Manny Gonzalez – These Factors Are Key in 55-Plus Builds

February 3, 2016

IRVINE, CA—Land for today’s senior-housing developments must be close to grocery stores, dining, shopping, trails and walking paths, KTGY Architecture + Planning’s LEED AP and principal Manny Gonzalez tells Gonzalez, based in the firm’s Los Angeles office, was recently awarded by NABH’s National 55+ Housing Council with its first-ever 55-Plus Associate of the Year Award. We spoke exclusively with Gonzalez about the issues facing 55-plus developers and designers today. What are the biggest design concerns for developers in the 55+ market today?

Gonzalez: As far as land acquisition goes, it’s trying to find property within close proximity to a grocery store, dining and shopping as well as trails and walking paths. Those are always at the top of what the 55-plus market is looking for. On the single-family side, it’s providing flexibility so the buyer can choose room options that meet their needs without causing structural changes. When it comes to apartments, what is important is creating the resort lifestyle that goes beyond just fitness and features “total wellness.” In any 55-plus design, having enoughstorage is critical, but perhaps the biggest concern is being able to incorporate universal design without looking institutional. How can developers include design features that will last over time or are adaptable to changing 55+ needs?
You often hear the term “aging in place” in the 55-plus sector, but as far as I am concerned, the only things that should age in place are red wine and blue cheese. Boomerswant to thrive in place and have a “responsive” home, one that can meet their changing needs. Most of these things should be included in the original design such as single-level living and zero thresholds. In other cases, it’s more about finding the right products to incorporate. A sliding “barn door” for the master closet allows it to remain open most of the time, but then able to easily hide the closet should guests be over. Organized Living has some great closet options that allow a resident to adapt hanging and shelves as needed. Combined with the sliding door, it could be useable by a resident in a chair, if that were ever required. But, my favorite product out there today is the Kohler grab bar that offers all the support anyone would need, but looks like a decorative bath accessory, and the bar is able to slide forward or back if needed. Which 55-plus design trends do you see fading? 

Gonzalez: Traditional architectural styles used to be the norm for the 55-plus market. However, today, “casual contemporary” seems to be the preference, especially in multifamily housing. No one wants to live in the “home” they moved Grandma into 40 years ago. While there are still many who still desire the age-restricted golf course community, blending 55-plus neighborhoods within an all-ages master plan seems to be the new trend. Communities like Gavilan in Rancho Mission Viejo, CA, and the Victory District at Verrado in Buckeye, AZ, are showing the way.

Victory-at-Verrado-Freedom-Collection_00-(3)Boomers want options to personalize their home and have ample space to entertain—not just another couple, but easily eight others, according to research. In the Victory at Verrado Freedom Collection in Buckeye, AZ, the adjoining walls of the home slide away to open up the rest of the home to this privatized space to create a truly seamless indoor/outdoor living area. Which 55-plus design trends are gaining steam?

Gonzalez: In addition to rethinking the master plan, there are probably two areas that are gaining steam; entertainment and socialization, along with technology. The 50-to-65 age group uses the Internet to book travel more than any other age group, and I think that using a community Pinterest site lets management mine the topics and activities that residents are most interested in. And, while the mail room is nowhere near what it has been in the past, thanks to email, text messages and Facebook, the electronic package concierge is becoming more prevalent. Since the 55-plus market entertains frequently and usually six to eight people, entertainment kitchens are very important. The island is the new “entertainment center” of the home. And any community space where neighbors can socialize and share a bottle of wine are extremely popular, anything from a fire pit to a bocce court. What else should our readers know about 55-plus design trends?

Gonzalez: With 10,000 people a day turning 65 starting five years back and going all the way to 2030, this is a huge market, and there is no “one size fits all.” Research shows that only 4% of the 55-plus segment wants to live in a truly urban environment, but that would still mean 400 people a day who turn 65 want to live in the city. While indoor/outdoor living is a must, especially in warmer climates, this group still wants privacy in their outdoor space. But, if I could list the three most important things that they want, it would be storage, storage, and more storage. They still have lots of stuff and lots of clothes, and you will lose buyers or renters if you don’t give them what they need.