As millions of baby boomers inch toward retirement age, many architects are asking the same question: what is this coming wave of older adults going to want in a senior housing community?
The answer remains elusive, and even the baby boomers themselves don’t always agree. That is perhaps because the age cohort — which is typically thought of as people born from the early 1940s into the mid-1960s — is so wide-ranging. But survey findings from AG Architecture, a senior living design firm headquartered in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, may help shade in some of the details, and in the process inform how the company works with its senior living clients in the future.
Earlier this year in April, AG launched an unscientific online survey series called “Boomers in Transition” to help learn how and where boomers want to live as they age. The first survey, which focused on residential unit design, reached more than 600 email inboxes, with 122 respondents identifying as falling within the age range of 55 to 84. Questions spanned such topics as spatial organization, cooking and dining, master suites and storage.
The results were clear: the surveyed boomers want comfortable living spaces that create lasting impressions. In particular, many boomers want good views to the outdoors, foyers to welcome guests and kitchens with lots of space for entertaining and storage, according to Eric Harrmann, a senior associate with AG Architecture.
“It’s really about the lasting impression, and being able to use the space,” Harrmann told Senior Housing News. “And kitchen accessibility, beyond just appliances being in the right place, was a key point.”
Sunrooms and screened porches were especially popular among the survey respondents, with 37% and 32% identifying those as their preferred type of outdoor connection. On the whole, respondents wanted a kind of “decompression zone” in which to greet guests, rather than having to welcome them directly into a living space.
“They want that foyer space,” Harrmann said. “Something that occurs before you enter the unit itself.”
In the kitchen, 40% of the boomer-aged survey respondents said they want a cafe-style setup. Respondents reported wanting a medium-sized kitchen that could be used to prepare the occasional meal and entertain guests. They also want accessible storage space such as walk-in pantries, which require less bending and reaching than traditional kitchen cabinets. That was a somewhat surprising finding, Harrmann said.
“The must-have is a kitchen set up for entertaining, and a well-organized dining experience,” he explained. “Whether residents are cooking a meal or having friends over, the kitchen remains a hub of activity.”
One finding that was not so surprising related to boomers’ desire for more space — a trend that is currently playing out in the multifamily sector. Just over three quarters (76%) of respondents said they wanted more living space, with the majority favoring more room for an office (62%) or hosting guests (52%). The surveyed boomers also said they liked incorporating design focal points such as a media wall (36%) gas fireplace (47%) or an art wall (27%).
Conducting a survey like this one is important because it can help lend credence to generally accepted ideas about senior living design, Harrmann noted.
“A lot of [the survey] confirmed assumptions we’ve been making over the past few years designing units,” he said. “This survey has been a tool that can allow us to explain units we design better.”
This Boomers in Transition survey isn’t the last from AG Architecture, and future reports will tackle topics such as how boomers prefer to age in their communities. The next installment of the online survey is currently open for respondents on AG Architecture’s website.
Written by Tim Regan