An elevated experience

The upscale restaurant scene in San Antonio, Texas, has some new competition—and you might want to call ahead for a reservation.

When Air Force Village I (AFV-I), a high-rise military retirement community originally built in 1969, decided to revamp its dining venues, it found the perfect space on the 16th floor. The original top-floor room sat unused much of the time, and its drop ceilings, outdated lighting and folding chairs exuded the personality of a 1970s city council meeting rather than a multipurpose room for senior living. 

AFV-I’s new Sky Lounge, this year’s Environments for Aging Remodel/Renovation Award winner, offers a fine-dining atmosphere with a wine-tasting area and an upscale bar complete with a baby grand piano [see "after" photo, right]. The windowed top-floor location naturally appeals to the community’s military-based residents, who can now savor a glass of wine or enjoy a meal with friends while watching local aircraft perform touch-and-go maneuvers.

AFV-I has transformed its dining venue into a vibrant social space, where residents come for much more than a meal. "It was about getting people in the right space for the right activity," says Kathie Estrada, executive director for AFV-I. "If you’re single, you can sit at the Sky Lounge bar, and someone will come join you. It’s not intimidating like a big, open dining room."


Great design starts with deep research, so lead designers from Perkins Eastman spoke with residents, board members and focus groups of potential future residents about the features and atmosphere desired in the new restaurant space—info-gathering meetings that were held in the 16th-floor room [see "Before" photo, right]. "The current generation of residents is very sharp and sophisticated, and they’ll tell you what the expectations are," says Dan Cinelli, FAIA, principal and director at Perkins Eastman.

Although most residents were in favor of a fine-dining venue on the top floor, AFV-I also decided to create a more causal bistro dining option on the ground floor. "The next generation is not just buying into real estate, they’re buying a lifestyle. You have to provide more than one dining venue, because it’s all about choice," Cinelli notes.

Jurors for the annual remodel/renovation competition were impressed by the project’s ability to combine residents’ wishes for sophistication with the versatility of a multipurpose space. "Excellent use of new elements to break down the large empty space into smaller definable areas," commented one juror. "Excellent use of ceiling variations to create a visual interest inside the space," and "Wonderful transformation of space [and] use of great colors; warm and inviting," wrote others. The separate readership poll agreed, voting the AFV-I submission the overall favorite for 2013.


In AFV-I’s Sky Lounge, dining has broken free of the structured vibes of eating simply for the sake of the meal, and the space has become a popular social place for residents to linger with friends and guests (see photo, left). "The meal now takes three hours, instead of 'get in and get out,'" says Jerry Walleck, AIA, principal and board director at Perkins Eastman. "Residents might have a glass of wine with friends then have a relaxing dinner with restaurant-style service, and then they might have a nightcap around the piano."

The Sky Lounge design incorporated the versatility needed to convert the space for special events, and the on-site full kitchen has opened up new return-on-investment options for the organization. Many select groups now rent the space when it’s not open for resident dining, including rotary groups and military groups, Estrada says. "We’ve also picked up a lot of catering from select outside jobs, but we limit ourselves against any activity that would disturb our residents."



The project’s only downfall? The waiting line. The Sky Lounge is now such a popular dining venue that residents at Air Force Village II, the organization’s sister community, are making the 20-minute drive to visit the restaurant. "Now they’re having trouble turning over the tables, because people are staying so long," Walleck says.

Read more about the Environments for Aging Remodel/Renovation Award competition, and join us at the 2014 Environments for Aging conference May 3-6 in Anaheim.

Topics: Articles , Design , Executive Leadership , Housing