When StudioSIX5 (SS5) opened its doors on June 5, 2003, the so-called “silver tsunami” (the coming retirement of the huge baby-boom generation) was still years away from beginning. Smartphones, active adult communities and aging-in-place concepts were also years in the future. Lea von Kaenel and I founded the company of four individuals with a focus on senior living, but also provided interior design for corporate work. Following our passions, we decided in 2005 to pursue senior living exclusively.

The company offered design and purchasing services for furnishings. In the early days, the senior living marketplace consisted of fewer but larger projects—primarily CCRCs or life care communities. These large projects carried SS5 through the lean years of the Great Recession. When it was over, the marketplace had changed. Equity partners had large amounts of money to invest, so the projects were issued as portfolios consisting of four to six communities. SS5 began a period of rapid growth and designed a succession of award-winning communities from coast to coast.

Lea retired in 2011, and I expanded services to include product design for furniture, flooring and technology. Market demand at that time was for needs-based, assisted living/memory care communities. The overall construction boom in the U.S. put a burden on top-quality contractors and subcontractors, and construction prices skyrocketed. Sub-par contractors and subcontractors entered the picture to pick up the slack, quoting lower prices and providing lower quality work.

A lot of our construction administration time was spent fighting to maintain our specifications, especially with decorative lighting and flooring. A lot of the time, pricing was out of line with the specifications, and the contractors and subcontractors were not properly trained to install the specified products. As a result, we decided to expand our purchasing offerings to include decorative lighting and flooring.

Lighting was easy because it was just product shipped to the installer; for flooring, we had to develop a relationship with dealers nationwide. Fuse provided the national coverage with top quality flooring dealers to partner with. The relationship with these partners begins in schematic design and continues through to construction administration and installation. We are now confident of the work to be done and can concentrate on other issues.

The local dealer and Fuse provide valuable expertise to select and design appropriate product and installation methods. Pricing and specifications are controlled by the team, and product is properly received and installed. SS5 is responsible for specifying $20 million of flooring annually.

We now have work in 34 states, and we find that active adult and independent living communities are outpacing assisted living and memory care. We are constantly forward-looking for the next great thing that will bring value to our clients. That may be artificial intelligence, 5G, or some new technology or process yet to be conceived. When that next great thing comes along, SS5 will be involved with it—we may have even started it. We have a passion for improving the lives of seniors, so that we create environments that celebrate life.