Retirement redefined: Custom-built homes for aging in place

These custom homes were designed for retirement, but their owners are at very different stages. Here’s how they were planned for aging in place.

These custom homes were designed for retirement, but their owners are at very di

These custom homes were designed for retirement, but their owners are at very different stages. Here’s how they were planned for

June 15, 2012

The word “retirement” has come to mean something other than a cessation of work. Americans are retiring early, late, or not at all. Many leave one job only to pursue a new career. 

Therefore, new homes for retirees have to accommodate a variety of life stages and lifestyles, and that’s where custom builders shine. One of the projects featured here fits the more traditional definition of retirement, while the other takes into account the owners’ current situation as well as their long-term plans.

Old-school elegance

Community guidelines dictated that a certain amount of stone had to be used on the exterior of this Tucson, Ariz., home.  This pattern has an old-fashioned look in keeping with 1940s-era Tucson Hacienda architecture. PHOTO: JON MANCUSO

A retired couple in their 60s who were moving to Tucson, Ariz., from California approached architect Ron Robinette with a set of requirements that included an observatory, two kitchens, and a shared home office.

“The husband grew up here and had family here, and that influenced the design of the house,” says Robinette. “It had to be authentic, 1940s-era Tucson Hacienda style, not Pueblo or Santa Fe.”

Robinette drew up the plans for a one-story, 4,933-square-foot home that takes its design cues from Spanish Colonial architecture, specifically the Arizona Inn, a local resort dating back to the 1940s.

"We worked hard to make sure that everything was symmetrical,” he says. “The doors, windows, and openings in the hallways are centered, the fireplace is centered on the wall, and there are view corridors throughout the house.”

The “show kitchen”, with its big-screen TV, is elegantly fitted out for entertaining. Behind this kitchen is a butler’s pantry for food preparation and hiding dirty dishes. PHOTO: JON MANCUSO

A variety of ceiling heights and treatments adds visual interest. “The ceilings are scaled to the size and function of the rooms,” Robinette says. “The big wood ceiling beams are in the main public areas where the clients entertain, while the library has a coffered ceiling with stamped-tin panels.” The hallways have coves or crown moldings.

The foyer is more formal than most of Robinette’s designs. “You come in the front door and look through the house at the view. The clients wanted guests to come in and enjoy the foyer and the artwork and the furnishings before seeing the rest of the house.” An alcove in the powder room — also reminiscent of older homes — gives it more privacy.

The telescope in the observatory has a digital camera that sends images to every television and computer screen in the home. In fact, if the client wants to view a certain galaxy, he only has to program his computer to open the observatory roof and aim the telescope automatically.

Tucson builder Jeff Willmeng used a concrete, buffered column to anchor the telescope independently and keep it from being jarred by movement in the house below. “That was somewhat of a challenge, along with making the observatory watertight,” Willmeng says. The dome is painted in a dark, bronze-like finish that complements the home’s exterior colors.

The interiors, designed by Lori Carroll & Associates, Tucson, are more contemporary in function and finish. Two kitchens are located back to back at the center of the house. The main kitchen is a “show kitchen” with a cooktop, sink, and serving bar. A big-screen TV mounted over the cooktop creates a sports-bar atmosphere that the clients desired.

The clients chose their lot for its view of the Santa Catalina Mountains (right) and location right on the golf course. While fairly flat, the site did present some challenges for builder Jeff Willmeng: “There was a huge vein of very hard Tucson granite running through it, and we ended up pinning the foundation to the granite in a lot of places.” PHOTO: JON MANCUSO


Behind the main kitchen is the butler’s pantry, which functions as a catering kitchen or scullery with two microwave ovens, a second dishwasher, and a few spare burners.

“The show kitchen is all stripped down and nice and neat,” Robinette says. “The clients can entertain and be in the middle of all the action, yet run around the corner and make a mess in the scullery and the guests won’t see it.”

