“A small kitchen would never do.” “Sharing a bathroom is just not an option.” “With a separate room, laundry would be so much easier.” “Moving that wall would create more room to display collectibles.”
Are we eavesdropping on a meeting with a custom home builder? No, we are hearing some of the many requirements for the perfect retirement living space expressed by residents of The Virginian, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Fairfax, VA. Judging by the apartment conversions that have already been completed-not to mention the ones that are in the planning stages-the management and staff at The Virginian were listening as well.
After looking for a retirement community in the area for several years, George and Marion Craig found themselves returning to The Virginian again and again. Marion recalls, “We kept coming back! We knew we would be happy here. The surroundings are just beautiful.” When Marion saw the relatively small kitchen, her excitement cooled.
It was not until the Craigs were told about the ongoing apartment conversions that their interest really piqued. By combining a one-bedroom apartment with a two-bedroom apartment, The Virginian was able to meet the needs of the Craigs, who wanted not only a larger kitchen but also lots of wall space.
The Craigs moved into their custom apartment in June and have been thrilled with the experience thus far. In addition to enjoying the pastoral surroundings and welcoming environment that initially drew them to The Virginian, they also appreciate the intimate atmosphere. “Some retirement communities are very large, like small cities. This is smaller, which gives us a nice sense of community,” George points out.
Completing their nearly ten year long search has left the Craigs with a great sense of accomplishment and pride. George explains, “We have a strong sense of independence. That is the fundamental reason we decided to move now, so we could negotiate all the details.”
Independence comes naturally to the Craigs. They spent many years abroad and have traveled extensively. After six years of active duty with the Marines, George earned a degree in Physics and became a Systems Engineer. Most of his career was spent integrating large scale government and military systems. His work took the family around the country and the world.
The couple met in Washington, D.C. during WWII. Like many of her peers, Marion moved to the area to work for the army intelligence office during this critical time. One of her roommates, George’s distance relative, frequently invited her to attend dinner parties at the Craigs’ house. “And then one night there was this Marine leaning against the piano,” she smiles as she remembers.
Shortly after their marriage, George went back to college and started working full-time. He worked all the way through college in order to support their growing family of five children. The opportunity to live in various places, from Georgia to Holland, was invigorating for the couple’s children. “They all have fond memories of Holland. One of our sons even goes back to visit frequently,” Marion says.
Even after their children left home, the Craigs continued to travel. They lived in Belgium for four years while George was working with NATO shortly before retiring. Of life abroad, Marion noted, “We’re Americans, and we are happiest here, but all of our time spent abroad was really nice.” She continues, “We are not the type of people that get dissatisfied. We are determined to be happy, so we were happy all over the world.”
It’s that type of constructive standpoint that has helped the Craigs quickly adjust to their new community. That, and the “smiling faces” and “warm welcomes” they have received every night at dinner since they moved in six weeks ago. Their spacious new apartment, now professionally decorated, certainly helps too.
While the Craigs vied for a more spacious kitchen, long-time Virginian resident, Mrs. Fay Park, continued her pursuit for the perfect apartment. Mrs. Park has made a record three moves within the building. As she approaches her 11th year as a resident at The Virginian, she relates, “I just kept moving until I found the perfect apartment.” For her, that meant a living space that included a laundry room and a much rarer request-a doll room.
Mrs. Park has hundreds of dolls in various shapes, sizes, and styles. Her collection includes porcelain dolls, hand-made dolls, and some rare collectables. “Boredom started this habit,” says Mrs. Park, who found herself shopping for collectibles while her husband, a steam engineer, was working night shifts. After starting and losing interest in several collections, she found that dolls were “the prettiest, and there are so many different types.” She smiles as she sits in a wicker chair-normally reserved for a life-sized doll-and points out, “My four daughters love it! They always know what to get me for holidays.”
Finding a home for her dolls was not Mrs. Park’s only motivation for her multiple moves. She recalls, “The last thing my husband said to me before he died was, ‘I want you to have everything you ever wanted.'” She continues, “I didn’t want a lot, but I did want a larger apartment with a laundry room, so I kept holding out for it.”
Now settled into her ideal apartment with her vast doll collection, Mrs. Park continues to enjoy life at The Virginian. “When I first moved here so many years ago, I thought the people were all so great. They still are. This really is like a family,” she says. Mrs. Park has been an integral part of the family. She has served as President and Vice President of the Association of Virginian Residents and on almost every resident committee in the past 11 years.
She continues to work at the “White Elephant,” a store on the grounds of the community that sells goods donated by residents. Of her work in the store, she says, “A lot of the things that people donate are so nice, that you find yourself wanting to buy them yourself.” She goes on to admit that there really is no room for new furniture because of all the dolls. She has no plans to move to again though-at least not yet.
As the apartment conversions at The Virginian continue, more and more individuals like Mrs. Park and George and Marion Craig will be able to create their ideal homes. There are plans currently underway for more two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The Virginian’s Executive Director, Chris Isherwood, explains the motivation behind these conversions: “People often ask who our biggest competition is and the answer is the family home. Many older residents in this area are living in spacious homes and have the means to stay there. By combining smaller apartments to provide larger living spaces, we can accommodate the needs of a younger, more active senior population.”
Prospective residents will not only be able to literally shape their living space but will also have the unique opportunity to “test drive” the community before moving in. The Virginian is currently focusing on their “Get Acquainted” Program, which affords potential residents the opportunity to live in a fully furnished guest apartment from a week to a few months at a time in order get a feel for life at the community. These short-term residents will enjoy all the services and amenities the community has to offer.
Undoubtedly, as these new, vibrant residents go from “test drivers” to full-time residents, the layouts at The Virginian will transform to meet their needs. George and Marion Craig and Fay Park can attest to the flexibility of both the staff and the floor plans in their community. They placed orders for custom-built retirement living spaces, and they got just what they wanted-including a little room to grow.