT clientele, see the August 2001 issue of Nursing Homes/Long Term Care Management, p. 40.) Yet Cotsovolos is determined to see this project through. "Gay people historically have been trendsetters," he notes, and perhaps this project will motivate other builders and designers of seniors environments to consider ways to serve the needs of the LGBT market.

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Title Annotation:featurearticle
Author:Edwards, Douglas J.
Publication:Nursing Homes
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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