Designing a retirement home for ever-younger downsizers
Stepping into a show apartment at a retirement village used to be like walking into a rather tired hotel room with brocade sofas, upright armchairs and floral curtains. Today, the more enlightened retirement developers have realised that their residents are becoming younger (at heart) and are responding by moving the design bar forward. Richmond Villages has employed interior designers Justine Vodnik and Sarah Beazley to jazz up their homes to appeal to this new generation of buyers.
“We design the interiors of the communal areas and apartments to look crisp and contemporary,” Vodnik says. “They still include features to make the retired person’s life easier and more comfortable, but not in such a way that it is immediately obvious.”
The interiors of each village are individually designed in different colourways. In Aston-on-Trent, Derbyshire, there will be blues and teals, whereas cream and beige predominate in Witney, Oxfordshire, punctuated with a touch of burnt orange. “We continually update the style and colour of the tiles in the bathrooms and kitchens, and we now put in granite worktops, the latest fitted ovens with doors that neatly slide away under the oven, and white marble fireplace surrounds,” she says.
There’s a practical element to these upgrades, too: raising the height of the chairs and coffee tables in the communal areas, using comfortable pressure release cushions (in good-quality fabric so no one would know) and easygrip furniture and window handles that still look stylish. “We buy designer pieces to add the wow factor. We’ve used Julian Chichester chairs, which are designed especially for us to be three centimetres higher than usual,” says Vodnik.
Jenny and Simon Hall, 78 and 79, bought a two-bedroom apartment at Richmond Village Witney a year ago. “When you go into the main entrance of the development, you don’t feel you are going into a care home, it’s more like going into a hotel,” says Jenny.
PegasusLife is also concentrating on changing the look and feel of its apartments. “It’s taken a while for companies to understand customers, their aspirations and where they want to be,” says John Nordon, the design director at PegasusLife. Homes are decked out with wooden floors and floor-to-ceiling windows, there are white gloss worktops with glass splashbacks in the kitchens and bathrooms have large walk-in showers and towel rails that look good but can support a person’s weight should they fall.
“We also want to ensure the product is attractive second time round,” says Nordon. “It’s easy to make a show flat look amazing, but we want to create something that a second buyer will also find appealing.”
Beechcroft’s view is that space is the new luxury for affluent retirees, so the developer has made design changes to the layout of its properties to create flexible rooms with more living space.
“The entrance hall used to be a dead space, somewhere people put their telephones, but over the past decade it has undergone a transformation and many of our properties now provide large dining halls, spacious enough for family gatherings and parties,” says Angela South, the sales and marketing director. In flats with separate dining rooms, double doors between the drawing room, dining room and sun room fold back to create an adaptable space.
As well as these fresh tricks from seasoned developers, new companies with alternative ideas are entering the market. Platinum Skies, a new retirement developer, is marketing part-buy, part-rent apartments, which reduces the amount of equity needed when downsizing and falls into a lower band of stamp duty.
“Gone are the days of heavily curtained rooms filled with the same orthopaedic-looking armchairs and dining tables, suffocating in a sea of peach floral soft furnishings with no individuality,” says Suzanne Wright, its head of sales and marketing. “We have embraced contemporary design, bold architecture and light-filled open-plan living spaces.”
At the first development to be launched – Monterey in Christchurch, Dorset – the flats have Shaker-style kitchens and smart bathrooms. Communal areas have neutral palettes with touches of vivid colour, contemporary furniture and statement lighting. There are 34 one and twobedroom flats and one house, with prices starting at £140,000 for a 50 per cent share; the homes can be bought outright if preferred.
“Non-slip floor surfaces, wide shower enclosures or wet rooms, and generously proportioned hallways are also part of the mix,” says Wright. It’s important to futureproof the properties, “so as one grows older, their homes keep pace.”
The stylish lobby at PegasusLife’s Chapelwood village in Cheshire, main; Beechcroft is filling ‘dead space’ with large dining halls, below; Platinum Skies properties have open-plan, light-filled living spaces, above