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Family Home to Empty-Nester Retreat – Renovating for the Empty-Nester Lifestyle

Your children have finally left the nest and you are considering your options. You’ve been considering a move to a new home that is more suitable for your empty-nester lifestyle, but you love your neighbourhood. Your neighbours have become good friends and you enjoy the familiarity of local businesses and amenities; so you don’t want to leave and start all over again in a new community. Well, you don’t have to move! Renovate instead!

In this article we explore several ways that you can turn your family home into a space more suitable for your empty-nester lifestyle, a custom-designed renovation that will make life easier now as you move into a new stage of life and for many years to come as you age gracefully in the place you call home.

First, we’ll look at reconfiguring and opening up your home to suit your new empty-nester stage of life.

Repurposing and Opening Up Spaces

Rooms Revisited

When designing a custom home renovation for empty nesters we always consider repurposing unused or unnecessary spaces. Think about your home… are there rooms you use rarely or not at all? Wouldn’t you like all of your rooms––especially those on the main floor––to be useful, efficient spaces that serve your day-to-day needs? Explore how you can use your space differently. For example you may want to consider:

  1. Leaving the second floor for guests and family visits and moving your master suite to the main floor. An under-utilized living/dining room or den can become a luxurious master suite.
  2. No longer want the laundry room in that dark corner of the basement? No problem! Repurpose a den or other main floor or second floor space as a laundry room.
  3. It’s a great idea to identify a location suitable for a residential elevator should you ever need one in the future. Even if you don’t want or need it now, identify a pantry, walk in closet, mud room or laundry room and plan the renovation to allow for ease of installation in the future.
  4. With your most important priorities taken care of on the main floor, modify the space on the second floor to function well for less-frequent tasks. Now that you’re an empty nester, you won’t have as much laundry and with retirement maybe you can spend less time in the den. Think about moving those rooms to the second floor.
  5. Take a careful look at storage needs. You may no longer have the volume of “stuff” generated by children and teenagers, but you’ll want to plan for functional, easy access to all of the items you need day-to-day and at special times during the year. Well-designed storage eliminates clutter while still keeping everything within easy reach when and where you need it.

Opening Up the Interior

Do you love to entertain? Turn an old-style segmented floor plan into an open-concept great room with the kitchen, dining room and living room combining to create a gorgeous space that wows your guests. A renovation opens up so many possibilities and if you work with an experienced architectural designer like Jim, he can help you see options you may never have thought possible––options tailored to your needs and wants. When reconfiguring the layout, walls can be removed for open concept space throughout the home. Keep the openings wider for flow and ease of mobility when adding new doors and halls. Sliding doors are easier to open and close from a stationary position for those who develop mobility issues and must use a walker or wheelchair.

Add a secondary suite

Maybe you could use some extra income to supplement your retirement income? Do you have an elderly family member who is unable to live on their own and now requires family support? When you move into your senior years in a decade or two you may want a live-in care person or family member who will assist you and allow you to stay in your own home. Why not plan a secondary suite either in the basement or on the second floor? The suite can be designed to evolve with your changing needs to accommodate a renter, family member or healthcare worker/nurse. Reap the rental income benefits now and maintain flexibility for the future. Designing the custom renovation to include a rental unit also makes your home more valuable on resale as it will be very attractive to those seeking extra income from a rental property.

Exterior renovations for accessibility and ease of maintenance

Time to Update Windows and Doors for Comfort and Energy-Efficiency

You’ve probably been putting it off… replacing those old drafty windows that are becoming more and more difficult to operate. Installing new windows and doors not only provides enhanced energy efficiency to keep out the Ottawa Valley winter cold and summer heat, but it’s also an opportunity to improve accessibility and light. Even if you don’t need enhanced accessibility right now, you may have friends or family members who do, and these features will be available to you if you need them in the future. When a custom renovation is designed by an experienced architectural designer, accessibility features improve the flow and openness of the home seamlessly, while being aesthetically-pleasing and contributing to the overall beauty of the space. Consider these enhancements when replacing windows and doors:

  1. Increasing the width of doorways to make the home more accessible.
  2. Recessing door thresholds to improve wheelchair access.
  3. Increasing the size of the windows to brighten the interior spaces.
  4. Adding easy-clean coatings to ease the work of window cleaning or eliminate the need for it.

