During the holidays, Larry and
house in Winnetka, Ill., comes to life. Three grown daughters return home, bringing partners and a new grandson. Bedrooms fill up, the dining room gets used and a game room becomes the site of pool and ping-pong tournaments.
When the last of their children left home last year, the Kruegers embarked on a big renovation that replaced the formal living room with a more flexible, open floor plan, created three dining areas for different group sizes and built a bright basement playroom for times their grandson comes to visit. When it is just the two of them, the Kruegers eat in the kitchen, and spend much of their time in the living space just outside it. “A lot of times, it’s just the two of us,” says Ms. Krueger, a 61-year-old homemaker. “But we wanted to be sure we had enough space for everyone to gather.”
As the last members of the large baby-boom generation become empty-nesters, demand is growing for dual-purpose homes that can be cozy for a couple, but also comfortable for a crowd. Architects are designing compartmentalized floor plans that concentrate the owners’ living space in one area, with separate guest cottages or wings that can be closed off when not in use. Others are designing open floor plans with barn or pocket doors to subdivide spaces to create more bedrooms when needed. Or they find creative uses for rooms that, for only a few days a year, house friends and family.
Baby Boomer Homes That Make More Look Like Less
These properties are designed for just a couple of people to live in, but who still want lots of space for when guests are in town.
The flexible floor plans enable older homeowners to live in big homes that are still manageable for day-to-day living.
The average size of the American home keeps swelling, and 44% of baby boomers aged 53 to 72 live in houses larger than 2,000 square feet, according to online real-estate firm
A July survey by sister site Trulia found that in the 100 largest U.S. housing markets, 9 out of 10 retirement-age baby boomers and older Americans want to stay in their homes. In some of those markets, the survey found, baby boomers’ homes have an average of 4.2 bedrooms and only 2.6 household members.
At times, builders and architects caution, homeowners hang on to more house than they can handle. Even rarely used areas need furnishings, maintenance and cleaning, in addition to some heating or cooling—all for a few days of use a year. “Bigger homes aren’t always better,” says
Trulia’s chief economist. In a Trulia survey released in March, 41% of households in homes over 3,200 square feet would prefer a smaller home in case of a move.
The demand for bigger homes is partly of a reflection the fact that this generation of empty nesters is often still working, putting off decisions about post-retirement living, says Mr. McLaughlin. Plus, many older boomers want to reserve their role in the family and ensure their homes remain the principal gathering spot, even as children bring family of their own.
“Our clients want to stay in their homes until pulled out feet first,” says
president of an eponymous construction and remodeling company in Wauwatosa, Wis., and president-elect of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “If they moved out of their homes, they wouldn’t be the epicenter of family gatherings.”
When the youngest of their daughters left home in February of last year, the Kruegers decided to redo their 6,800-square-foot house, purchased for $667,000 in 1994. In the $2 million renovation, architect
principal of Elements Architectural Group in nearby Oak Park, Ill., envisioned what he calls “rooms within rooms.”
For when the Kruegers eat alone or with another couple, he installed an intimate breakfast area in the kitchen, and gave the kitchen counter a wooden edge to add warmth to casual meals. For a slightly bigger group, he created a dining area just outside the kitchen. For times when the whole clan comes together, he moved the formal dining room to the front of the house, and added a wet bar to prevent the room from being orphaned the rest of the year.
To make a moderately sized den feel bigger when the home fills up with visitors, Mr. Scholtens installed floor-to-ceiling glass walls. To make the open floorplan feel smaller when the Kruegers are home alone, he defined some areas with different ceiling heights and materials. “It feels like a smaller house but it’s big,” says Mr. Krueger, managing director of Wanxiang America Real Estate Group, a commercial real-estate investment firm in Chicago.
On Lake Travis near Austin, Texas,
a 62-year-old interior designer, and
a 65-year-old retired geologist, built their five-bedroom home with entertaining in mind. At their 6,000-square-foot property, constructed for $3.2 million in June 2016, walls can move to accommodate guests. “We needed to find the proper scale for the two of them, but they also wanted to be able to have everybody over,” says
the Bee Cave, Texas–based home designer.
The couple had a seated dinner for 45 on New Year’s Eve and a party for 60 on this year’s Fourth of July. For both events, glass doors in the great room were opened to add 53 feet of outdoor-living space. For smaller parties, the Bonoras close off the kitchen with rolling barn doors—which also keeps the caterer out of sight.
When on their own, the Bonoras barely use the great room. They also don’t spend time in the upstairs bedrooms, where a digital thermostat automatically adjusts the temperature when the area is unoccupied. Instead, the pair sits in the breakfast area of their kitchen, or retreats to a second-floor screened-in porch with an outdoor bed. Recently, their grown daughter, Avery, temporarily moved in with her family, which includes an infant son, Leo, and a baby nurse.
Software entrepreneurs Jeremy and
decided to downsize from a 14,000-square-foot Seattle home that had “rooms we didn’t see for months,” Ms. Jaech says. Their current property in the resort community of Manson, Wash., is still good-sized, though: The 10,000-square-foot compound, built for $3.6 million in 2008, sits on a 2½-acre, lakefront lot that cost another $3.5 million.
The couple enlisted San Anselmo, Calif.-based Wade Design Architects to strike a balance between building for themselves and for their guests. There are only two bedrooms in the 4,800-square-foot wood and stone main house on the shore of Lake Chelan; more guest rooms are in two 1,800-square-foot cottages and an apartment above the garage.
“We kept the scale of the main house, where Jeremy and Jacquelyn live on an everyday basis, tighter, so that they don’t have to walk by lots of unused rooms,” says principal
noting that nearly every one of the firm’s projects includes the tension between building for few and for many.
The Jaechs, who don’t have children together and are enthusiastic tennis players, entertain friends, weekend visitors and the University of Washington women’s tennis team, which comes for an annual retreat. Coaches stay in the guest cottages, and students hang out in the outdoor entertainment space, complete with a pool, pizza oven and fire feature.
When alone with their two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Mr. Jaech, 62, and Ms. Jaech, 44, close off the cottages. They still use the main home’s spacious kitchen and dining area, but sit side by side at the table and use only one of the two dishwashers. For watching movies, they retreat to a media room off the kitchen.
“It doesn’t seem overcrowded when we have guests, and it doesn’t feel empty when it is just the two of us,” says Ms. Jaech. “We never see the unused space.”
Write to Cecilie Rohwedder at firstname.lastname@example.org