The Spires At Berry College

Berry College in Rome, Ga., was founded in 1902 as the Boys Industrial School. It was built on the concept that in exchange for education, students would work to maintain the school. The college and its campus have evolved over the years, growing to more than 2,000 students (including women) and 27,000 acres, making it the world’s largest contiguous college campus.

However, the original emphasis on learning, practical work experience, and community service has remained. In fact, it inspired the college’s newest addition: The Spires at Berry College, a 400,000-square-foot continuing care retirement community (CCRC), which opened in June 2020.

“Part of the reason this whole project came about was [the college] needed more jobs for their students and wanted them to have real-life experiences,” says Laurie Steber, executive director at The Spires at Berry College. “You cannot get any more real life than what we’ve got going on.”

THW Design, Faulkner Design come together

In 2014, the project team, including THW Design, Faulkner Design Group, owner Lavender Mountain Senior Living (a nonprofit company formed by Berry College to own and operate The Spires), and Greenbrier Development, came together to deliver a destination retirement community that would attract alumni as well as area residents while supporting work-study options for Berry College students.

The overriding goal of the project was a marriage between Berry College and all that it has stood for, its long tradition [of service], and their desire to attract a senior living community on their enormous campus,” says Ken Kite, architect and senior project manager at THW Design (Atlanta).

With 48 acres on campus designated by the Berry College board for the CCRC, the first step was finding the right site. “They really wanted the community to be a feature [on campus],” Kite says.

Brownfield site challenge

Several locations were considered, but the one that offered the greatest potential for views and proximity to nature as well as Berry College also presented the biggest challenge: a brownfield site near the west side of campus that had been an active limestone quarry until 2000. Past efforts to pump in 6 billion gallons of water had helped stabilize the water table beneath Berry College, but the addition of The Spires would require intensive drilling and blasting to remove more material.

The effort was worth it, though, and made way for an 88-acre manmade lake, called Eagle Lake, with views to Lavender Mountain in the distance, creating a picturesque setting for the senior living community. “Our goal was to take advantage of the siting, where you could see the lake and the mountain, and the natural features on campus,” he says.

With such an abundance of natural features, including woodlands, meadows, and streams, at the CCRC’s doorstep, Kite says maximizing views drove a lot of the planning and design of the community. Starting at the main entrance, a 2.5-story lobby features a full wall of glass windows on the opposite side of the entrance doors, framing views of the lake and mountains in the distance.

Furthermore, many of the public areas and dining venues, as well as resident units, were arranged toward those views. “Instead of a squarish building, there are a series of arms that reach out and around the lake, so more interior spaces have that exterior exposure,” Kite says.

The CCRC comprises 188 independent living units, including 155 apartments in two wings of the main commons building, which also houses amenity spaces; 16 cottages; and 17 apartment units in a detached building. Connected to the main building is the Magnolia Place Healthcare Center, which houses assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care units.

Recognizing that the solution to spread out the buildings in order to maximize views might lead to longer travel distances between the resident units and amenity spaces, the team opted to make the independent living wings in the main building and the healthcare building four stories high. “It was a balancing act between a compact building with short travel distances and getting as much exposure to the views as we could,” Kite says.

The healthcare building, which has a separate entrance as well as access from the commons building via an interior corridor, is donut-shaped, with memory care on the first floor, skilled nursing on the second, and assisted living on the top two floors. An enclosed courtyard in the center provides a safe and secure outdoor setting for residents, while also helping bring natural light into the units.

Design pays homage to Berry College

While the campus’ natural setting helped guide the location and layout of the CCRC, the college’s 100-plus-year-old buildings inspired the architecture and interiors. “The biggest directive was to make sure that this new community blends seamlessly with the college campus,” says Nicole Hill, senior project manager at Faulkner Design Group (Dallas), which provided interior architecture and design on the project.

In fact, one of the most prominent architectural details on the college campus—a spire on every building— was incorporated into the CCRC buildings and provided inspiration for the community’s name.

A variety of natural materials was also integrated into the façade and interior spaces to reflect the architecture on campus, including stacked stone walls and columns and wood ceiling beams and column coverings. The region’s traditional design vernacular inspired the interior design, mixed with some modern touches, Hill says.

