Baby boomers are now at a crossroads, entering retirement and preparing for a new set of life arrangements. Today a middle-range boomer is 55 years old, and likely considering a move from the family home to something with a more slender domestic footprint.
My friend Chuck is a good example. He and his wife Diane, both in their early sixties, bought a beautiful condo in downtown Vancouver. Aficionados of design magazines, they were looking forward to having the money and space to give their interior fuller consideration. To them, that meant modern furnishings, art work and a crisp, restrained aesthetic. They guessed it would be the last home they'd furnish and they wanted the interior of their dreams.
We've been approached for design help by many such couples this year. Boomers in transition. They're moving from large, mostly suburban, homes into downtown condos. Their idea? To trade the clutter and upkeep of a traditional home for a living space that's clean, elegant, and easy to maintain.
Old habits die hard, though, and boomers are prone to carrying some sour design into their new homes. If you find yourself downsizing, here are a few ways to avoid getting stuck between states, in that purgatory where you idle, working off the design sins of a previous life.
Don't let the bed height creep up too high
Judging from the photos, my parents did one design-forward thing in the 1970s. But it was a good one: the purchase of a teak bedroom suite they have to this day. The headboard is long and low, and stretches across the headboard wall, the mattress and teak side tables framed pleasantly by its size.
For a long time, they used the bed with the mattress for which it had been designed - a low waterbed whose surface was 18 inches off the ground. The bedding was navy and ice-grey. The wallpaper shimmered silver. My parents loved disco and it showed.
They still like the music - and they still have the suite. The glory days of both are over, however. The teak bed set, whose bones gleam with forgotten promise, sits beneath an enormous embroidered mattress set , under barricades of decorative cushions. It's as though an Alfa Romeo convertible was made to accommodate minivan seating for eight. It breaks my heart every time I go home.
Mattresses don't need to tower at 30 inches to be comfortable - if anything, the tall mattress poses problems of access to people as they age. Something in the 24-inch range will be a better fit for your body and your interior.
Ward off sofa schizophrenia
Many of our clients want sleek furnishings in their urban condo, but their first visit to an upper-range furniture shop cripples the idea. The complaint? The sofas are too low and deep. (Modern sofas have seat heights of 14 to 15 inches, with minimum depths of 39 inches; more traditional pieces run 18 to 22 inches high and 36 inches deep.)
Without a few calming words at that crucial moment, many boomers head to the nearest big-box retailer for an overstuffed sofa that's higher and more upright. Done. And we ride the snake back down to square one: ramming a suburban aesthetic into an urban interior.
The design solution we return to time and again is custom-built sofas with seat heights of 16.5 inches and 36 inches in depth. This is a comfortable compromise, and keeping the arms and body of the sofa slim and tailored compliments the contemporary vibe of the new home.
Incinerate the recliner
We recently designed a transition-boomer condo in the Erickson, a prestigious building on Vancouver's waterfront. The couple had a taste for quiet and restraint, with a willingness to invest in good pieces. In other words, a designer's dream.
There was one flaw - and it's one distributed broadly among baby boomers. A weakness for recliners.
Now, few owners of recliners dispute that they're ugly. Beauty isn't the point, they say, it's comfort. I don't have a reply. It's true, recliners are comfortable - a delightful place to take your rest, recumbent in jogging pants, crumbs on chin, the New England Patriots a blue glare from the corner.
The design challenge of recliners isn't really their ugliness, it's that they want nothing to do with the other furnishings. Recliners are isolation pods, and as poor an example of form following function as you can find. A boomer uncle of mine, as he moved through his sixties, talked about a growing feeling of withdrawal from the world. For me, it's not a happy thought, but it's what recliners represent - want of comfort and a rising sense of don't-bother-me. Given the choice, always get rid of the recliner.