Three Design Trends Baby Boomers Will Love

by Jeff Shaw

By Becky Trybus, CHID, EDAC, RID, IIDA

Senior living design is now squarely focused on the already-here and not-yet-peaked baby boomer generation. This generation grew up with higher household incomes and in a blossoming consumer-based society. Living longer with money to spend, boomers make up the largest demographic in the United States. 

Health, wealth and quality experiences embody this segment of our population, so it’s no wonder why they’ll expect this to continue in their later years.

Let’s explore how these key generational traits translate into the built environment, practical suggestions that can apply to any property, and why it makes sense to continue programming similar trends for the next generation, Gen X. 

What’s trending? 

With so much variety in this market, depending on what type of property you have or will develop, the key indicator will be where the residents fall within this spectrum. 


There is little doubt surrounding the benefits of exercise, even without knowing the science behind it. Our bodies are made to move; without that we decay faster. But what does this mean for senior living design? 

Programming that supports movement: Activities such as digesting food, breathing, walking, and even thinking are considered non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). For a sedentary lifestyle, these types of activities account for about 15 percent of the daily energy expenditure. Moving more raises this percentage and is therefore a good thing for overall health and wellness. How can the built environment help support this? It starts with programming: space planning centralized and satellite amenity spaces — including strategically placed alcoves with sturdy, right-height seating in resident corridors — can encourage residents to get out of their units and move. 

Common-area finish specifications: Use finishes that encourage safe passage — a shiny floor looks clean but can actually deter a resident from walking on it. Using handrails and continuous natural looking floor finishes helps to encourage residents to ambulate safely. Also, using color to clearly delineate between floors and walls helps those with vision impairments navigate spaces easier. 

Sunshine: Make the most of the building orientation to the sun to energize and calibrate circadian rhythm. Locate fitness centers for indirect sun throughout the day and bring fitness outside — bocce, pickleball, community gardens, nature trails, water aerobics and stretching. 


Boomers will require nicer unit finish packages regardless of whether the units are private pay or otherwise. Interior designers accomplish this by strategically working closely with the developer, general contractor and vendors. A few key finishes that are most important: 

Cabinetry: Slab front doors can read as cheap. Some iterations of a Shaker-style door tend to add the desired depth and dimension without high costs. 

Solid-surface counters: Quartz is the top choice compared to basic-level granite or synthetic solid surface. It looks clean, updated and easy to maintain. The key is to get quantity discounting from a U.S. vendor without sacrificing the quality of the quartz. Poor quality typically comes from overseas and can be full of adhesives.

Light fixtures: Usually trend more modern in style, regardless of the finish, and with diffused light — no clear glass as this can be too glaring for aging eyes. 

Tile: A solid-surface counter and a full-tile kitchen/kitchenette backsplash that runs from the back of the counter to under the cabinet provides a clean, modern look that’s easy to clean, protects the drywall and feels like an updated home. The same applies for tiled tub/shower surrounds.

Flooring: At least in the main living areas, luxury vinyl tile reads as clean, is easy to maintain, sports a natural look fitting almost any aesthetic preference, is easy to change out if needed and doesn’t need to be replaced at a high rate like carpet.

Quality of life 

Meals provide nutrients and are life-sustaining. A key health indicator for seniors is whether they are eating or not. Meals are also social and part of activities programming. 

But dining in the same place every day can become boring, especially for once-active adults who came and went as they pleased. To address this, we continue to see a trend in programming multiple venues, like an all-inclusive cruise ship: 

Main dining: Typically a large open space to accommodate all or most residents at one time as well as staff assistance with eating. This space can also include a demonstration kitchen. Unobstructed open spaces help staff to keep an eye on residents. 

Private dining: Usually a smaller space for families to gather with their loved ones to share a meal or celebrate special occasions.

Bistro/bar: Provides variety for residents and families in an informal, casual setting. 

Morning café/coffee market: Offers options for residents who like to get out early, maintain their usual schedule and meet up with new friends. 

Pop-up food carts: Part of activities programming but requires more space planning to ensure slated locations are equipped with adequate space for a cart, circulation space, seating and electrical requirements. 

Longevity in programming

While baby boomers dominate the market now, it’s important to look ahead at how these buildings will segue into the next generation. Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) have already started entering the first tier of senior living (active adult) and they will still want health, wealth and quality. 

Like boomers, they too have grown up in a society of higher household incomes and a blossoming consumer-based society, but if there’s one additional word to describe this generation, I believe it would be “independent.” Brought up largely by the silent generation, Gen Xers still hold the traditional values of their parents and were bred to be independent. 

There is a funny meme I read recently describing my generation:

“Gen Xers are built different — their families had them formally trained in something by the age of 2, they had house keys by the age of 5, could cook full meals at 7 and were pretty much self-sufficient by the age of 9. They left their houses at dawn every summer morning and didn’t come back until nightfall and survived all day on water from garden hoses. They might get a sandwich on the off chance somebody’s parents had gone shopping. They spent three quarters of their lives by themselves with a parent checking on them twice a month. Most of them evaded at least one kidnapping attempt and they know 15 ways to remove blood stains from clothing.”

Comedic, but true! What’s the takeaway? Barring no serious health problems, expect Gen Xers to continue living independently, working into their retirement years and living longer in their own homes or in this first tier of senior living. 

Space planning/programming will remain largely the same as for the boomers. Aesthetic preferences may shift, but maintaining adequate flex space is critical to the activities du jour. 

One key change may be in amenity offerings. Health and wellness services may become more commonplace in the first tier. Plan now to have a totally awesome, property-wide sound system — long live the ‘70s and ‘80s boom box generation hits!

Becky Trybus is a senior interior designer with Forum Architecture & Interior Design.

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