Retiring in style: 3 custom homes that redefine retirement living

We profile three custom-home projects that redefine retirement living, including a hilltop home in Connecticut designed for a working retired couple and a sprawling ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

3 custom homes that redefine retirement living

3 custom homes that redefine retirement living

July 26, 2011

Marble bathrooms and other luxuries aside, people who build one-of-a-kind custom homes for retirement are more practical than you might think. They want to hand down a durable, efficient home to their children and grandchildren. They’re also planning for the day when their mobility will decrease and “boomerang” kids might move back in, or they’ll have to care for an aging parent or relative in their home.

Jim Blansfield of Blansfield Builders, Danbury, Conn., says elevators are becoming common. While an elevator is a costly option, clients recognize that it will pencil out over the long term, says Rick Gross of Estes Builders, Sequim, Wash.

Blansfield’s clients want high-end finishes in their kitchens and baths, reminiscent of a fine hotel. Radiant in-floor heat is popular, and demand is increasing for smart-home technology that integrates the home’s HVAC, security, lighting, and entertainment systems into a touch-screen panel that communicates with the client’s cell phone.

Luxury retirement-home buyers won’t compromise when it comes to outdoor living, Blansfield says. Multiple outdoor spaces for dining, entertaining, and relaxation are a must. Clients also prefer a large, open family room and kitchen with an island eating bar. 

Since these clients are planning for the future, universal design is important. So is sustainability, with a focus on energy savings. “They want the home to be as energy-efficient as it can be,” says Micky Maness of Coachman Homes, Wimberley, Texas. Maness typically incorporates features like rainwater collection systems, on-demand water heaters, and long roof overhangs to shade windows and walls from intense sunlight.

These trends and more are featured in the three custom retirement homes that follow.


Not everyone chooses a retirement destination that is thousands of miles away. Builder Jim Blansfield’s clients, an empty-nester couple, ended up building their retirement home in Danbury, Conn., where both their previous residence and business is located.

For this couple, retirement isn’t exactly around the corner. “The husband intends to work quite a bit longer even though his kids will soon take over the business,” says Blansfield. He convinced the clients to purchase a 2 3/4-acre lot on a hill with lake views. “The lot affords wonderful westerly views and is very private, with an elegant, estate-like driveway approaching it,” he says.

Architect Paul Harris of Cole Harris Architects, Westport, Conn., designed the 5,800-square-foot home with a European-style courtyard entry. Within the courtyard, a six-car garage accommodates vehicles from the client’s automobile dealership, as well as his collection of vintage cars. A pergola frames the entrance to the motor court.

From the courtyard concept stemmed a floor plan with rooms that are arranged in a linear fashion. “We wanted every room to take full advantage of the view from the top of the hill,” Harris says. The hallways on the first and second floors were placed along an outside wall, with windows overlooking the courtyard. “You’re always looking outside as you travel through the house, as opposed to a center-hall colonial where the corridors are internalized,” he says.

The walkout lower level includes a home theater, entertainment room and bar, fitness room, bathroom, changing room, and project room for crafts and gift-wrapping. This level spills out onto a patio with a pool.

One of the most dramatic features is a floating staircase with wrought-iron balusters at the rear of the home. The clients can use this staircase for private access to the master bedroom or take the elevator, which serves all three floors. The master suite is more than 500 square feet and has a bathroom finished in marble and onyx tile, with a walk-in shower.

Harris sized the dining room to accommodate up to 30 people for holiday dinners with family and friends. Multiple outdoor spaces were also critical to the design and include a screened porch, a full-length deck, and a stone terrace off the family room.

The rest of the second floor is devoted to three additional bedrooms, one of which is at the opposite end of the house from the master suite and includes a sitting room and walk-in closet. “It’s a private area for guests with separate access from the rear of the home so they can come and go as they please,” Blansfield says.

Large quantities of rock were blasted out of the site and crushed for use as backfill, the road base, and drainage around the foundation. The larger stones were incorporated into the exterior, retaining walls, and landscaping.

There’s little to maintain on the outside of the home, which reflects its New England setting. “We combined stone with stucco to give the façade a heavy masonry feeling,” says Harris. “Then on some of the upper levels, we lightened the structure with gray clapboard siding.”

One feature the home doesn’t have is a dedicated home office. Harris explains that while the client wanted to stay connected to his business, he felt his home should be a place to unwind. “Instead of a den or formal study, he decided that one of the upstairs bedrooms would suffice if he needed to work,” he says.

