Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Design Your Own Happily Ever After

In Cobourg, Ontario, newly-retired Heather and Terry are putting the finishing touches to a rambling, elegant country bungalow that overlooks farmers’ fields. Meanwhile on the shores of Georgian Bay, a soon-to-be-retired William and Susan are building the cottage of their dreams.
Across Ontario, boomers and retirees are discovering the joys of designing and building their own custom retirement homes.

As a designer and a builder, I have worked with clients of all ages to help realize their dreams of building a custom home. I’ve come to find, however, that working with retirees is proving to be more rewarding than I had ever anticipated. This is true for both myself and the client.
Most notably, I have found that retirees know what they want and need. Patterns of behavior, hobbies and entertainment style have all been established by this stage of life. They know that they’d like to see their grandkids often, but maybe the den could be tucked away somewhere quiet. Also, a sense of self develops with time: they know their likes and dislikes. They know that an open concept ranch-style bungalow would suit their tastes and needs better than a multilayered modernist marvel of construction. Last but not least, they have the funds and the time to ensure that the project is done right. Many couples that choose to build their retirement haven have been saving up for this moment, and for them, it’s time for them to cash in on their efforts and savour the process. All of these factors add up to a successful designer/client relationship, and have made working with these retirees a real joy.
Recent retirees, Terry and Heather have lived for most of their lives in Cobourg, a quiet but growing community one hour east of Toronto. They had always dreamed of building their own country home from the ground up instead of buying one or moving to a retirement home. After extensive research they found an acre of farm land, and purchased it.
They came to me with their concept through the Toronto Home Show, and after living and traveling together for so many years, it was clear to me that they had a strong vision. Heather, confident of herself, was more prepared than I’d ever seen a first-time custom home client. She had the colors and the finishes of the house already selected, and an idea for a dream kitchen that was open for entertaining large groups and gourmet cooking. Terry, an organized and proactive retired business owner, had already begun lining up the trades needed to complete the project. Together we perfected a design for an elegant 2400 square foot bungalow that could accommodate long visits from extended family with 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. Their family could play outside all day, and then come inside for a gourmet dinner. And, most importantly, it was fully accessible for when, later in life, mobility might become an issue. Construction began in 2008, and was supervised by Terry in between trips to Florida. Being retired allowed them the time to oversee every detail of the process, while dictating at what pace the house got built. By early 2009, Terry and Heather moved into a home that was perfectly suited to spending the rest of their lives together in a private, comfortable, country retreat.
William and Susan, on the other hand, were craving a relaxing waterfront space for their retirement where they could focus on their hobbies. For over 50 years, William’s family had owned a cottage in Penetanguishene, a small picturesque village on the shores of Georgian Bay, but it wasn’t suited to long term, full time living. It was small and outdated; however, they did not want to leave those shores where Bill grew up.The rocky landscape of the area, the islands embrace by the sunrise on the horizon and the winds blowing through the deep forest near their property all served to make this a perfect place to retire. In the summer of 2008, they decided it was time to tear down the existing building and rebuild a contemporary, efficient retirement compound.
William, or Bill, a wood working master, together with his wife, Susan, an eclectic insurance broker, love life. These empty nesters still work in Downtown Toronto, but plan to retire soon and live primarily in their cottage while maintaining their downtown condo. They, too, had a very clear vision of what they wanted: an Arts and Crafts style cottage that would allow them to see the water and nature from every part of the building, including the master bathroom. Their picture of a perfect retirement was watching the sun rise on the lake from the comfort of a bubble bath. This was to be an organic design that would blend perfectly with the existing and challenging landscape. This couple also enjoyed entertaining, and even managed to turn planning meetings into enjoyable wine tasting sessions. Again, not long after we began working together, the plans for their retirement cottage were complete. The first concept sketch I made for them, to summarize in few lines their vision is still in Susan’s Hands.
For both couples, their homes began with a shared vision created over a lifetime of experiences, and now will be a place where they can happily spend their retirement exactly as they imagined.
What these experiences taught me is that there are many things in life that we may have never considered, including building your own home.
Why should people consider building their own homes? Custom building your retirement space not only will be one of the most fulfilling experiences you can have, if you have the right team working with you, and the funds to support it. Most importantly, building a home that perfectly suits your changing needs as you retire will help make retirement one of the most enjoyable times of your life.
I hope every future retiree would consider building their own home as an option. Even updating or renovating their existing space to suit their changing needs is an excellent choice that will help make retirement that much more enjoyable. Fulfilling ones hobbies and interests as well as spending time with friends and family is what retirement is all about. Why not do it in a space that you love?