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Empty-Nester Custom Home Design

Have you raised your children and recently seen them move out on their own to live independently? Congratulations! You’re an empty nester! Maybe they returned to visit during the holidays and their departure reminded you again that your current home no longer suits your priorities in this new empty-nester stage of life. Enjoy your retirement in a new custom home designed for your new lifestyle.

New Priorities

Instead of worrying about being in a good school district or having multiple bedrooms and a large yard with a swing set, you now have the freedom to downsize and design a space better suited to your needs. You may want to move further into the city where you can be within walking distance of day-to-day conveniences and have a smaller property that is easier to leave behind as you fulfill your travel dreams. Or, you may desire a move out into the country where you can enjoy the peace and quiet and spend hours in your garden each day. You still want space to comfortably host your family on special occasions, but your day-to-day needs are quite different. Every empty nester has different wants, needs and dreams and that is why hiring an architecture firm to design a custom home unique to you is a great option to explore.

We’ve found that our empty-nester clients prioritize quality design, materials, and workmanship in their custom-designed homes. They typically prefer materials and finishes that are more durable and require less maintenance. Often, empty nesters want a smaller, highly-efficient home that is easier to maintain, with ample storage and rooms designed to facilitate their hobbies and interests.

Many of our empty nesters do not ever want to move again. Although you may be many years from the “senior” phase of life, planning ahead gives you the security that you can “age in place” should mobility issues develop. Accessible single-storey design, no entrance steps, wider doorways, and more space in bathrooms and hallways provide that flexibility, also making a home more comfortable for you now and facilitating visits for elderly friends and relatives. Finding an existing home with these qualities is even challenging. The best way to get exactly what you want and need is to design your own custom home that fits your unique empty-nester lifestyle.

We work with our empty nesters to design a home that functions beautifully for their activities. A green home with natural daylight, small heating and cooling loads and an efficient, functional design is more comfortable, cozier and healthier, and costs less to operate. Moreover, it is more sustainable and will be a much better value in the long-term and an excellent investment.

After decades of hard work giving to others, a thoughtfully designed home that truly meets your needs for now and forever could be your well-deserved reward. Embrace the term empty nester if you can, because this custom home design approach could be perfect for you!


When building a custom home in your 40s or 50s it is important to contemplate your health situation 10, 20 and 30 years down the road. You may be in excellent health today, but why not design your new home so that you are not forced to move to accommodate mobility challenges in the future? Plus, empty nesters often take on the responsibility of caring for older family members. Elderly friends and relatives will appreciate the accessible home design features that make their lives easier when they visit.

Accessible home design is for everyone, disability or not. Enjoy the open spaces, better lighting, conveniences and safety features before you need those features. Nice touches for all of us! Plus, with our aging population, an accessible home will be seen as a valuable property should you choose to resell at some point.

Many accessibility features are very difficult and/or expensive to add to an existing home. Extra space for walkers or wheelchairs, level entrances and the inclusion of the master bedroom on the main level are next to impossible to add without a major renovation. However, when they are incorporated into the design of a custom home from the beginning, they often cost no more, or little more, than homes designed without any accessibility features.

Choosing a Suitable Building Site

When you are building an accessible home, it’s critical to choose the right building site. Keep it as flat as possible to facilitate a smooth transition from outside to inside for those with mobility issues. If you think you’ve found the site that is right for you and you would like advice before you make the purchase, call Jim Bell for a complimentary phone consultation and consider booking a site consultation. He will show you how many crucial custom home design decisions are strongly influenced by the physical properties of the build site and discuss zoning, restrictions and the relationship between the natural characteristics of your property and desired build features.

Accessible Home Design Features

It is wise to consider accessible home design features when specifying the floor plan for your new home. Here are just a few examples:

  • Throughout the home, plan for counters at various heights and additional space in rooms, doorways and hallways for mobility aids such as walkers and wheelchairs.
  • Small details like handles instead of knobs, grab bars in bathrooms and cabinets with easy-to-access pull-outs make everything just a little easier.
  • Flat or smooth ramp transitions at the entry doors provide no-barrier access for those with mobility challenges. Large shallow steps are easier to climb than traditional ones and can be implemented for interiors and exteriors. Consider the use of sloping sidewalks rather than stairs to the main and garage entries.
  • Large, plentiful windows bring in lots of natural light to help improve mental and physical health, especially during the winter months.

