In a recent post, What kind of housing do aging boomers need? I discussed a difficult reality: what baby boomers say they want in a home is different from what they need in a home. I noted that the International Builders Show was opening in Orlando, and with it, Taylor Morrison’s NEXTadventure home, designed in accordance with data and surveys and market research. I suggested that “it's not only not a very good example of aging in place in, but is in fact probably exactly the opposite, a house that might in fact age you in place.”
Now it's time for a little more detail.
The first point that I'll get out of the way is the location. It's in a new retirement community, Esplanade at Highland Ranch, which is seriously out in the middle of nowhere — on the far edge of a Florida town called Clermont — with a walk score of a big fat zero. This is critical, because I've been making the case that you cannot grow older with any grace if you cannot go car-free, and if you live in a place like this, that is impossible unless you plan to order everything from Amazon for the rest of your life.
The blueprints for happiness
So let's look at the house and the house plan. It is, of course, mostly on one level, because that's what all the survey data from the National Association of Homebuilders says people want.
Fundamentally, the plan is what you might expect; what appear to be generous corridors from the entry, a big garage, two bedrooms plus a flip bedroom/den and an open kitchen with a flexible living/dining space. Being Florida, there's a big deal made about outside living, with an outside TV to annoy the neighbors and a ridiculous outdoor kitchen. (Really? An exhaust hood over the barbecue? Just put it outside!)
But it's the inside of the house that's more troubling. For instance, if you're moving here because you've retired from a career that took you to an office most of the time, the big open kitchen is a big mistake. It looks great and people think they want it, but it encourages overeating. Dr. Brian Wansink has written about how kitchens should not be open because open kitchens make you fat, and at this time of life, being around a fridge all day is too tempting.
Then there's the issue of the mess. Open kitchens are lovely when they are clean but believe me, as you get older you do not want to be popping up and cleaning the lovely kitchen while everyone else is partying. It doesn’t work.
So the NEXTadventure House has a new thing: The messy kitchen, which you can hear about in the video.
Really, they actually have another room that's designed for all the stuff you actually use: the toaster, the coffee machine, the messy stuff you use every day. The big expensive kitchen is a charade; you do the real work in the back room. (They could have just called it a pantry cupboard, and I would have loved it.)
But this is insane. There is a six-burner range and a double oven in the kitchen and another big range and exhaust hood in the outdoor kitchen — but they know full well that everyone is hiding in the messy kitchen, nuking their dinner, pumping their Kuerig and toasting their Eggos. But this is what the data says: people want the big open kitchen, even though the data also says this is not how people actually live.
The realities of aging
At 64 years old, I'm smack in the middle of the target demographic here. I also have a 98-year-old mom and not that long ago, I was helping with my wife's 84-year-old mom, who lived alone in the suburbs. I look at this plan in terms of their experiences, and I really do wonder what the designers are thinking. I look at the owners’ suite and this stupid vestibule at the entry; I have seen the emergency workers bring up stretchers, move my mom from the bed and roll her away. You will not get a stretcher through that vestibule, or likely a wheelchair. Yes, it's a detail, but a critical one.
Then you go to the bathroom, and you'll find the toilet in a separate little room. That’s great, something that I normally am a big fan of — until you need help going to the toilet, and suddenly the advantage of having a big bathroom is lost because you're trying to help someone in a wheelchair.
And then there's the location of the second bedroom at the other end of the house. On the website, the designers acknowledge that couples might sleep in separate rooms “because of snoring.” But it's more likely separate because one is sick, needs special equipment and is doing a lot more than snoring. In which case you want to be really close, you're listening to every sound all night, to catch the second when that snoring stops. My mom’s apartment is laid out like this with a room at the other end; her caregiver sleeps in what used to be the dining room because she has to be close enough to hear what's going on.
On the bright side
There are things I really like about this house. When I designed my retirement home, I wish I had put in a big, walk-in closet. And what about the pets? Architects consistently underestimate the importance of pets in people’s lives, although the little dog house in this laundry room is probably wishful thinking.
I spent a lot of time wondering why they put that expensive little room over the garage and ultimately realized it's totally brilliant; I have a friend who built what we call the “Garage Mahal” on top of his garage, where he can get away and look at all of his old airplane parts. In Canada, men go to the rec-rooms in the basement; in Britain, they have garden sheds, often really elaborate ones. I suspect this room shows the British influence on Taylor Morrison; it's a garden shed in the attic. It's said that women buy houses, but this is the space that will sell it to the men.
But other than that attic, this is not a house you will grow old in. It will probably kill you first. You have to drive everywhere, and when you're at home, that open kitchen will encourage you to nosh and that fancy beverage center with wine bar will encourage you to drink. When you go onto the patio, there is a TV to encourage you to sit and a fridge to supply you with pop or soda or whatever they call it in Florida.
Back to that middle-of-nowhere problem
In the end, I think the Taylor Morrison group knows this. If you watch this video of Chief Customer Officer Graham Hughes, at 1:41 he makes a little slip that they should have edited out (and probably will):
“...they want to make sure that they live the re — the next part of their life in the way that they want to do.”
I bet he was about to say "the rest of their lives," but that's not true. This is not a house where you can really age in place because it's in a subdivision in what my mom used to call Pishkaville (the middle of nowhere), and at some point, people need more support than they can get in a retirement subdivision.
They are giving people what they think they want, marketing it with happy people by the pool drinking wine, and I want to call it all a cruel hoax, but that’s not fair to Taylor Morrison; they are homebuilders serving a market where there is clearly a demand for this stuff.
But this is not a house where you can age in place; it's a house that will age you in place. And that's not what anyone really wants.