There’s nothing quite like visiting an Oakmont Community during the holiday season. Whether it’s spending time with Santa, enjoying engaging family parties, or an evening of yuletide entertainment, each Community finds their own special way of making the holidays truly the most wonderful time of the year.

But before the festivities can officially begin, each Oakmont Community is transformed from its normal comfortable elegance to a wonderland full of holiday cheer and stunning decorations. And though it may look like the work of Christmas magic, it all starts with a talented designer, Susanne Lawrence, who works year-round to create a one-of-a-kind holiday atmosphere at every Oakmont.

From X-Rays to Art Shows

Born and raised in the City of Detroit, Susanne always had a creative side. After graduating from high school, she envisioned a career in the medical field and started 24 months of training to become a registered radiographic technologist. Those 24 months of training turned into 24 years of working for the same radiologist at St. John’s Hospital and the Grosse Pointe Physicians X-Ray Center. But, despite her love for her newfound career, Susanne never gave up on her interest in the arts; continuing to develop her skills in the evening while developing X-rays during the day.

“While I was taking X-rays, I was always developing my art,” she said. “I was taking classes in design, scale, balance, and color. Drawing classes, and then oil painting classes, and then finally watercolor classes which really became my forte.”

A passionate and talented painter, Susanne realized that 24 years in the medical field was enough and that it was time to turn her artistic hobby into a full-time occupation.

“I’ve always had that artsy side of me,” she said. “So, I started working at an art gallery and framery while training with different teachers. It was when I was working there that I began branching out and doing art shows.” Susanne took her art on the road all around Metro Detroit, with successful shows in Rochester, Plymouth, Troy, Grosse Pointe, and Detroit’s Greektown Neighborhood before finally getting in what she calls “the biggie”: The Ann Arbor Art Fair.

After being juried into the Ann Arbor Art Fair, Susanne’s career in the creative arts continued to blossom, as she was approached to begin work as an interior designer in a Bloomfield Hills showroom. Despite her obvious talents and experience, her concern over a lack of formal education almost held her back. But thanks to the wise words from a mentor, she realized the quality of her work and her passion for excellence spoke for themselves.

“When I was thinking about going full time with art, I was nervous that I didn’t have a degree in the field,” Susanne said. “But my art teacher once told me, ‘it’s not about what your background is, it’s about what you’re producing now.’ And I adopted that same mindset with interior design. I may not have a degree in design, but I have the background in art, scale, balance, color, and everything, so I went forward with that.”

She soon left the job in the showroom at the end of 2004, and ventured into the world of self-employment, working with many diverse clients on different interior design projects. It was during this period that she first began lending her considerable talents to Oakmont Senior Communities, helping to develop the signature look that all Oakmont Communities now feature. From wallpaper and window treatments, to custom curated art and specially woven carpet, each Oakmont Community is unique, beautiful, and designed, with Susanne’s help, for excellence in every aspect.

This dedication doesn’t begin and end in the initial design phase of each property, either. Susanne and the Oakmont ownership see each property as a living entity – with near constant updates and improvements happening across the spectrum. In that same spirit, Susanne now works full time in the communities – visiting each Oakmont Community every month, clipboard in hand, to ensure everything meets her strict standards.

Bringing Scale, Balance, and Color to Christmas

Though decorating for Christmas officially begins for many on the day after Thanksgiving, for Susanne, holiday planning starts just after the New Year. That’s because, instead of one house to decorate, Susanne has ten – each with their own unique color schemes and design needs. That adds up to more than 40 trees, dozens of wreaths, plenty of mantels, and a variety of other unique and eye-catching decorations that need to be ordered early and planned-out well in advance.

“It’s quite an undertaking to bring so many trees to life, and it’s really hard to pick a favorite,” she said, admiring Oakmont’s largest tree in the Diamond Room of Oakmont Manor. “Every time I come back across one I haven’t seen in a while, I think ‘oh, that’s my favorite,’ but it really changes all of the time. Each one has something about it to love.”

Though at first glance each of these trees may simply look like a beautiful arraignment of ornaments and decorations, their story goes much deeper. Each of the forty-plus trees is completely customized by taking into account a variety of things that may impact the way it looks. This includes planning for things like window position, ceiling height, natural versus artificial light, and walking patterns of the people who live there – factors many people would never consider. And just as each Oakmont building has its own color scheme that impacts everything from the carpet to the wallpaper, so too does every tree – ensuring that the decorations perfectly compliment the surrounding atmosphere.

These factors create not only a creative challenge, in finding the right decorations and locations for the trees, but also a practical one, especially in some of Oakmont’s higher acuity communities like Assisted Living and Memory Care. The perfect example of this marriage of substance and style are the trees at Oakmont Rochester Assisted’s Memory Care apartments. Though beautifully decorated, each ornament on each tree is wired in place as a safety precaution, ensuring that residents don’t just have something beautiful to look at, but also something safe to interact with. It’s this kind of consideration that makes Oakmont’s holiday decorations truly unique.

The results of Susanne’s hard work speak for themselves. Christmastime at Oakmont has become a tradition of elegance and timeless style, of community and togetherness. The buildings transform themselves into festive spaces where families can gather to enjoy a warm conversation, eat a delicious meal, and make new holiday memories. It’s a feeling best summed up in the words of our residents:

“When you walk in the front door, it’s welcome home,” said Gloria, a resident of six years at Oakmont Parkway. “It’s just a wonderful, soft feeling of friendship and love. The trees are remarkable; like you’re in a fantasy world. They have a story to tell in a different way and they all bring happiness to you. Everything is happiness. If you’re sad, you see something like that, you smile.”

View Susanne’s gorgeous work in our Parade of Trees gallery:

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