This is an opportunity to become involved in so many things – special events, information sessions, mental & physical activities, entertainment, and socializing with new friends and this all gives us a sense of living in a wonderful way!

- Canterbury Resident


Life is in the Design Details

Sometimes just changing the layout of a room can make parts of your life so much easier. Maybe it’s just adding bright pillows to your couch that can lift a mood, or the smell of baked cookies that can bring an overwhelming feeling of comfort. Sometimes you can find your best life buried in the smallest design details.

For Canterbury Foundation, design and research have combined to create a $31.5-million renovation and expansion project that will allow residents to feel as comfortable as they would at home -  with the freedom of being independent, yet secure in a safe space - that feeds all their senses.

Working with the University of Alberta’s Dr. Megan Strickfaden and her team, who are doing extensive research to understand the experiences, likes, tastes and needs of the folks who are living in the space; the architects of the project, ONPA Architects, were able to design a beautiful living space for all those who work and live at Canterbury.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Kost, the Senior Partner of ONPA Architects, to chat about what has gone into designing a space that all residents will feel most at home in.

When you approached the design of the new Canterbury expansion – what were the goals you had for the space? What did you want the space to offer residents that they currently don’t have?

In keeping with Canterbury Foundation’s ‘Promise of Home’, we wanted to provide a design that would feel like home.  With this in mind, we wanted a design that would be comfortable, pleasant, positive, supportive, cheerful, and both lively and peaceful.  Always having the residents first of mind during the design process was a unified goal. Having residents feel proud of their home and feel secure within their home was paramount.

The interior design goals for the expansion and renovation, were to maintain the quality and feel of spaces by providing beautiful surroundings that accommodate gatherings large and small, calm and reflective spaces for reading / relaxing with all spaces fully accessible to support independence. Smooth flooring transitions and home-like finishes within the residential suites and common spaces provide a safe and comfortable environment.

A lot of anthropological research has gone into this project by the U of A’s Dr. Megan Strickfaden. How important was that information for you in creating a space that will really support those with dementia?

Dr. Strickfaden’s research team was phenomenal to work with.  They possessed so much passion and knowledge and their interaction helped enhance, guide and validate the design.  We always design for function and for each unique situation and having access to Dr. Megan Strickfaden’s research made the spaces come alive.  As residents travel through the spaces, we wanted the residents to be transported to different times and places that would be meaningful to them.  Using finishes that would allow for future flexibility and or change was also key – removable wall vinyls, paint, etc. Incorporating textural differences and varying colour palettes to stimuli neuro and visual sensory processes was very important.

There are some very thoughtful pieces in the design, like a functioning coffee shop and a secure outdoor courtyard that can be accessed without staff help for dementia care patients. How much more independence will these individuals feel just through the design of the building?

In keeping with the goal of prioritizing a ‘Promise of Home’ for all the residents, the design team worked to make the most of opportunities for highlighting feelings of comfort and freedom in the sense of at-home-ness.  It was the goal through amenities such as these, to foster feelings of independence, provide a variety of choices in activities and environments, and provide opportunities for diverse experiences.

Design always plays a part in how we experience our environments – either positively or not so much!  Working in a space where your residents can gain independence, finding healing spaces, and creating community, will not only benefit the residents and their families, but also the staff.

The new space will have a barrier free loop. How did you manage to combine both freedom and security in the design of the new space?

Developing the walking loop involved a great deal of effort and much refinement by the team.  As in most key design elements and decisions, a team approach was taken. In this case, input from Dr. Strickfaden and numerous facility staff were key in identifying both pragmatic requirements that had to be met (e.g. security), and the experiential goals we wanted to achieve.

The loop is bookended with a wood feature that allows light in from the existing exterior garden while guiding the residents along the path.  One end has a beautiful wall graphic of a park in the Edmonton, Glenora Neighbourhood which continues onto the door which disguises it and gives a hidden entrance for staff and visitors.  The other end of the loop is an art gallery. With the use of Canterbury’s artwork collection, we will create a space that will appeal to residents culturally. Artworks can periodically be changed to reflect changing scenes, seasons, events, etc. to create interest and excitement.  

What are some of the design elements that you’re really proud of in the new Canterbury expansion and what design details do you think will be really embraced by seniors living there?

We are particularly proud of the new Cherub’s Café and the way it relates to the Atrium and the Dining Room.  We believe this will be a new and lively amenity at the heart of the facility, that will be appreciated and much used by residents.  It will be a gathering place to meet friends and family.

The resident suite bathrooms and kitchenettes will have a positive impact on the happiness of the residents.  The bathrooms are barrier free to promote heightened safety and will include custom vanity millwork. The kitchenettes will also have custom millwork with great storage and will be warm and welcoming within the overall space.

This will be one of the city’s first residential hospices – how does it feel to be breaking this kind of ground in our city and creating something families have desperately needed for so long?

It is an honor for the design team to be part of delivering this pioneering and much needed facility.  A great deal of effort was spent on making this as pleasant, comfortable, and supportive a space as possible.  Having spaces where families can gather and spend time with their loved ones, in an unintimidating space is beautiful.

From the research, this design will change people’s lives, and that is a humbling thought.

Every resident that chooses Canterbury as their home, now and in the future, has positively influenced and contributed to our society in more ways than any of us know.  They have helped to shape our society and continue to do so. It is vitally important that we continue to contribute to improve the lives of seniors. As designers, we are very humbled to have had the opportunity to contribute to this great initiative.


We want to thank Karen Kost and her team at ONPA Architects and we can’t wait to bring their designs to life and amplify the lives of our seniors at Canterbury.

For more information on the expansion project and to donate to Canterbury go here.