Many older couples are finding that downsizing is not the way they want to go


February 04, 1996|By JoAnne C. Broadwater

Even after their children are grown and have homes of their own, there are some parents whose nests are anything but empty.

Grandchildren stop by for frequent visits. There are big family dinners and holiday gatherings with lots of highchairs around the dining room table.

And suddenly the parents who perhaps had begun to think about finding a smaller place discover that the home where they raised their children is now becoming a bit crowded.

So instead of giving up space and moving into an apartment or condominium like some of their peers, they choose to build fine, large homes customized to meet the needs of their growing families -- and themselves.

"They are still building a nest," says H. James Brown, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. "They want something grander."

Dr. Brown adds that his observations over the past 10 years contradict a common belief that most homeowners sell their houses and buy smaller quarters when they reach the age of 55. To the contrary, he says, the majority of people approaching retirement do not choose to downsize.

His studies indicate that about 60 percent of homeowners between the ages of 55 and 65 who buy a new house choose one that is as large as or larger than their original home.

"They are still moving up the ladder," he said. "They are still trading up and trading up includes bigger and better. They still want more room space and a place for their grandchildren."

In the Baltimore area, Steven Blum, president of Westwood Builders, has constructed large homes for mature clients, with extra bedrooms, playrooms and even swimming pools for visiting grandchildren and grown children to enjoy.

Architect Jay Brown, a partner in Levin/Brown & Associates of Owings Mills, has designed new homes for older adults who felt that certain areas of their existing homes were too small.

"Parents are building grandchildren quarters, extra bedrooms for their children who live out of town and very large dining rooms to accommodate family functions at one table," Mr. Brown says.

"Their families are enormous and now they have the money to [build larger homes]," he continues. "Hot-ticket items are dining rooms and children's quarters."

When three Baltimore area couples decided to build new houses after their children were grown, they insisted on spacious floor plans and dining rooms big enough for their families. They also wanted spare bedrooms and playrooms for overnight family guests -- on a separate level from their main-floor living quarters.

"You may wonder why a couple in their 60s with children who are grown ... would turn around and build a brand-new home," says one of the husbands. "We are blessed to have a family here in town and we want to be able to sit down at one table in one room and have dinner together. That's very important to us. So we built the house around the dining room."

Perhaps more precisely, he and his wife built their house and dining room around a table that comfortably seats their entire family of 20. The contemporary 15-foot-by-5-foot, glass-topped oval conference table has an 18-inch opaque sandblasted border. Its clear center displays a collection of demitasse cups on a lower tier.

Before moving into the 7,000-square-foot white brick contemporary six years ago, the couple lived in a 4,000-square-foot '50s-style split-level, which they had added onto four times while their children were growing up.

It had three levels with four bedrooms, a huge family room and an upstairs master bedroom. The kitchen was isolated from the family room, removing the cook from family activities. The dining room could seat only eight or 10.

Their new home is built into the side of a hill and their living quarters are on the 3,500-square-foot entry level. There's a study for the husband and a large dining room for Friday-night dinners with their four children, their children's spouses and their 10 grandchildren.

The kitchen is open and overlooks the large, sunken family room. Here the cook doesn't miss any goings-on. There's also an island for convenient serving, buffet style.

The master suite includes a bedroom, a dressing room with his-and-her walk-in closets and a bathroom with marble whirlpool bath and steam shower.

The open floor plan has no interior doors except on powder rooms and the dressing room. The house is bright and airy with skylights above columns that line the long grand hall. There are lots of windows overlooking the wooded, 2 1/2 acre lot.

At the end of the hall, a steep spiral staircase leads down to the television and game room, playroom, two guest bedrooms and full bath for the grandchildren.

"It's a place for them to play Scrabble, bingo, chess and watch TV," the wife says. "Our house is a drop-off place. The grandchildren are here at least once a week and three or four times in between."

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