Residential Design Services for Builders

Our Blog

March 25, 2024

Re-thinking 55+ Housing

An industry friend sent me a picture of two actors. One was Wilford Brimley in the movie Cocoon from 1985. With all due respect, he looks gray, tired, and old. He is 50 in that picture. Beside him was a picture of Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible Fallout from 2018. Tom looks vital, healthy, and energetic at age 55.

Fred Duval/

Fast forward to today and Tom still looks amazing in both the 2022 in Top Gun: Maverick and the 2023 Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning (Part 1) where he does his own insane stunts.

Is Tom Cruise the exception? Probably. But seeing Tom on the big screen be amazing is inspiring to many and leaves a positive impression on the 55+ buyer. The pandemic left a negative impression on all of us, but notably the 55+ buyer profile. No one wants to be locked in – but especially if it is an assisted living facility where sadly too many perished.

But this vibrant 55+ buyer is overlooked by many in the industry. They are still picturing Wilford Brimley. Just recently, I was talking to someone about the design of a shower for the 55+ buyers. I cringed when they asked if we should include a fold down seat in the shower. Images of an assisted living handicap shower flashed in my (55+) brain. Are you going to show Julia Roberts a fold down seat in the shower?

Joe Seer/

This got me thinking – what features are appropriate for this buyer that both respect their psychological (mental and emotional state) rather than chronological age.

The shower

Let’s start with the shower. Think spa-like rather than designing for a crippled buyer. That means an awesome seat, great shower heads including a handheld shower head. It should have a zero-threshold entry that is both luxurious and easy to use. Just don’t call it a roll-in shower. That connotes a wheelchair!

Ample Artificial Light

A natural part of aging is the thickening of the lens of the eye. It is a gradual process that starts at age thirty. By age sixty, this buyer needs six times as much light as a 20-year-old. That’s the bad news. The good news is adding light is beautiful and uplifting. Your houses look better when well lit!

Be thoughtful about lighting. In the bathroom, add lit mirrors because it is a more flattering light direction. A pendant fixture hanging from the ceiling adds great decorative and ambient light and a step light in the toilet room is great for way-finding at midnight.

In the kitchen, I like four layers of lighting:

  1. Under cabinet lights for task lighting,
  2. Pendant lights over the island as both decorative task lighting,
  3. Puck lights in the glass upper cabinets for ambient lights
  4. Recessed can lights in the kitchen for the maximum light.

(In our house we call them the surgery lights and we only turn them on when cleaning).

And don’t forget the lighting in the closet. One overhead light won’t illuminate two rows of hanging properly. Add led strip lights above each row of handing – so buyers can distinguish navy blue from black.

Ample Natural Light

When in doubt, go ahead and add that extra window in the bedroom or great room. Especially if the extras windows can view upon green vegetation. Add high glass in the bathroom – above or between the mirror – above the shower and in the toilet room.

Toilet room

Yes – I said toilet room. You should think privacy versus paraplegic. Sorry – but no one young or old looks good sitting on the toilet. Make the room large enough for future grab bars on either side of the toilet – so someone with bad knees can push themselves up. Allow three extra inches for each grab bar or six inches if installed on both sides. You can skip the grab bar behind the toilet – which is designed for the paraplegic to pull themselves onto the toilet.

Rethink Stairs

The vibrant 55+ buyer isn’t afraid of stairs. But since falling is the number one reason for hospital visits, stairs should be designed with safety in mind. Stairs with a landing are better than straight run stairs and step lights make then safer at night.

Avoid the single step up or down – like the sunken living rooms from the sixties or the single step from the garage into the house. Having the primary suite on the main level is a nice luxury for any age – but vibrant 55+ buyers are buying three story luxury townhomes with roof decks in the right location. Here is Jacksonville, one such community has over sixty percent of their buyers over 55!

Wellness Features

Everyone wants to be well but the 55+ buyer is more willing to pay for wellness features like air and water filtration. They also appreciate mood lifting features like access to outdoor living and biophilic designs. Adding landscape lights will extend the view of the great outdoors into the evening.

They will welcome access to walking trails and a variety fitness options. Of course, security features will give this buyer peace of mind.

Let’s face it, we all want to be full of vitality as we age. After turning 21, no one really wants to grow older. But more importantly, the 55+ buyers doesn’t want to be reminded of their age. They want to look and feel like Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts – hey set your goals high, right?

Thank you to John Hunt with Market N sights for the Will Brimley – Tom Cruise comparison and to Deborah Blake with The Ipsum Group for the inspiration to write this blog.

Categorized in:

This post was written by Housing Design Matters