Billed as “the Midwest’s first multicultural retirement community,” Verandah Senior Living in Hanover Park, IL, has opened its doors hoping to attract residents of south Asian heritage.

In doing so, Verandah wants to be a place where people from the surrounding area will feel comfortable sharing nationality, culture and language in a senior living environment.

The Chicago suburb is home to more than a half-million people who have immigrated from India and other south Asian countries, making it the second-largest concentration in the United States.
“Minorities can feel out of place in traditional communities because they want to feel more at home with people of their culture,” says Anuja Gupta, M.D., principal and managing partner of Aman Living, developer of Verandah Senior Living. “Being a physician, I worked at a hospital, and the owner of a senior living community asked me, ‘Where do south Asian people go (for care in old age)?’ That got me thinking. Where do they go? They don’t go to assisted living, because that is a long-term residence, and south Asians cannot imagine living somewhere without their culture.”

The newly constructed continuing care retirement community broke ground in 2016 and held its grand opening in July. Residences are neighborhood-style, and the campus houses 55 townhomes, 72 condominiums and an 80-bed facility with 68 assisted living units and 12 memory care studios.

The décor includes various facets that Indian people will find familiar, Gupta says, including paintings, fixtures, furnishings, colors and lighting. Ambient music features Indian songs and artists.

“Everything we do is intended to cater to South Asian preferences,” she says.

“Cuisine, activities, engagement and entertainment are all done in a way that would appeal to Indian people,” she adds.

That means meals that are predominantly vegetarian and spiced with curry; activities that include yoga and meditation; Bollywood movies and TV shows; and celebrations of Indian national holidays Diwali (Festival of Light) and Holi (Water Festival).

Mary Cook, whose Chicago-based design firm creates interiors for various congregate housing developments, says ethnically themed communities are becoming more commonplace.

“What we’re finding is that our clients don’t necessarily want to capture a certain aesthetic, but a design that understands their needs and fills them,” Cook says. “For instance, Indian people do not eat cold food, so everything is heated at a high temperature with a lot of oil. That requires over-sized, top-of-the-line cook tops and ventilation. Counters should be non-permeable, appliances should be stainless steel and tile and grout should be resistant to liquids.”

Although new senior living communities all must be designed to accommodate aging residents, catering to certain cultures can mean adhering to particular sensibilities, Cook says.

“There are cultural things to consider, such as feng shui for each room, being aware of certain numbers and close attention to the direction the doors are facing,” she says.

Because Verandah is located amid a high concentration of South Asians, residents have close access to their houses of worship, Indian grocery stores and restaurants, as well as an annual festival that celebrates Indian heritage.

More than 100,000 Indian-origin people live in the Chicago area. More than 2 million Indian-born people reside in the United States.