Best Memory Care Design of 2021: “Best of Both Worlds” in a Tiny Home Design

Sage Oak Memory Care houses 16 beds each in five buildings, with an administration building in the front and center. But this Lake Charles, Louisiana-based community feels more like a cottage neighborhood than a self-contained memory care community.

By dividing 80 beds into five separate buildings, the community’s designers prioritized personalized resident care with smaller buildings, while retaining the logistical and financial advantages of a so-called “big box” community.

Creating a community with the benefits of a small and a large senior living operator was the vision of Sage Oak Assisted Living and Memory Care CEO Loe Hornbuckle.

“The original design was [to] create something that was the best of both worlds for residents that gave them all the benefits of small, all the benefits of big,” Hornbuckle told Senior Housing News.

The best-of-both-worlds design, coupled with prioritized dining and social spaces, earned it top honors from the 2021 Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards judges in the “Best Standalone Memory Care” category.

The concept

Development of The Sage Oak of Lake Charles began in 2019 with a simple yet disruptive concept – combining the ambiance and comfort of a 16-bed community with the functionality and logistics of an 80-bed community.

Hornbuckle recalled that he drew the original floor plan on a napkin and gave it to the project’s architectural firm, Greenleaf Lawson.

From the start, “they wanted it to be different,” said Justin Greenleaf, principal architect of Greenleaf Lawson Architects.

Senior housing design companies will often need to take a developer’s vision and come up with a compromise that provides the best care for residents within the confines of the project. But for this project, the concept has always been to marry an 80-bed operation with the care of an intimate 16-bed building.

“These owners really stuck to what they wanted,” Greenleaf said.

Larger communities have specific advantages, according to Hornbuckle.

“If you have 80 beds, you have enough revenue for every position you need…an executive director, an assistant ED, an assistant director of nursing,” Hornbuckle said.

Thus, one of the main goals of the project was to redirect more of the operating budget to achieve a caregiver ratio of approximately 5 caregivers for every resident while eliminating the “institutional” aspect of a large box. The designers of the project helped achieve this goal by creating more touchpoints and more opportunities for human interaction.

To keep human interaction at the forefront of the Sage Oak of Lake Charles experience, each of the five buildings has a large common area that includes a play area, open kitchen, and dining area, all of which can be easily seen from a nursing station at the crossroads of the common area and the foyer. Amenities in the common room include a desk, hair salon, library and computer center.

Perhaps the most notable feature of each building at the Sage Oak of Lake Charles is the open kitchen and dining area, which allows residents to watch and participate in meal preparation, an activity essential to care programming. of memory.

“It turns into a hibachi-like experience for residents,” Hornbuckle said. “So when you come to our campus, there are five meal services, not one.”

An added benefit of this style of cooking is food quality and freshness, as residents are much closer to where their meals are prepared.

Typically, resident suites are designed with a common room or sitting area that Hornbuckle found to be wasted space. So he wanted to move on to a more innovative concept with this design.

“Rooms are designed to be efficient and small on purpose to funnel residents into the common space as much as possible,” he said.

He added that this strategy creates operational benefits because it is easier to keep residents safe if residents socialize and congregate in common areas where support is nearby.

“We liken our situation to a hotel room in Vegas,” he said. “You don’t spend a lot of time in the room – you’re on the go.”

Bedrooms at Sage Oak are divided into four quadrants, called wings, to preserve the intimate feel, with hallways specially designed to be as short as possible to illuminate the institutional vibe of the space.

Each Residential Suite differs slightly in size, allowing for product and price differentiation, and includes its own private bathroom with a zero-entry shower.

The buildings use fiber-optic wireless technology so residents can virtually visit friends and family when they can’t visit in person. The campus also has self-contained office and rental space, allowing safe separation from outside traffic – a safety mechanism in the Covid-19 pandemic.

As is often the case with most seniors’ housing projects, the project also had to obtain approval from the local community. In the end, it won unanimous support from the local planning commission and praise from Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter.


Work on the project began in 2019. Building a memory care community meant to look like four large houses was already no easy undertaking, but the project also faced external challenges on an unprecedented scale. .

Lake Charles, Louisiana made national news in 2020 as the first US city to have two named tropical storms or hurricanes – Laura and Delta – make landfall in the same hurricane season. Months later, in 2021, winter storm Uri wreaked havoc across the southern United States, followed by extreme flooding in May.

In total, the community of Lake Charles experienced four federally declared natural disasters during a 12-month period, all of which occurred during the construction period of the project.

The unique design of the Sage Oak also presented challenges for contractors. In order to create a community with adequate safety and care while maintaining the intimate home, the design required pairing commercial construction with residential construction, and that can be tricky when sourcing subcontractors, according to Hornbuckle.

“This project is very unique because it’s one of the few times you’ll have contractors from different disciplines [of construction]come together,” he said.

Overall, the project was over a year and a half behind schedule and over budget, according to Hornbuckle.

“Between Covid and the aforementioned weather events, we had a lot of adversity,” he said. “We were over a year and a half behind schedule and we certainly went over budget.”


This same community survived Laura, Delta, Uri, massive flooding and Covid-19 alongside the developers, designers and contractors who built The Sage Oak of Lake Charles. This community continues to support him.

Now open, the community has five 8,500 square foot homes with 16 residential suites. To date, the community has not reported any cases of Covid-19 among residents or staff, and Hornbuckle credits design features such as the self-contained sales desk with helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Lake Charles’ Sage Oak currently averages about three deposits per week, and Hornbuckle believes the community will meet its occupancy goals nine months after opening.

Gracyn Robinson, former senior designer at LWDA Design, Brown University candidate for her Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership and one of the judges involved in the SHN Architecture and Design Awards, awarded top honors at Sage Oak of Lake Charles e.

Robinson noted that the community meets both the goal of being a purpose-built facility and a patient-centered model of care.

“There’s no institutional feel,” Robinson said of the project. “From participatory catering… to no-entry transitions both in and out, this community is knowledgeable and expertly done.

Other design features, like open kitchen concepts, have also paid off. Today, residents discuss recipes while watching chefs prepare their meals, discussing topics such as making local dishes like roux and gumbo, Hornbuckle said.

Another testament to the success of the community is the fact that the vast majority of current residents of The Sage Oak of Lake Charles – Hornbuckle estimates 75% – came from other remembrance care communities in the area.

In the end, reducing wasted space in the bedroom and reallocating it to common areas also paid off. Reducing wasted space in bedrooms and repurposing it into common areas has also paid off in terms of resident demand. As a testament to this, the company will soon reduce its monthly marketing budget to just $500 from $2,000 previously.

But perhaps the true measure of successful development is whether the companies involved will repeat the project elsewhere. And in this case, the answer is a resounding yes.

“We’re really in a position where I think this new product is going to dominate the market,” Hornbuckle said.

The Sage Oak will open a similar community in Denton, Texas in May.

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