Creating Active Adult Communities that Withstand the Test of Time

By David Smith, Florida Division President, AV Homes

Baby boomers are known for their commitment to progress, and their pursuit of revolutionary new ideas. It is only fitting, then, that the generation that redefined activism decades ago is changing what it means to be an active adult today. As developers, managers, board members and property owners know, 55-plus communities are evolving dramatically, employing thoughtful new design elements, a range of highly customized amenities and even a new approach to marketing. The most successful active adult communities are defined by the choices they offer, particularly in terms of their residences, which feature flexible floor plans, unique spaces for living and entertaining, added extras like wine rooms, and functional elements formulated to comfort and impress.  These residences are also designed to do something else: adapt to the needs of their owners as they age.

How can 55-plus communities capture the essence of the active boomer way of life? At AV Homes, we have spent years learning from community residents, evaluating exactly what draws them to a property, and mapping their needs now and into the future. Award-winning communities like Vitalia at Tradition and Solivita, are designed with top-of-the line features that speak of quality, but behind exciting, contemporary finishes are flexible, strategic designs that allow the properties to work at any age.  Let’s take a look at some of the key elements:

Rooms that reflect lifestyle: Boomers are experienced buyers and understand how living spaces enhance overall quality of life. As a result, many leading active adult residences today are open and casual, and the traditional dining and living rooms have been replaced by a combined kitchen and living area, anchored by the kitchen island. The kitchen is designed for entertaining and fun, but also for functionality, with great circulation for guests and room for multiple cooks.

Spaces that are uniquely functional and flexible: Some of the most successful active adult residences feature rooms specifically designed for 55-plus living, including a second master bedroom, or a flanking den next to the master, sometimes called a “snore room.” While this feature must be marketed carefully, it has proven vital, as research suggests that 20-30 percent of active adult couples sleep in separate rooms.

The flanking den can also serve as a guest bedroom for grandchildren, or as a getaway space (since many boomers are working professionals who desire a home office, or, later in retirement, want to keep the getaway office in place). With women often outliving their husbands, a dual master bedroom configuration works for sisters or friends who share a house.

Designs that adapt: In the kitchen and bathroom, smart designs allow for adaptability as boomers health status changes. Kitchens are built with a greater-than-standard distance between counters to allow a dishwasher or oven to open while permitting a wheel chair to pass by. Islands are built at 36 inches—not bar stool height—to make it is easier to get on and off a chair. In the bathroom, oversized and open, frameless showers are increasingly replacing the tub/shower combination, allowing for roll-in access; importantly, however, bathrooms retain a high-end look. Wider hallways and doors are essential.

Using light and promoting outdoor living: The use of natural light and strategically-placed fixtures is physically appealing and improves functionality. As sight deteriorates with age, good lighting is key. Large outdoor living spaces are a high priority for boomers as well. With time to enjoy the outdoors, they seek great entertaining areas, often with outdoor kitchens, bars and TV entertainment. Again, these outdoor spaces are designed to ensure their accessibility over time.

The idea of aging in place is certainly not new, but to work today it must be done in a way that keeps living spaces as vibrant, young-at-heart and dynamic as boomers themselves. By taking a careful design approach, communities can create properties that have a truly timeless appeal.

David Smith is the Florida division president for AV Homes, a 50-year old homebuilder and developer of award-winning traditional and 55-plus resort-style communities, including Solivita and Vitalia in Florida, and CantaMia in Phoenix, a 55-plus community built into the foothills of the Estrella mountains after years of studying the active adult and baby boomer lifestyle. The company is also launching two new 55-plus communities, Encore at Eastmark in Phoenix and Creekside at BethPage in Raleigh-Durham, this spring. For more information, visit