Multipurpose Space Appeals to Boomers

From tech spaces to flex spaces, learn about increasing room versatility.

Today's 50-plus clients are "sophisticated buyers," explains Mary DeWalt of the Mary DeWalt Design Group in Austin, Texas. "They want what's new and different," and they want to customize their homes to fit their interests exactly. That's where flex spaces and tech centers come in.

Flex spaces are rooms that are flexible or versatile either because they are multipurpose (a guest room/sewing room, for instance) or because they are undefined rooms ready to be tailored to the clients' specific needs. A tech center, DeWalt says, is not just a showy office with bookshelves and fancy mahogany desk; it is "a working, active computer space."

Tech spaces run the gamut, all the way from two-person "his and hers" offices, important for baby boomers who continue working past "retirement," to small alcoves fitted out with computer hookups, tabletop and chair. "We're seeing more of alcove or nook tech centers," says architect Bill Devereaux of Devereaux & Associates in McLean, Va. "Many times a nook or cranny is fine," explains Mary, especially for clients who are downsizing to a smaller house.
What's the best place for a nook-style tech center? An arched opening in a widened hallway works well, Devereaux says. So does an alcove under the stairs. How about the utility or laundry room? Along with the washer and dryer, a little home office can fit nicely in a sunny, well-appointed utility room, DeWalt says.

Flex spaces are "must-haves" for many reasons. One is that baby boomers are cutting down on the hours they spend at work outside the home. "They've been separated from 9 to 5 for years, and now they are thrown together 24/7," DeWalt says. "That's not always a good thing. Women say, 'Where can my husband watch TV?' " They want sanctuaries for their husbands and getaway space of their own.

Adapting to change

Another reason to have flex spaces is that homeowners' needs change. To be ready for change, Devereaux recommends putting a powder room or bathroom close to the dining room or den. That way the space can easily be converted to a first-floor bedroom and bath suite. He adds that first-floor rooms without rooms above them and rooms in locations that offer privacy are prime candidates for expansion or adaptation as bedroom suites.

Finally, multipurpose flex spaces are a good idea because they maximize the value of available square footage. Between visits from the grandchildren, most 50-plus homeowners want to be able to use the guestroom for other things.
"Most buyers don't think about all these things" when they envision their home, DeWalt says, but once you "show them the possibilities, they will spend more to get what they want."

Start the brainstorming session with these flex space ideas. All of them are popular with baby boomers:

  • Use the space over the garage as a media room with big-screen TV.
  • Turn the loft or second story overlook into a men's retreat, with pool table, desk and TV.
  • Use the loft as a craft room, finished with easy-care flooring and furnished with built-in cabinets for supplies.
  • Wall off the living room or dining room for use as a study.
  • Tailor the sunroom as a garden hobbyist's room, reading area or craft room.
  • Use an upstairs bedroom as a TV room or scrapbooking headquarters.
  • Set up a spare room as a card room for poker or bridge parties.
  • Add a second tech center so both homeowners have private offices.

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