Zoomerhouse Liftoff

By David Barrett, FAIA

As architects we are usually in a relationship with our clients from the get go to make their dreams come true. Seldom do we design, build the dream, and then hope that the dream attracts the dreamer.

In the case of Zoomerhouse – a concept home aimed at the active baby boomer – or what is called a Zoomer – we did just that. Putting form to ideas around a home to celebrate life and age gracefully in, we went out on a limb and brought to market our vision as a product.

The experience is a good one for designers, as we were coaxed into the role of developer with all the risks and hard financial decisions that are often the territory of our clients. When one’s own money is on the line, if nothing else, it is an education that makes us walk in someone else’s shoes, on a tightrope between aesthetics and budget. Will people value, or even perceive, quality upgrades, energy efficiencies, and custom details?

As it turned out, we learned some good lessons:

  • Though we valued flexibility and wanted to give the buyers choice in how to use different spaces of the home, people viewing the home didn’t really want more choices and decisions, they wanted something defined. Many people don’t visualize things easily, so in the end we enclosed one of the “open concept” bedrooms and fenced the courtyard to give definition to those spaces.
  • Location does matter. Even in a fantastic neighborhood, a baby boomer who has already done the kid thing may think twice about living across the street from an elementary school.

Many young families toured the house, but in the end the ecstatic new homeowners are quintessential Zoomers. Pictured above, Fred is in his late 50’s, and Lark is in her 40’s. At the closing, they had both just returned from a 50K race in New England. Now that’s zooming. And to top it off, he is a bona fide rocket scientist! The house will be perfect for them – it maximizes contact with nature and gives ease of access for outdoor gear.

After just a few weeks in their new house, Fred commented: “We both especially love the light, the sense of open space, and the flow within the house. The large windows located high in the walls bring in wonderful natural light throughout the day while maintaining a nice sense of privacy, even on a busy corner across from a school. We also appreciate the care given to environmental efficiency. The high quality of the workmanship is apparent throughout the house, as are the many thoughtful design features. All said, we love it!”

With my wife Betzi as listing agent for the house, and both of us being architects, we think the Zoomerhouse model of architecture will be desperately needed as the U.S. population ages. There is great success to be had in this venture. We joked with Fred and Lark that “it’s not rocket science,” but the truth is, Betzi and I have 65+ years experience between us, and that partnership makes for strong planning, design and marketing. Boy, the years zoom by.

As Betzi and I enjoy the fruits of our labor by taking off the month of July to travel the world, we will be thinking about the next iteration of Zoomerhouse. Maybe even Zoomerville? We already know that in our next design/build venture, we would like to enjoy the ride with some willing partners! Stay tuned.

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