Examples include traditional plaid fabrics in updated colors, wingback chairs with clean lines, custom broadloom carpets with large-scale geometric prints, and wood flooring mixed with porcelain tile that features a Carrara marble look. “We pulled those materials that have been around for a long time and that are familiar to residents in their homes,” she says.

A color palette of warm gray neutrals accented with saturated jewel tones, such as deep teal and merlot, are used throughout the public spaces in reference to the colors found outside at the lake and nearby mountains. Hill says four standard designer-recommended schemes and four upgraded schemes for independent living were offered to residents to personalize their living environments.

Senior-inspired design

In the healthcare building, specifically, efforts were made to provide a sense of continuity and familiarity for residents who require more services as they age and progress through the buildings. For example, the same materials and finishes from independent living are used in the healthcare building where applicable, including dining chairs and tables, carpets, colors, and artwork.

Other touches, such as a mix of functional and decorative lighting, living room-inspired seating areas, and staff spaces located behind doors, are designed to further support the sense of home in each setting.

“We tried to make sure that at each level, the feel of the building was the same—the same quality, same openness as much as possible, and same opportunity for interaction,” Kite says.

Additionally, Kite says both the main building with independent living units and the healthcare building have their own prominent entrances to make them equally important (they’re also connected and accessible via interior corridors). “The healthcare building isn’t set off to the side and isolated,” Kite says.

Intergenerational connection

While students can work in a variety of jobs at the CCRC, the project team designed several spaces to support socializing with residents, as well, including a club room with a variety of games and activities and a multipurpose room for performances or presentations.

“The whole program from the very beginning was to integrate students with residents,” Kite says.

The community began opening in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a wing of independent living and the cottages, while the rest of the independent living units and the healthcare building opened in October. Steber says the project’s large, open spaces have given residents, students, and staff room to gather while still maintaining social distances and adhering to safety protocols.

Kite adds that, overall, the right foundation is in place to grow and support the community’s intergenerational vision. “Even in the short time it’s been open, it’s incredible to see the respect and love [residents and students] have for each other,” he says.


Project details for The Spires at Berry College

Project completion date: September 2020

Owner: Lavender Mountain Senior Living

Developer: Greenbrier Development

Total building area: 400,000 sq. ft.

Total construction cost: $76 million

Cost/sq. ft.: $190

Architecture: THW Design

Interior design: Faulkner Design Group

Contracting: Brasfield & Gorrie

Engineering: Jordan & Skala Engineers

Construction: Brasfield & Gorrie

Art/pictures: 8180 Art, Art Dallas, Artline LTD, Paragon, Global Views, Leftbank Art, Phillips Collection, Wendover

Carpet/flooring: Mohawk, Signature, Shaw Flooring, Artistic Tile, Holland Marble Imports, Arizona Tile, Emser Tile, Glazzio Tiles, Artistic Tile, Daltile, Coronado Stone Products, Concept Surfaces, Ceramic Techniques, Walker Zanger, IBS Tuff Plank, Mannington Commercial

Ceiling/wall systems: Armstrong, USG

Doors/locks/hardware: Dorma, Pamex

Fabric/textiles: Architex, Brentano, Carnegie, Concertex, Coral Fabrics, Fabricut, KB Contract, Keystone Bros, Kirby, Knoll Textiles, Kravet, Maxwell Fabrics, Momentum Group, Novel Fabrics, Opuzen, Pindler & Pindler, Pollack, Romo/Black Edition, Schneider Textiles, Tri-Kes

Furniture—seating/casegoods: Belvedere Maletti, Bernhardt Design, Glass Doctor of Rome, Business Interiors, Collins Manufacturing Co., DSA, Emissary Home & Garden, Fairfield Chair, Gallo Design, Global Views, H Contract, Hammer Fine Furniture, Hooker Furniture, Kellex, Krug, Kwalu, Mandalay Home Furnishings, Minerva Beauty, RH Modern, Summer Classics, Surya, Wood Goods

Lighting: Arteriors, Currey & Co., Global Views, Surya, Wildwood

Surfaces—solid/other: Daltile, Stone Source, Cambria, Cesar Stone

Wallcoverings: Weitzner, Phillip Jefferies, Harelquin, Romo, Trikes, Casamance, Hartmann Forbes, Trikes, Jim Thompson

Anne DiNardo is executive editor of Environments for Aging. She can be reached at