A New First Impression

MediLodge of Port Huron is a 127-bed skilled nursing facility built in 1980, with features and a design aesthetic typical of its era. Its floor plan was a web of corridors, rooms, doors and walls, with no open spaces. The entrance and lobby focused on a cluttered and cramped therapy gym, screened by wired glass windows.  Views into the courtyard were shadowed by an old aluminum awning and heavy window treatments. Adjacent to the gym was a tiny beauty shop, popular with guests, but quite hidden from view. We were tasked with creating a new first impression for visitors, establishing open and inviting space(s) for guests and staff, and a stimulating connection to an underutilized central courtyard.

After: a new coffee house
Before: an underutilized therapy space

The new coffee house pairs a ‘grab and go’ concept with made-to-order food and beverage selections. The facility’s overall strategy was to decentralize food service from one large dining hall to neighborhood satellite serving kitchens in four separate areas. For this location, we interpreted this strategy as way to bring together staff, guests and visitors in a light-filled and pleasantly appointed main public space for the entire facility. The coffee house is equidistant from most other guest areas of the building, and is also the very first space one experiences upon entry to the facility. A variety of soft and casual seating areas, views to the green courtyard, and a ‘storefront’ leading to the day spa create a main public space for the building that never existed before. With a rustic stone fireplace, a bold palette, contemporary fixture selections, and plenty of glass, the space allows for comfortable visits, quiet lunches, and even acts as an event or party room.


We reviewed operational aspects of the coffee shop and the salon with the head chef and the stylist, as these were new concepts for this facility. Directly behind the serving counter is a small serving kitchen that allows food to be prepared where ordered, instead of from a distant main kitchen. This keeps food quality high since it is not transported, and it reduces the need for noisy carts to be wheeled throughout the facility. The stylist indicated that although the glass wall concept was nice, residents expressed a desire for a level of privacy during their spa experience. We achieved a balance with a screen wall within the spa. Designers also observed that there were no spaces where a guest and their family members might enjoy time together, apart from the guest rooms and the large dining hall.  As well, the staff break room was small, with little more than a few tables and some vending machines.  We proposed that the new coffee house should serve guests, visitors and staff alike.


During multiple visits since completion, our observation was that the space is already clearly well-liked and highly trafficked. Staff and administration expressed their delight with the coffee house. Even as we attempted to clear areas to stage photos, guests, staff and building visitors found their way into the shots and made themselves comfortable! At the crossing of a main corridor and the main entrance, the new space has truly become the communal heart of the building and a gathering place for its occupants.