Design Basics for the 50+ Home

Q: I’m a builder, but I've never built homes specifically for the 50+ buyer. What are the most important design features that I should consider including to appeal to that market?


A: The first step is to identify your market niche and understand your buyers — their income levels, activity levels and motive to buy. From there, home design can start, but what is included will depend on your market research.

Some basic principles to consider include the minimization of physical obstacles inside and outside the home, the addition of spaces for socializing, and a reduction in the amount of work related to homeownership. If you always assume these three factors, the rest usually flows from there.

For example, when it comes to the exterior of the home, eliminate as many stairs to the front door as possible (minimize physical obstacles), include an oversized front porch deep enough for chairs (encourage socialization) and use low-maintenance building materials such as vinyl siding, stucco, stone or brick (reduce work).

These same three principles hold true when designing the rest of the home. Here are some things to consider:

Minimize Physical Obstacles (Universal Design)

  • Use oversize doors — a minimum of 34 inches wide.
  • Use lever hardware instead of knobs.
  • Add low-stair lighting.
  • Use paddles instead of traditional electrical switches.
  • Add roll-out drawers in cabinets.
  • Raise the dishwasher or use a drawer-style dishwasher to reduce the need to bend over.
  • Include varied heights of counter tops in kitchens and baths for short and tall people.
  • Maximize opportunities for natural light and add lighting as necessary to keep home bright.
  • If market permits, include an oversized shower with a bench — ideally a barrier-free walk-in shower — instead of a tub.

Spaces for Socializing

  • When considering a site, look for nearby existing amenities — walking trails, access to public transportation, restaurants, shopping, medical facilities, recreation, etc., to maximize social opportunities.
  • Open floor plans are ideal for ease of access and socializing.
  • Connect indoor rooms to the outside. Add courtyards, oversized patios and outdoor rooms to maximize square footage.
  • Omit the formal and casual living rooms and offer only a great room.
  • Include flex space. Make the third bedroom optional and locate it so it can function as a den, hobby room, or formal dining room to appeal to a variety of buyer wants or needs.
  • Pay attention to kitchen size, because this is where family and friends gather.
  • Offer an eat-in kitchen with island dining instead of a formal dining room, but be sure to include a formal dining room as part of the flex space offering.
  • Include a large, oversized island with seating that is same level as counter tops (avoid 42” bar height).
  • Split the bedrooms for privacy from guests — master on one side of the home and spare(s) on the other.
  • If space allows, include a sitting room to provide a retreat for a night owl to stay awake and not disturb a sleeping partner.

Reduce Work

  • Most 50+ buyers are looking to downsize; they seek fewer, larger rooms within less square footage than their previous home.
  • Offer smaller lots with shared community common space.
  • Locate the laundry near the master bedroom.
  • Locate the garage entry to the home near the kitchen to reduce the amount of travel through the home with heavy grocery bags.
  • Include sustainable features. Such options often reduce work and expense over time.

In addition to considering these design principles, be sure to do your homework so you understand your specific market. If you do, you will be sure to enjoy a successful entry into the 50+ housing market.

Doug Van Lerberghe

Doug Van Lerberghe

KEPHART community :: planning :: architecture

As associate principal and designer of award-winning communities throughout the United States, Doug Van Lerberghe has contributed greatly to KEPHART’s reputation as a leader in design. He uses his 25+ years of experience to balance design trends with marketplace longevity and construction costs. He has designed master planned communities, high density infill concepts and a wide range of single-family and multifamily for-sale projects. Van Lerberghe is on the board of directors of the Metro Denver 50+ Housing Council and is a past Chair of the Best of 50+ Housing Design Awards, a competition offered by NAHB's 50+ Housing Council.