If you think of homes for the 55-plus contingent as “plain vanilla boxes,” think again. “A jewel box” is the way designers and developers characterize retirement homes today. And despite the emphasis on downsizing and square footage what matters to this group is personalization and having a home that ticks off all the items on their wish lists. Whether it’s design, the arrangement of rooms, colors or kitchen cabinets, they know what they want and quite often are not willing to compromise on what is important to them.
Since almost all of these potential buyers have previously owned one or more homes, they have a good understanding of what they want in their next home. Julie Whitley, manager, Architectural Design & Coordination, Red Seal Homes, says, “By the second meeting, retiring buyers and baby boomers begin to talk about what they've always wanted and how they want to include them in this next home.” And, she adds, “It's not like it's big huge things. The attitude is ‘Finally I want to live like I want to live. I don't care if it looks weird to somebody else.’”
“They want a place that allows them to be themselves — not cram their lives into somewhere that they do not fit. They are all different, and all want to thrive,” observes Jay Kallos, senior vice president of architecture for luxury builder Ashton Woods Homes.
Ashton Woods Living Area
Ask designers and style experts about preferences for this group and responses range from a streamlined interpretation of a traditional aesthetic to contemporary. “This generation does not fit into just one type of home design. The 55+ community is not one size fits all. They value personalization and design that fits their lifestyle. This means that they are looking for homes, designed with their lifestyle in mind,” observes Leigh Spicher, national director of Design Studios for Ashton Woods.
Even if they have a designer help them get the outcome they desire, Pam Harvey, owner of Pamela Harvey Interiors in Washington. D.C., says, “It’s more about this is the look I like, not necessarily what’s in style. They want their home to reflect who they are.”
“They are looking for architects and designers who consider their personal story, not a stereotype,” shares Spicher.
Style is everything
“These shoppers view their home as a sanctuary. Style is everything, inside and out. These home buyers are living out their dreams, viewing their new home as a well-deserved investment,” says Sidney Pell, consumer insights manager, John Burns Real Estate Consulting.
Even when preferences include rustic influences the overall trend is toward a simple, clean look without a lot of extreme design or frills. “Simple but elegant,” Pell’s characterization. For exteriors, Craftsman and Mediterranean styles are most preferred according to shoppers surveyed by John Burns, which Pell says also reflects a desire to reduced maintenance costs of highly stylized architecture.
A majority look for one floor living or a master on the first floor with accessory spaces on the second level. Privacy is essential, and a majority want a split bedroom configuration, with the master separated from any other bedrooms. The optimal configuration according to Pell is three bedrooms, two baths.
Ashton Woods Great Room
An open concept great room layout is preferred by 86 percent of those looking. “They entertain. With that, they request flexibility, and a plan with large enough spaces so that they can define them with their furnishings,” says Kallos.
Often, changes in ceiling heights or materials will define spaces in an open concept plan, while archways carve out private niches without interrupting the overall flow.
Size doesn’t always matter
Ashton Woods Study
Does size matter? Not as much as one would think. Square footage is only one of multiple determining factors. “Smaller spaces are not a deterrent, so long as they are well-appointed with modern, luxurious designs and quality features,” says Pell. These buyers are also quite willing to pay a premium for finishes, enhancements and upgraded products they consider important. Some of the features for which they are willing to pay a premium include solid core doors, upgraded entries and decorative garage doors, Many will also splurge to ensure the master bath is a spa-like retreat.
Brands still play into choices. “They are influenced by brands. If it stands for quality, that will influence their decision. They are more educated, and they are going to go for what they want,” explains Chicago designer Mary Cook. “Because they’ve got more disposable income, they will get what they want.”
Timeless not trendy
What doesn’t matter to 55-plus new homeowners? “Trends,” says Spicher. “This generation is not concerned about the color of the year. They are very concerned about building a home they love, with colors they enjoy.”
Ashton Woods Kitchen
Kitchens are trending white and grey, but often the materials and tones selected by boomer buyers are different. The might be rustic, wood tones or other colors. “They were not all white by any means,” says Whitley, recalling kitchens clients have done recently. “They are all different. I think it’s because they have gotten to that point in their life where they have owned multiple kitchens, and perhaps one was more rustic and another contemporary or transitional.” Ashton Woods 2018 National Homebuyer Survey found some potential buyers moving away from all white kitchen cabinetry with 45 percent of baby boomers preferring all wood cabinets.
Also, according to interior designer Heather Scruggs with Trendmaker Homes, kitchens across the board are moving told bolder colors. “New, bold colors are the hottest kitchen trend now. Many kitchens have painted cabinets in ranges of blues, bright white and greys.”
In the end, what matters most to this group is excellence. Spicher says, “If I had to narrow it down to a single ask for an entire generation, I would say they ask for really good, thoughtful design.