Designing the Best Last House


Two New Houses challenge common notions about how to build retirement homes for baby boomers.

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 also prefers a rural setting to a condo or a retirement village. A look at these two houses shows how designers are accommodating the changing needs of older owners while creating homes where people of any age would be thrilled to live.
Accessibility is the first must-have

The O’Briens identified four must-have characteristics for their home: accessibility, low maintenance, energy efficiency, and easy day-to-day living (designated spaces for hobbies and other activities). Their first design was a sprawling, 11⁄2-story modern house with a flat roof.

Love this! Every Baby Boomer should do this! Learn more about what the architects did here!

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