Designing for Life: Age Becomes a Home Design Consideration
How to craft environments that increase ease of living for the 55-plus age group
A 55+ homebuyer wants ease of living taken into consideration as it applies to the home’s function and use. This demographic is looking for well-designed homes that are accessible, but don’t feel like institutional homes. These buyers are future planning; they must consider not only how well a home will live in today, but how it will live and serve their needs for the next 10, 20, even 30 years.
According to the Global Wellness Institute 2018 Report “Build Well to Live Well,” recent research shows that genetics may account for just 10 percent to 15 percent of our health outcomes, while the rest is determined by external and environmental factors. Our homes, communities and surrounding environment directly affect our daily motivations, behaviors and lifestyle, and these factors determine 80 percent to 90 percent of our health outcomes.
With that report in mind, when designing for those who are 55 years and older, it is important to go beyond questions of accessibility and mobility and take a holistic wellness approach by designing homes to support health, mind and well-being.
As a result, there are four quadrants of design considerations for 55+: Lifestyle, Life Satisfaction, Life Cycle and Life Management
- HEALTHY LIVING + ACTIVITY
Encourage physical fitness through design. Dedicated home workout spaces make it easy. Get creative with this. A home yoga studio, meditation space or massage room are also great options. Create a studio with an attached bath that includes a steam shower or sauna.
Just because this buyer is downsizing, never skimp on the kitchen. Encourage improved eating habits by providing occupants with healthier food choices and behavioral cues. For example, a dedicated juicing station with fresh fruits and vegetables on pull-out shelving makes it easier to create a daily juicing habit, which is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. Back kitchens (some even with a second refrigerator) make it easier to spread out while cooking and provide plenty of storage for ingredients and kitchen tools.
Promote gardening with an outdoor potter’s shed. The benefits of gardening are two-fold: supplement dietary needs with fresh, organic vegetables and get fresh air and exercise while gardening.
- SOCIAL INTERACTION
This buyer wants a home they will be proud of when entertaining family and friends. Open floor plans – which are popular across all demographic groups – are perfect for entertaining. 55+ buyers however are more likely to value a dining area, which should be a part of the open floor plan, while allowing space to bring that large dining table or showcase heirloom furniture piece.
- SECURITY + SAFETY
Home security systems are appreciated by this buyer. Don’t be afraid to incorporate new technologies. The internet of things has created numerous opportunities for connectivity and security. Great examples are doorbell cameras that allow you to see who is at the door, or apps that make sure all of the doors are locked. If you aren’t going to offer security and smart home systems as a standard feature, make sure the home is prepped for easy installation.
- OUTDOOR SPACES
This buyer doesn’t want to do yard work, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want a connection to the outdoors. Over-sized or corner-meet sliding glass doors that allow the living room to open up onto a patio or outdoor room are a popular option. The transition should be seamless (no steps, which can impede access). Outdoor living spaces are great for entertaining and encouraging social interaction.
- NATURAL LIGHT
Natural light is an important mood and productivity booster. Homes should have plenty of windows to allow in natural light. In higher density settings, strategic window placement allows for natural light without compromising privacy.
- SUPPORT OF LIFE GOALS
Retirement is the perfect time to pursue goals that have taken a backseat to career or raising a family. A project room or studio for hobbies is a great option in 55+ homes. Extra work space or room for a bicycle shop in the garage is another way to encourage hobbies. Include a packing area in the master suite to simplify getting ready for trips. A lock-off caretaker’s suite is ideal for having a caretaker around to look after your home while you travel.
- “I DESERVE IT” FEATURES
This buyer has worked hard their entire life, and it is finally their turn to treat themselves. ‘I deserve it’ features are the details that will make your designs memorable and help you stand out from the competition. Popular ‘I deserve it’ features are spa baths, well-appointed kitchens, spacious owner’s entries and project rooms.
Even in homes meant for downsizing, don’t forget about furry family members. Is there an enclosed space for the dog to go outside? It doesn’t have to be large, just functional. An enclosed dog run is a great option. If there is a staircase, take advantage of otherwise lost space under the stairs – this is both a great place for a dog bed, or even a play area for grandkids.
- SUSTAINED “LIVE IN PLACE” OPPORTUNITIES
55+ buyers are planning ahead. Stairs might not be a problem now but could be in the future. Make stairs more manageable with a midpoint landing. Provide an elevator in multi-floor plans, or rough-in space where an elevator could be installed in the future. All doors, hallways and closets should be wide enough for easy wheelchair access. A lock-off suite that can be rented for income or occupied by a family member or caretaker can be used in the future for a live-in nurse, delaying the need to move to assisted living.
- ADAPTABLE SPACES
- Sandwich or multi-generations
- Non-related cohabitation
- Still working
Create flexible plans that offer a variety of options to accommodate different situations without changing over-all pricing thresholds.
- LESS MAINTENANCE
55+ are looking for low maintenance exteriors and little or no yard work.
- SIZE + ROOM COUNT
It is all about well-designed spaces. Don’t skimp on the kitchen. Offer a variety of options for secondary rooms. In Colorado, where basements are common, optional finished basements are a great way to offer space for visiting grandkids while keeping the home’s footprint small.
Provide as many opportunities for storage and organization as possible. Details such as a well-organized owner’s entry or laundry room will stand out with this buyer. Make storage easier to access with pull-out drawers. It’s all about convenience and ease-of-access.
Today’s 55+ buyer certainly doesn’t feel as old as their parents were at their age, doesn’t want to compromise when it comes to design, but needs to find a home that will allow them to age-in-place, delaying (or even eliminating) the need to finish their life in assisted living. The population of older Americans is growing faster than any age group in the country yet continues to be an underserved market. The above design considerations serve as a starting point for thoughtful and creative home designs that will both motivate the 55+ buyer to take action and serve them well for years to come.
John Guilliams is the director of design for KGA Studio Architects.