Steps away from the main kitchen, sliding doors fold back to a covered porch overlooking the swimming pool. A detached casita serves as a cabana, game room, or additional guest quarters.

Willmeng left the structure on the underside of the porch exposed for visual interest. When no one is swimming, the clients can enjoy the pool’s splashing fountains. The backyard isn’t huge, Robinette says, “but for retirees, not having a huge yard is a good thing.”

Long-range plan for retirement

The family enjoys spending time in the semicircular screened porch, which has a fireplace and TV. The clients’ mother and father live across the street; their home is visible from the porch. The rear deck offers panoramic views of the beach, marshland, and water. Entertaining is facilitated by an outdoor kitchen with a pizza oven. His-and-hers outdoor shower stalls are built into the mahogany and cedar deck framing. PHOTO: DAN CUTRONA


The owners of this home in West Falmouth, Mass., have five children ranging from toddlers to teenagers. Their primary residence is in Greenwich, Conn. You might think retirement isn’t on their radar, but in fact, their Massachusetts home is designed for the day when the kids are out of the house. It has space for a future elevator; a chairlift on the rear deck’s exterior stairs; multiple heating and cooling zones; and remote-controlled thermostats. A room where the children currently do schoolwork will eventually become a home office. The cedar shingles, composite decking and trim, and stainless steel rails and cables require virtually no maintenance. 

After tearing down the family’s cramped, existing home, Cataldo Custom Builders of East Falmouth, Mass., built a new, 5,200-square-foot residence on the site. The property has views of West Falmouth Harbor and Buzzards Bay, near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. Because it’s in a coastal flood zone as well as a conservation area, the permitting process was especially onerous.

To comply with flood-zone requirements, Cataldo raised the first floor 13 feet. Since the home is also in a hurricane zone, impact-resistant glass was used for the windows and doors and the structure was reinforced with tie-downs from the roof to the foundation.

Architect Greg Jones of Wise Surma Jones, New Bedford, Mass., designed a three-story home that maximizes views, with private decks off the master bedroom and children’s rooms, a large deck off the rear, and a semicircular screened porch. “The conservation commission restricted us to three bedrooms,” says Jones, “so we have the master bedroom, a bedroom for the boy, and one large bedroom that the four girls are sharing.”

To anchor the white-on-white kitchen, interior designer Carla Klapper selected walnut furniture with a dark stain. Soft blues and greens, including an aqua-colored glass backsplash, accent the white kitchen. Open shelves were used in lieu of upper cabinets. Solid-surface countertops were chosen over “fussy marble” for practicality, Klapper says. PHOTO: DAN CUTRONA

For the girls’ bathroom, interior designer Carla Klapper, Carla Home Production, Scarsdale, N.Y., designed a double shower and a three-bowl vanity with a floating countertop. The boy’s room has a loft with a ship’s ladder.

The traditional Cape Cod exterior contrasts sharply with the contemporary interior. The open staircase and white-painted oak floors and walls have minimal trim. There are no upper wall cabinets in the kitchen; instead, dishes are stacked on open shelves that are 12 inches deep, illuminated from underneath with LED lighting.

Despite snowstorms, ice, and parking issues, the project was finished in nine months (including the demolition of the existing house). The client’s mother, who lives across the street, was remodeling her home, but Cataldo avoided unnecessary chaos by coordinating crews and deliveries with the other builder. More important, he planned out every detail. “Communication between the office and the field and between the office and the client had to be seamless,” says Jones.

The clients wanted to move in by July 4. They told Cataldo he could have the entire summer to complete punchlist items. “But we finished the house two weeks early, which they were all very happy about,” he says.

During the summer, a tutor keeps the children up to speed on their studies in this office with its three computer workstations. Dad can also catch up on work here, closing the glass sliding doors for privacy. Decorative shiplap cladding covers the walls in the office and stair hall. PHOTO: DAN CUTRONA

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