Builders design model homes for a demographic cohort; for example: singles, young families, wealthy move-up buyers. That penchant becomes
transparent in homes designed for mature buyers, as I was reminded recently
walking a series of homes in an “active adult” community, Verrado, located
about 30 minutes west of Phoenix. Builders there do a great job highlighting
design touches that would flip the switch of aging baby boomers looking to take
an early position on retirement.
But the experience reminded me that the search for an
age-appropriate home doesn’t have to take you to a golf-course community in the
desert. With careful thought given to how you want to live now and in the
future, you could build the perfect home from a house plan almost anywhere (like one story Plan 924-4
, shown at the top of this post). The
upside to that approach is that you wouldn’t have to stray far from your
children and grandchildren. The experience also reminded me of design’s role in enabling a
new lifestyle at home. That’s where builders take an educated guess. They
assume that mature buyers would want to party more often, take more walks, and
need a guest bedroom or suite. But that’s up to you to decide. Here are some
issues likely to inform the lifestyle you may want to lead and the home you may
want to build.
You’ll spend more
time with your spouse
For many couples, of course, that’s the goal of retirement;
they want to spend more time together. But after spending so much time living independent
work lives, couples may value time alone as well. The question is what you and
your spouse like to do most together. If it’s to linger of breakfast in the
morning, drinking coffee
and doing the crossword puzzle, a nook with morning
sunlight may be idea (as in Plan 454-11
, above).. Maybe you like to watch TV, read, or work in the garden
as a couple. If you like to cook together, you may
want a second prep area in
the kitchen that allows two cooks to work comfortably (as shown here in Plan 479-11
, with a sink by the window and one in the island). You may not need an
eat-in island that seats six, unless you expect prized visits from
You’ll spend more
time at home
This may seem obvious, but it has repercussions for the
design of your home. You may want to consider the things you’ll be doing there.
Many people find more time for hobbies as they age, hobbies that may require
specialized workspace like a craft room, garden shed, a garage big enough to
work on cars, or a home office. Each person may need a place to escape, to
engage in personal pursuits, especially if one partner plans to continue
working. Many homes at Verrado featured offices close to
the front door, like this one, that
could be used as guest bedrooms. But you may need to carve out two places to
work.You’ll have more time
That appealing activity received considerable attention at Verrado.
Each builder showed at least one model that could be described as a “great
party home.” Thirty years ago that seemed like the sole focus of retirement
honey traps. You’d see desert homes with big great rooms with lots of
circulation space, a bar in the corner, and glass doors that opened to a back
patio. These days a kitchen with plenty of circulation space must be a big part
of the equation since that’s where parties seem to start. Having a dining room
family feasts may be important, too, especially if you expect the
family to descend on your house for holiday dinners (Plan 928-9
has both an island and a dining area). Even if it doesn’t happen
that often, it may still be important to you.
You’ll want your children
and grandkids to visit
This was one of the most memorable experiences of my
childhood. My brothers and I used to take turns spending the weekend with our
grandmother. I’ve toured plenty of luxury homes with guest bedrooms that could
sleep a small army of grandchildren. But maybe all you need to create a special
sleepover experience is a windowed alcove with a mattress, a murphy bed that
folds down in a home office, or a daybed in the corner of a library. Many
builders these days market much bigger strokes – separate wings that could
house your son or daughter’s family during a transition. At Verrado, Lennar
showed a “home within a home,” with a self-contained suite complete with a
kitchen and laundry within the main home, as shown below.
You’ll have more time
to spend outdoors
Many people look forward to spending more time outdoors in
retirement. This was a big emphasis in the homes at Verrado; many homes looked
out on a golf course and mountains. The bigger homes featured back porches
where you could do nearly everything outside that you could inside – cook and
eat a meal, grab a drink, relax with friends around a fire, or jump in a tub (see Plan 901-120
, below). And
cases, these outdoor rooms connected to interior spaces via large glass
door systems that folded back into the wall. What a luxury to be able to spend
more time outdoors rather than cooped up in an office!
You may not want to
do much work on your home
Some people enjoy refinishing the deck, building stairs, or
repainting the house in their free time. But many older buyers are more intent
on using free time to play golf, travel, entertain, or spend quality time
together. Many older buyers settle for a more modest home than they could
afford then spend the difference on better appliances, windows, and insulation.
That’s a good way to keep a lid on your utility bills down the road, when you
may be less able to afford them.
Your physical and
mental abilities are likely to decline
This is true of everyone once they reach a certain age, of
course. But it’s a big issue for people in their late 50s and beyond.
Familiarize yourself with the tenets of universal design. Wide hallways and
doorways, and a least one threshold-free entry, would be a good starting point.
Most empty-nester homes have first-floor
master bedrooms that obviate stair climbing (as shown in Plan 901-128
others reserve space behind the walls for an elevator should one be required. A
threshold-free shower and a toilet with plenty of clearance may not matter to
you now. But it could prove a godsend in the future.