Here at Bell+Associates Architecture, we can advise you on windows and doors that will last. Many of the windows available on the market will not function well for more than 15 years. We partner with a supplier that designs and builds windows with the quality and longevity you need and the value you want.

Designing Exterior Hardscaping for Accessibility

There are a few key changes that will significantly improve access to your home for elderly loved ones and people with mobility issues:

  1. Replace traditional stairs with low-rise, long-run stairs wherever possible. They are much easier to navigate, especially during our snowy Ottawa Valley winters, and will be more aesthetically-pleasing than precast concrete options.
  2. If space permits, a sloping sidewalk provides an even safer and more flexible solution for those with and without mobility challenges. The absence of steps eliminates tripping hazards and barriers for walkers and wheelchairs.
  3. It’s also critical to ensure that all walking surfaces are well-lit, making your property safer and easier to navigate for everyone.
  4. Raising the covered porch to eliminate a step up into the house and the installation of interlock or composite decking will allow for easy wheelchair or walker access.

A Few of the Details

The details, large and small, are what can make or break the success of a custom home renovation.


When you reconfigure your space, the flooring usually needs to be replaced. Eliminate or reduce as many flooring transitions as possible and smooth out the differences in thickness and surface types to reduce the risk of trips and falls. And as an empty nester, choose those gorgeous, luxury finishes you’ve always wanted but were afraid to get. Without the day-to-day wear and tear of children, your choices are endless and we can help you find the perfect flooring for your “new” home.


Make life easier by replacing doorknobs with lever handles throughout your home. Levers are easier to operate than doorknobs, especially for those with arthritis. They’re also much easier to open when you have a large load of laundry in your arms!


New LED lighting allows for brighter lighting at a lower operating cost and with longer service life. Not only will you be able to see more clearly, but you’ll rarely have to change a lightbulb. The choices have improved greatly over the last few years and LED technology provides the flexibility for incredible creativity and beauty in lighting fixtures. We’ll work with you to find the best options for your home.

Kitchens and Bathrooms


A kitchen renovation is probably long past due. We know you’ve been eyeing those new cabinets for years. Make a new kitchen your empty-nester gift to yourselves. This is a great opportunity to take advantage of all of the latest kitchen design innovations of the last decade or two. There are so many new clever roll-out cabinet shelving and drawer organizers that can be customized to your needs. One of those small details that can make a big difference––handles are a better choice than knobs for ease of opening cupboards.

Custom design various counter heights that suit you and your spouse––they don’t all have to be the same anymore! For example, 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. The countertop materials available today can be completely maintenance-free with the look and feel of natural stone, but none of the disadvantages.

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 architectural designer providing advice and expertise every step of the way, cooking and cleaning can be a little easier for everyone!


You may choose to renovate an existing bathroom or two or you may want to add a new one on the main level. You’ll definitely want to do this if you’ve decided to relocate your master suite to the main level, but even if you are not planning to do that, carefully consider the option of a full bathroom available to you on the main level.

Here are just a few of the many considerations for great bathroom design for empty nesters:

  1. Include grab bars in a shower or tub or simply plan for them by adding the blocking in the wall framing when you renovate the bathroom. It’s much more cost-effective to include these details now than have to rebuild for them later.
  2. Choose a vanity with an open area below the counter to accommodate a chair or wheelchair.
  3. Design the shower with a bench and add hand-held showerheads that can reach the seating area.
  4. Design the layout to allow space to manoeuvre a wheelchair or walker.
  5. Non-slip surfaces everywhere!

Hundreds of considerations go into planning a truly efficient, functional and beautiful interior renovation and each project has unique considerations. You don’t have to navigate the complexities on your own. Jim Bell has the expertise and over 30 years of architectural design experience to design a spectacular home renovation to serve you now and well into the future. Take a look at what he has designed for his clients, and contact us for a no-obligation consultation.