When asked to conjure up an image of a home belonging to an older homeowner, ornate oak kitchens and cluttered, funky-colored baths may be the first pictures that come to mind. Indeed, mature homeowners were once associated with these less-than-flattering styles.
But not anymore.
In fact, in a recent survey of more than 300 dealers and designers, Kitchen & Bath Design News found that mature homeowners – a group that encompasses people born before 1946 – are much more current than expected.
“As we all have our ‘comfort foods,’ I’m finding the mature homeowner is looking for their ‘comfort kitchen’ and ‘comfort bath,” comments Art Warren, CMKBD, of Gravelle Woodworking in Burlington, Ontario.
“Comfortable, pleasant, unencumbered living is what is essential to seniors,” states Joanna Barker, of Inspirations Interior Design Inc., in Laguna Niguel, CA. “Open floor plans and single-level living appeals to them.”
“They want to simplify, and choose quality over quantity,” reports Dawn Zarillo of Custom Design Kitchens in New York. “Our ‘Silver Community’ wants everything bright and light, and timeless.”
DESIGN FOR LIVING AT HOME
One of the primary concerns of mature homeowners is living as long as possible in their existing homes, as they may already be feeling the effects of age and dealing with more limited mobility.
“Staying in place is the new norm, so this group wants quality, dependable products that will last and be virtually maintenance free,” offers Steve Livingston of Livingston Interiors in San Francisco, CA.
Mature homeowners are gravitating toward the vast number of products now designed for the older purchaser, including ADA-compliant and handicapped-accessible items. “But these products are not the institutional-looking designs of the past,” he stresses.
For the bath, which is the number-one priority for this group, important products include comfort-height toilets, grab bars, curbless showers, shower seats and faucets that are easy to operate. Low maintenance is also key to the successful design of the bath for these homeowners.
“Universal Design is the answer for a lot of people who are wondering if they will be able to stay in their homes until they are ready to leave for whatever reason,” explains Robert Getchell of S. Florida Arch Builders in Florida. “The bathrooms have become friendly instead of being the room that can end their freedom. Curbless showers, shower seats and easy-access tubs mean less chance of falling, and a custom cabinet with a sink at the height a client wants is making it easier for the person who is height challenged. And anti-slip floors as well as heating and cooling options in baths are giving mature buyers much more to choose from.”
Lynn Hegstrom of Bollinger Design Group in Denver, CO reports that mature homeowners are also getting rid of the master bathtub. “It has become something to dust,” she remarks. “Instead, this group is asking for a roll-in shower without a curb or a walk-in tub, and always a bench on which to sit.”
As with the bath, the mature homeowner wants the kitchen to be more user-friendly, with a large, functional space with accessible amenities throughout.
“It’s all about function, function and function,” reports Shirley Landels, of M N’M Cabinet Co., in Portland, OR.
Among the items that pique their interest in the kitchen are convenience and accessible items, such as pull-out shelves, cabinet drawers, soft-close doors and drawers, and touch-sensitive faucets.
“Mature homeowners are focusing on simple lines, with less places for dirt and dust to hide or settle,” adds Trish Burgess, CKD, CAPS of Kitchen & Bath Concepts of St. Simons, Inc., in St. Simons Island, GA. “They want easy to use and easy to keep clean appliances, and are following the ‘less is definitely more’ trend. But, this group also wants the space to be very attractive since they are continuing to entertain at home.”
TRADITIONAL GIVES WAY
Design professionals are split as to whether traditional or contemporary styles are favored by this age group, particularly when it comes to choosing cabinets. Matures are the most likely of all of the generations to gravitate toward traditional styles – complete with moldings, corbels and detailing – yet many are opting for more transitional elements for a look that is cleaner and easier to maintain.
“Mature purchasers have had a history of favoring traditional looks,” offers Ed McCaughey of Old Town Bath and Kitchen in Alexandria, VA. “Now, they seem to lean to the more contemporary style. The cabinets they are drawn to reflect similar styles that younger purchasers are looking for – the Shaker styles or slab contemporary doors.”
Katheryn Cowles, CKD, CBD of K.W. Cowles Design Center, based in Pensacola, FL, agrees. “For the few who go all out, contemporary design is at the top of their list,” she says.
Even for those who are clinging to traditional designs, this style is often mixed with contemporary elements for a classic look.
Wood is a big seller with the mature homeowner, with maple and even oak still getting attention. “And, this group is loving the painted finishes with glazes,” offers Evelyn Boldt of Interior Expressions in Sarasota, FL.
“The most important element, however, is that it is a great working kitchen with enough storage space,” stresses Boldt.
FOCUS ON UPGRADES
For many mature homeowners, the remodeling of kitchen and bath spaces harkens back to the pre-recession mindset, when creating an upscale space was a reward for a lifetime of hard work.
“I see a lot of folks who have raised families in outdated kitchens and have now decided that they deserve a modern, upgraded space,” remarks Jeremy Corthals of Capital Granite in Petoskey, MI.
“These kitchens and baths reflect the homeowner now, and have items that work completely for the owner and not so much for anyone else,” reports Warren. “In their words ‘I worked for this…and now I’m going to enjoy it.’”
These new spaces, however, are likely to be smaller than for other generations.
“The big, ‘grand style’ rooms of the past are being replaced with downsized, more manageable and brighter rooms,” according to Warren.
“Simple, no clutter design galley kitchens are what we’re seeing here, with no need for large spaces,” notes Candy Ferguson of Creative Design Studio in Pennsylvania. “This group is looking for easy maintenance countertops, ovens at waist level and no undercounter appliances except the dishwasher.”
Better lighting – especially undercabinet and task – are key requests, as well as quartz and granite countertops, induction cooktops and nickel and bronze plumbing fixtures.
“We have also been doing a few more custom hoods, as well as comfortable built-in seating, where homeowners can be surrounded by people when they are in the kitchen,” reports Lori Brock of Brock Designs in Portland, OR.
VALUE AND SERVICE
“We have found that mature homeowners are wanting quality – even at the added expense,” Brock continues.
But most survey respondents noted that matures are among the thriftiest customers with regard to the other generations. They are very budget conscious, and have an understanding of value that is unparalleled, they note.
And, just as cost and value are important to the mature homeowner, so is customer service.
“Members of this group know what they like and want the right person to help them achieve their personal objective,” reports one design professional.
“My mature customers want to be directed,” agrees Rachel Barone of PDP Countertops based in Cartersville, GA. All decision making at this stage in life takes more time, more debate and compromise with the spouses, she reports. “I am especially patient with this group, whose members are slow to develop confidence in our company and our wealth of knowledge in the industry.”
She adds, “This group is my favorite. Their appreciation for our professionalism is unmatched and most fulfilling.”