The No. 1 Trend in 55+ Amenity Design: Flexibility

Sue Ridgeway, Director of Marketing at Lita Dirks & Co.

Changing Demographics

The 55+ home buyer continues to be an influential home-buying segment. To be successful with this demographic, builders need to understand the 55+ buyer’s changing expectations with 55+ communities and their amenity spaces, and flexibility is the key. In fact, flexibility is probably the No. 1 trend we are seeing in 55+ amenity design.

Flexibility makes sense when considering the reality of today’s 55+ buyer. Today’s buyers are much different than the 55+ buyer from the past. The leading edge of the boomer buyer is younger, healthier, and not nearly as close to retirement (and slowing down) as in years past. We are living longer, healthier, and more active lives. To be successful in today’s fast-changing 55+ market, communities and amenities need to be flexible enough to adapt, morph and change.

Fifty-five years old used to be considered “old” or at least closer to retirement than other buying segments. Many envision a 55+ community and their residents differently today than just 10 years ago. Consider that the average age of the Rolling Stones is 75. They are the leading edge boomer. While conversely, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise who, at 56 and 57 years old respectively, could be your new 55+ buyers. Gone are the days of formal ballrooms and card tables; this demographic wants and expects more engaging features including flex space that can evolve.

Enduring Design Trends

Although COVID-19 has impacted the immediate wants and needs of 55+ buyers’ amenities, there are some underlying trends that we do not anticipate going away forever. For example, the desire to have group fitness class offerings within an amenity space may not be a top priority for a buyer right now. However, this is a feature 55+ buyers consistently say they want in an amenity space and will return to it when deemed safe. The following are some of the design trends we predict will continue to be important to buyers going forward.

Open Floor Plans and Movable Furniture

The trend for open floor plans allows for small intimate groups to create a niche to gather. If designed with movable furniture pieces, it is flexible enough to accommodate larger groups or events. Additionally, easily moveable furniture allows for quick transitions from large gathering space, to smaller more intimate table seating.

A perfect example of flexibility in action is this atrium area of a community amenity space in Northern Virginia. It was designed to be a flexible space to truly experience seamless indoor/outdoor living. What residents saw was the opportunity to easily transform
the space. At one point they even turned this area into a dance floor and hosted a swing dancing night at the clubhouse. Unfortunately, no photographic evidence of that night exists. However, you can see how easily the furniture can be moved to accommodate a myriad of activities.

Designing for Targeted Programming

Another important trend is designing for the space’s programming. Gone are the days of ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to amenity space. Not all 55+ communities’ buyers are going to have the same buyer profiles. We know that buyers in South Florida tend to want different amenities in their communities than 55+ buyers in the Rocky Mountain region. They may be of a similar age, but their wants and needs tend to be quite diverse. Not all amenity space programming, and ultimately the design, will be the same.

Once the builder understands the wants and needs of their specific buyer, the designer can go to work designing for that specific programming. It is truly understanding what the buyer wants, expects and needs, and designing accordingly that what will make the amenity successful (and ultimately that community).

Birchwood at Brambleton Art Studio

For example, in this community they knew the residents wanted arts and crafts classes, so a special art studio was designed. This same community also wanted to provide a teaching kitchen for residents so they could hold periodic cooking demonstrations, as it was listed as a “wish list feature” for buyers. It is important to note that this space is so flexible they also use it for parties, community dinners, as well as a community-wide CSA drop-off/pick-up location.

The dining room can quickly be transformed into a community beer tasting event.

In this Colorado community clubhouse, the residents’ described themselves as outdoorsy and active, and wanted a place where they could fix their bikes or tune their skis. This space offered a casual, fun, but functional workspace for the residents.

Although this amenity space was in an in-town community and its residents wanted more of a bar/lounge feel to their amenity space:

Fitness-focused

Designing to include fitness options has always been important in the 55+ amenity space. However, the types of fitness offerings buyers want has evolved. The range of activities for today’s 55+ buyer is diverse: from yoga and weight machines, to swimming and pickleball. The builder, program director and interior designer must understand how they can develop the community to provide and adapt to reflect the needs and demands of the new 55+ buyer.

Providing a focus-fitness design that all residents would enjoy means again being flexible. Flexible enough to include both cardio equipment, space for yoga-type activities, and perhaps most importantly a pool. Almost all buyers, across the board cited a desire for a pool within their community’s amenity space.

Birchwood at Brambleton Pickleball players

Outdoor Space

Incorporating the outdoor space in any amenity space design is key. And again, being flexible with that design to allow for small groups to gather or large community-wide events is imperative. Using flexible, movable furniture is important as is taking advantage of any natural views or special features.

For example, this clubhouse in Virginia is situated adjacent to a beautiful man-made lake. As a result, the entire design of the facility is all about showcasing the lake including taking advantage of upstairs and downstairs outdoor lounge areas.

In addition, if space allows, any thoughtful additional surprises you can design into your community will help differentiate you and add additional lifestyle value for your buyer to enjoy and of which to be proud.

For example, this development’s community gardens are a wonderful addition for the residents. Many residents truly enjoy the ability to be outdoors and just enjoy nature.

Knowing Your Buyer

The 55+ communities of today look almost nothing like the retirement communities of a few decades ago. Today’s boomer buyer is more likely to be out on the pickleball court or at a wine tasting than playing bridge or listening to classical music. Understanding the buyer and defining spaces that can be flexible and adjust with the ever-changing 55+ buyer is integral to good design, happy home buyers, and a successful selling season. Design that will encourage community residents to want to use and participate in these spaces. Design that will create a community of happy residents, which breeds success, profits and respect for the builder.

Sue Ridgeway, Director of Marketing at Lita Dirks & Co.

Sue brings years of diverse marketing experience in a myriad of industries to her role as Director of Marketing and Business Development at Lita Dirks & Co. She is responsible for developing and executing marketing strategies and campaigns in alignment with the company’s brand and overall objectives. She has established a track record of creating ways to increase the sales funnel, enhance online presence, and expand brand awareness of any company with which she is associated.

LD & Co. specializes in the interior design and merchandising of model homes, sales offices and community clubhouses for residential and commercial homebuilders and developers throughout the nation.

Sue is a member of NAHB, HBA of Denver, and PWB.