The Coming Interior Design Boom

The Coming Interior Design Boom

Are You Prepared to Ride the Design Age Wave?

Marketers call it the “silver tsunami.

They’re referring to the huge demographic wave that is bearing down on the U.S. population as the Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age, and along with it, they predict, will come changes in lifestyle and living arrangements that will create a demand for new products and services. Through their sheer numbers, attitudes and purchasing power, Baby Boomers “reinventing” aging will reshape institutions and markets — including the housing market — as they mature. 

Some 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. In the next 15 years, more than half the growth in U.S. households will be those headed by someone over age 65, reports the Urban Institute. Studies vary, but most Boomers — as many as 85%, according to AARP — plan to remain in their home (either their current home or their next home) throughout their later years. Yet, adds AARP, to date only 16% have taken steps to adapt their homes for retirement. Since most of those homes were designed to house young families, they will require updates and renovations to make them suitable and safe as the homeowners age. And a sizeable portion of these homeowners will turn to design professionals for help.

Already, demand for aging-related design and remodeling services is on the rise. In releasing the first quarter results of its Home Design Trends Survey, the American Institute of Architects reported a 5% increase during the past year in activity related to in-home accessibility, stating, “the rising popularity of accessible design concepts points to a population that is preparing to age-in-place, or, perhaps, is anticipating responsibility for caretaking of older relatives in the future.” Additionally, respondents age 60-plus to the 2015 Houzz & Home survey most often hired a general contractor or design professional to assist with their home renovation project last year. They also spent more on their projects — twice that of Millennials.

One in five remodeled a kitchen, at an average cost of $37,000+ for a small kitchen and $45,000+ for a large kitchen. One in four remodeled a bathroom, at an average cost of $12,300+ for a small bath and $20,000+ for a large bath. And one in three remodeled some other interior space. The primary reasons for these changes were to improve accessibility, ease of use, maintenance, and safety — presumably, to make the home more suitable for aging in place.

Demand will continue to increase as the first wave of boomers enters their 70s, starting next year. Some of that demand will come from boomers who will change their residence in order to buy their next, best house. A survey conducted by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate in 2014 found 57% of homeowners ages 49 though 67 planned to move out of their current home. A full 70% said they expect the house they retire in will be their best home ever. Some Boomers plan to relocate, some to downsize, and some to turn a vacation home into their retirement dream home. Whatever their choice, they plan to age gracefully and in style. Depending on what happens in the real estate market, some Boomers may not have the means to fulfill their dream, but a fair number will. To realize their vision, these more affluent boomers will seek professional advice for their projects.

If you are not experienced in designing for an older population, now is the time to prepare for the anticipated explosion in this market. The Houzz study shows that, like other clients, older homeowners who are remodeling value good design, functionality and energy conservation. The key differences in designing for this population are in understanding how the aging process will affect their needs over time, especially in the area of functionality, and how to market your services.

A number of good resources are available to get you started. The AARP web site (www.aarp.org) has a lot of useful information on aging and home renovation, including a model home called “Home for Life,” which was developed in partnership with Remodeling magazine.

In the Knowledge Center on its website, the American Society of Interior Designers (www.asid.org) has a section dedicated to design for aging and accessibility. You can download a free publication, Home for a Lifetime, that includes design recommendations from experienced professionals, and members can download the Design for Aging Toolkit, which covers both design and marketing strategies. The National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org) offers a three day program to become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS), available to any professional, and offers an online referral list of CAPS remodelers and designers. Develop the skills and knowledge to serve this market well, and you’ll be able to ride the age wave until you’re ready to retire.

Gail is one of Designers Today's most prominent contributors - focusing specifically on the business side of interior design.