Empty nester house plans: what to do when the kids move out

With the kids out of the house, many "empty-nesters" have large portions of their homes they no longer use. Many of those parents are repurposing unused bedrooms and family rooms, sometimes changing their entire home designs to meet their current needs. Increasingly, the changes are not just for today but for years to come.

Here’s a look at several popular empty nester house plans that can make the most of newfound space.

Transform spare bedrooms

Spare bedrooms are being repurposed for games, arts and crafts, yoga and exercise, as well as home offices. If you’re seeking more usable space, consider removing walls between bedrooms.

To make your project successful, focus on lighting. “Bedrooms typically lack good lighting, and they may not have ceiling fixtures,” says Larry Greene, president, Case Design/Remodeling Indianapolis. “Update the electrical system to include overall, ambient and task lighting, and ample power outlets.”

While you might remove a closet to create function, you’ll still need storage, he points out. For a sleek retreat, hire a carpenter to create built-in bookcases and a desk. Or, if the room will double as a guest room, consider space-saving, multi-function furniture such as a free-standing desk and sleeper-sofa.

Decorate the room based on its new use. Décor that was appropriate for a teen’s bedroom is probably not suitable for the repurposed room.

Create a first-floor master suite

When upstairs bedrooms are repurposed, “many empty-nesters are gravitating toward first-floor master suites with a dream bath,” notes designer Lori Bitter CEO, and president, The Business of Aging. The former master bedroom becomes a guest room while a master suite is built on the first floor.

Dual or first-floor master suites are common in new homes, but with remodeling they can also be created in older homes. If you can’t redesign your existing space, an addition may provide the space you need. Usually, additions are built onto the rear of the house, where there’s more usable space.

Add a wet room

A common part of an empty nester house plan is to add a bit of luxury to a bathroom. Traditional baths are being transformed into spa-like wet rooms, with level, doorless showers. This modern approach to baths makes it easier for homeowners to age in place by minimizing tripping hazards and easily accommodating older populations.

Built-in shower benches are popular with all ages, and designer grab bars – instead of the traditional, institutional bars – are entering the market. “There is a big move to make attractive, artistic, spa-quality, grab bars with designer finishes,” Bitter says. Other bath trends include improving lighting and installing comfort height toilets, which are two to three inches higher than other models.

Refresh the kitchen

In the kitchen, upper cabinets are coming down, even in traditional markets. Instead of high cabinets, some empty nesters are gravitating toward the fresh, clean look of easy-to-access open shelving and deep drawers. For islands, “[s]ingle-height seating is becoming more popular than dual-height islands, along with electric or induction cooktops rather than gas,” Bitter points out.

“Small, space-wasting, closet-sized kitchen pantries are out, too,” Greene says. Instead, matching pantry cabinets are being built into empty nest house plans. Larger kitchens may include walk-in pantries with custom shelves.

Heat the floors

The use of underfloor heating is projected to grow 8.7% between 2015 and 2020. It’s particularly popular underneath tile-floor kitchens and baths. “Heated floors can be almost therapeutic for people with foot problems or arthritis,” Bitter says. This makes adding heated floors to a house plan especially attractive to empty nesters. When installed throughout the house, heated floors emanate a gentle, consistent warmth that is also energy efficient.


Upgrading doors is a nice touch to an empty nest house plan. Doors are becoming taller and wider, Greene says. “We’re seeing eight-foot double doors for entryways and bold pops of color.” Interior doors are taller, with multiple panels or tall, glass inserts. Lever-style door handles are popular throughout because they’re more ergonomic, Greene points out.

Alter the great outdoors

“We think of outdoor living spaces mainly for young families, but empty-nesters increasingly are considering their backyards as extensions of their homes,” Bitter says. “They’re adding outdoor dining rooms and making nature more accessible.”

Foldable glass patio doors, for example, are a big trend that minimizes the indoor/outdoor divide. You don’t have to live in a year-round warm climate to include these features. Front porches are becoming more popular in house plans as they help empty nesters connect with neighbors and their communities.

With the nest empty, parents are beginning to nurture themselves and use their space to fulfill their new priorities. While creating an empty nest house plan and updating your home to reflect life’s changes, remember to also update your insurance policy. Contact a Nationwide agent to make sure you’re adequately protected.

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