Residents continue to live full lives at The Village.
Written by Justine M. Dominici
Published in the Spring 2020 issue of Image Magazine
My family and I recently made the decision to place my grandmother in a senior-living community. It wasn’t an easy one. My grandmother is a very private person. Her apartment was her sanctuary—with her big blue La-Z-Boy in the center of her living room; her dusty rose walls decorated with photographs of her family; her television set softly playing her favorite true crime shows and Judge Judy at all hours. This was her home. And now it was being taken from her, and she was being relocated to a strange place, with strange people.
I wish I could say that my grandmother joined a community like The Village, the stunning contemporary senior-living community that opened its doors early 2019 in downtown White River Junction. Instead she moved into a facility that has become the norm for senior living in the United States: a building that feels more like a hospital than a home.
Why can’t senior living be more appealing? That’s a question Brooke Ciardelli, cofounder of The Village and founder of the award-winning
Northern Stage, began to ask herself a few years ago. “It was clear—no one liked senior living,” she says. “The senior doesn’t want to move. The adult children feel guilty. And the grandkids don’t want to go visit grandma because it’s ‘creepy and smells.’”
Creating a Better Option
According to the US Census Bureau, by 2030, as the last baby boomers turn 65, seniors are expected to reach 20 percent of the population. This means that, for the first time in US history, seniors will outnumber young people. And in Vermont? The median age of residents is five years older than the rest of the country.
These numbers were not lost on Brooke and her business partner Byron Hathorn, a well-known regional developer and lifelong Vermonter (he and his family were born and raised in Hartford), when they first put the wheels in motion on a new assisted-living community in White River. The pair met in 2007 while Byron was serving as president of the board for Northern Stage. They jointly purchased an auto dealership lot that would become the location of the new Northern Stage theater in downtown White River. When considering construction options for the other half of the lot, Byron and Brooke wanted to create something that would create value and build community—and they saw a real need in the area for long-term senior care.
“We saw a need for seniors that was not being met with most existing facilities,” says Brooke. “We wanted to build a community that seniors would be happy to live in.”
So they set to work. They visited dozens of senior living communities in the United States and created a list of what was working, what wasn’t, and what was a major pain point for residents and their families. The architecture, design, and programming decisions were all made based on what seniors universally didn’t like about assisted living—and they strove to do the opposite. At the top of the dislikes pile, for example? Not allowing pets. Most senior-living communities are not pet friendly.
“We knew we would make our community pet friendly,” says Brooke. If you’re a typical senior, she explains, your family might not live nearby, and your significant other may have passed. “For a senior living alone, their pet is their best friend and closest family member. We knew we didn’t want to ask them to give that up.”
An Inspiring Space for Residents
The Village today, which opened its doors early in 2019 and is classified as an assisted-living and memory-care community, is not only pet friendly but includes a rooftop dog park and pet grooming salon. The building was designed with a five-story “vertical mainstreet” approach and holds 80 apartments. Windows to the front and sides overlook White River’s bustling yet intimate streets and the Northern Stage theater, while windows to the back look far into the green mountain landscape. For its unique architectural and interior design, The Village received the 2019 Senior Housing News Architecture and Design Award.
“White River Junction is a cultural and creative district,” says Brooke, “and we wanted to integrate into the surrounding community by creating a space that is equally inspiring for residents coming and going as it is for community members coming and going.”
The lifestyle at The Village brings to mind a blend of a dream house and a
boutique hotel that includes amenities, meals, and health care services: an art studio. A salon and spa. Raised garden beds for vegetable or flower gardening. A movie theater. A fully stocked kitchen with a long farmhouse table and modern appliances. A live performance space. A professional gym. Two dining rooms and a small bistro. And let’s not forget about that pet grooming salon.
The décor and spaces inside The Village were all designed with the history of Hartford Village in mind. Lillian’s Salon, for example, was named after Lillian Gish, a silent movie actress who starred in a film set in part along the White River. The salon is designed to evoke the 1920s, with an art deco style and portraits of silent film stars adorning the walls. Wells Perch, the rooftop dog park, was named after Horace Wells, the Hartford, Vermont–born scientist who discovered the use of nitrous oxide in dentistry.
Art, Music, Theater, and More
Perhaps most important of all, The Village offers a number of unique and engaging programming options for its residents. Why? “It is proven that mental health affects overall wellness as much as physical health does,” says Brooke. “We offer art, music, and theater because the arts stimulate our mental well-being and help keep our minds sharp and engaged.”
Programming could include cello lessons on a Tuesday morning taught by The Village’s artists-in-residence, a movie at the in-house cinema on a Wednesday night, or a lecture from one of The Village’s guest speakers such as masters skiers Tim Beck and John Morton on a Friday afternoon. And if the offered programming isn’t appealing that day, many residents go for a stroll around downtown, attend a show at Northern Stage, or even take a field trip to the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth for a musical performance.
All of these sparkling additions sound expensive but are considered market rate and competitive with other assisted-living and memory-care facilities in the region. The Village also has no “buy-in” or additional add-on fees for increasing levels of care. More important than the amenities, though, is a simple mission that has been driving Brooke and Byron from the start: to create a place that people look forward to coming to.
“People at our community have a reason to get out of bed every day,” says Brooke. “We want seniors to move here to be able to continue to live their lives as fully as possible for as long as possible. Every person has a story. When they move here, their story will continue.”