Solar photovoltaic panels were discreetly installed on the back of the garage roof. Other features, such as closed-cell and batt insulation and radiant in-floor heat, also keep energy costs low.


High Ridge Ranch was originally built as a family retreat for an empty-nester couple from Houston, and will become their primary residence when they retire in the next few years. Perched on a plateau in Wimberley, Texas, with views of the Texas Hill Country to the north, it captures the essence of old ranch homes built in the area a century ago.

Most of the site’s 30 acres were preserved as a wildlife habitat, says architect Rick Burleson of Burleson Design Group, Wimberley.

“I wanted to allow the site and the character of the land to shape the design as much as possible, so I created a compound,” says Burleson. There are three distinct elements, designed to offer privacy and comfort for long-term guests. The main house encompasses a great room, kitchen, dining room, and master suite, oriented on a north-south axis to frame the view of distant hills to the north. A casita with two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, and a living area is connected to the main house by a dogtrot (breezeway). The third element is the Bird’s Nest, an efficiency apartment over the garage that has a covered deck overlooking a western valley.

Altogether, the compound has 5,300 square feet under roof, of which 3,500 square feet is conditioned space.

The home’s southern orientation captures prevailing breezes from the southeast. Deep roof overhangs shade walls and protect windows from exposure to the scorching Texas sun, while the galvanized metal roof minimizes heat absorption.

Much of the flooring is stained concrete, with leaf imprints that were made at the client’s request. Builder Micky Maness of Coachman Homes, Wimberley, collected a variety of leaves from the property and placed them in the wet concrete to achieve this look. Maness also built a secret passageway between the study and an adjacent office. “It was pretty challenging to make that work, with the bookshelves on one side,” he says.

For a rustic look, the walls were covered in wood reclaimed from old barns in Kentucky and Iowa and complemented by pine ceilings and cedar beams. “We definitely put more barnwood in this home than we have in any of the others we’ve built,” Maness says. “You have to do a certain amount of straightening and improvising to make it look right.”

Other sustainable features include non-ventilated, insulated attics and an on-demand water heater. The dogtrot captures southeast breezes, and windows are placed to catch cross breezes. An exterior of native Texas stone and fiber-cement siding minimizes maintenance.


When two lifelong friends decided to pool their resources and build a new home for retirement, they asked Estes Builders of Sequim, Wash., to tackle the project. The women had lived in different parts of the United States but were especially fond of Sequim, a retirement destination that is popular with Baby Boomers.

Estes designed and built a three-story, 8,000-square-foot home on a hilltop with dazzling views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. The architectural style is coastal Craftsman, says Estes’ Rick Gross, while the interior has a contemporary flair. 

“It has a very open central core — kind of an open kitchen/living/dining concept that’s perfect for entertaining,” says Gross. Already expansive at 22 feet by 18 1/2 feet, the living room also has a two-story ceiling. When they want privacy, the women can retreat to their separate master suites, one on the main floor and one on the second floor.

The moderately sloped site lent itself to a daylight basement, which the clients designated as guest quarters. The basement includes two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchenette, a media room, and an exercise room. 

Views are captured from every conceivable angle. Each client has her own office on the second floor with water and mountain views. “Central to that, and as high as we could get it on the structure itself, is a viewing lounge with a fireplace that’s meant for nothing more than relaxing and taking in the view,” says Gross. One of the master baths even has a walk-in shower with a porthole window.

The homeowners can also kick back on a northeast-facing deck surrounded by trees. A portion of this deck is covered and has an outdoor fireplace for stargazing on cool nights.

Low-maintenance materials include fiber-cement siding and masonry on the exterior; stamped concrete for the driveway; windows with a lifetime warranty; and hardwood flooring.


8 Requirements for Retirement

1.  Multiple outdoor living spaces

2.  Low-maintenance exterior

3.  Energy efficiency

4.  Universal design

5.  Elevator in multi-story homes

6.  Private guest quarters  

7.  Extra bedroom(s) for boomerang kids and/or in-laws

8.  Large, open family room/kitchen with island eating bar

Comments on: "Retiring in style: 3 custom homes that redefine retirement living "

March 2015

This Month in Custom Builder


Nexia Home Intelligence has developed a line of compatible connected devices in conjunction with various consumer brands.

Email Subscriptions