Designing the Best Last House
With low-maintenance exteriors, accessible floor plans, and special attention to day-to-day convenience, these two houses can accommodate the changing needs of their aging baby-boomer owners.
Some baby boomers and seniors prefer a rural setting to a condo or a retirement village. A look at these two houses shows why. Today’s designers are accommodating the changing needs of older owners while creating homes where people of any age would be thrilled to live. These houses share many of the same must-have characteristics, including accessibility, low maintenance, energy efficiency, and designated spaces for hobbies and other activities. In one home, an elevator makes all three floors accessible, while in the other, everything the homeowner needs is on one floor. In both cases, though, personalized features (a woodshop, a sewing room, or a Japanese soaking tub, for example) allow these older homeowners to enjoy life’s little luxuries.
Bob and Sharon O’Brien’s new three-story home sits high atop a steep rural lot outside Ithaca, N.Y. A long driveway winds up the 10-acre hillside, curving gently around an area that someday will be a small pond. Next to a two-car garage, a tall bluestone stairway leads up to the front entry. The 3937-sq.-ft. open floor plan is full of west-facing windows that capture striking views of the rolling countryside and the spectacular sunsets. Bob is an architect, Sharon is a Realtor, and this isn’t a first home for either. They’re baby boomers approaching retirement, and this house is where they plan to spend the rest of their lives. If you’re wondering why the house is so big, why it has three floors and tall stairways, and whether it’s expensive to maintain, then you’re asking the same questions I did. As it turns out, Bob and Sharon have interesting answers. And they’re not alone. Architect Carol Crandall took an approach similar to the O’Briens’ when designing a new house in Grand Rapids, Mich., for her widowed 80-year-old mother, who…