These design features also create an open and airy look and feel that you can enjoy as a healthy empty nester and appreciate even more fully as you age. We think it is better to address accessible design in your home plan and never need it, than the other way around!

Storeys and Stairs

One of the first decisions to make when planning your new custom home… one or two storeys? As we age, a bungalow is the ideal choice to limit the need to climb stairs. However, a two-storey home can be designed to accommodate limited mobility by including the master bedroom and all key rooms on the main floor. That would reduce the need for a stair lift, but it’s best to design stairway widths and orientation to allow for stair lift installation should the need arise in the future. Ensure that all walking surfaces are non-slip materials––smart for everyone!

Wide Open Spaces

It is prudent to consider widening hallways and making door widths at least 36”, not only to allow easy access for walkers and wheelchairs, but also to enjoy the openness and ease of access now. Your movers will love you for it!


New LED technology allows for more light at a lower cost, a good option for those of us who need brighter and whiter light—and some reading glasses—to read comfortably. Track and pot lighting in rooms and hallways help to light up the entire space with one switch. Motion-activated lighting systems make stumbling in the dark a thing of the past.

Details, Details, Details

Door handles are much easier to operate than door knobs and a relief for those with arthritis. They’re also much easier to open when you have a large load of laundry in your arms!

In the Kitchen make food prep painless with easy-to-access rolling shelves in the cabinets and custom counter heights that suit you and your spouse. Include a section of counter which extends out to allow a chair (or wheelchair) to pull up and slide underneath, providing a comfortable place to sit and work. When you’re on your feet preparing a meal or cleaning up, you’ll enjoy a softer floor covering such as wood, vinyl or laminate instead of ceramic tile or stone. Throughout the kitchen choose materials that are easy to clean and suitable for the inevitable spills. These considerations are just the start. With an experienced architecture firm providing advice and expertise every step of the way, we can help make cooking and cleaning a little easier for everyone!

In the Bathroom the details can help or hinder safety, especially for those with mobility challenges. In the shower or tub, hand rails and built in seats are safer as well as more comfortable. Those rainfall shower heads are the latest trend, but it’s best to choose a system with a second flexible hose shower head that reaches the seating area to give you an option if you’re injured or not well and aren’t up to standing. It goes without saying that all surface should be non-slip.

Efficient, accessible storage in close proximity to the area where the items will be used, is not only convenient but also helps to reduce clutter. For example, build a closet in the bathroom to store linens and supplies so it’s not necessary to get down on the floor to pull things out of the bottom of the vanity. A dedicated place on the main floor for the vacuum and other cleaning supplies means you don’t have to drag the vacuum up from the basement every time you need to do a quick clean up.

Energy Efficiency

Skyrocketing hydro rates, dwindling natural resource reserves and environmental concerns are front-of-mind these days. So, if you are an empty nester who wants a custom-designed home to serve you well into the future, it would be prudent to build an energy-efficient home. If the home is insulated well, the heating and cooling systems can be scaled back substantially if windows are of high quality, oriented to take full advantage of solar heating and expertly-installed. Jim has extensive experience designing energy-efficient homes and would welcome the opportunity to discuss the many options available today.

Space Designed for You

You may have hobbies you pursued as a young adult but abandoned as family responsibilities reduced leisure time. Design your custom home to facilitate these activities and make them even more of a joy for you. You may want a light-filled, north-facing room for painting or a large room with lots of customized storage for quilting or weaving. If music is your passion, design a room with the acoustics to provide optimal sound. Now is the time for you to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Make your years as an empty nester the best they can be!


You have needs that change over time. It’s very important that your new custom home is flexible enough to comfortably accommodate visiting family as it grows to include spouses and grandchildren. Your home should facilitate the day-to-day activities that are a priority for you. As you age, you may want to use your space very differently than you do now. So, how you can you achieve all of these purposes in a smaller, more efficient home design? That’s where it is critical to work with a highly-experienced architecture team who will take the time to fully understand your needs, wants and passions and has the knowledge and experience to work with you to create a design that will truly fulfill your dreams for your custom-designed home now and 20 years from now. It is possible to plan for unforeseen needs and build a home that will provide the flexibility you need far into the future.