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by Mary DeWalt, IRM Fellow, MIRM, CMP

Few people know more about trends than model home merchandisers.

The point of that job – my job – is to create memorable interiors that reflect a target market’s lifestyle desires and expectations. We must understand what drives them to make decisions about the features and amenities that are most important to them.

We know that today’s 50+ buyer has a clear preference for open floor plans, and that leads them to focus on kitchen design more than ever. Even smaller homes with fewer rooms are being designed with large kitchens. Because 50+ buyers tend to be very social, they entertain frequently at home and consider the kitchen as entertainment space.

The kitchen island (above right) becomes the gathering center, with those doing food preparation able to interact with guests on the other side. This layout increases the efficiency of the space. An optional lower bar top on the island — 36” instead of 42” — makes the kitchen feel larger and more accessible to guests when entertaining.

Survey Says…

NAHB’s recent “What Home Buyers Really Want” research lists the following top 10 kitchen features for baby boomers and seniors: Many of these features are popular across the board, appealing to buyers of all ages.

Baby Boomers


   1. Double sink
2. Walk-in pantry
3. Table space for eating
4. Wood cabinets
5. Pull-out drawers/shelves
6. Central island
7. Granite/Natural stone countertop
8. Recessed lighting
9. Drinking water filtration
10. Desk/computer area
  1. Table space for eating
2. Walk-in pantry
3. Wood cabinets
4. Pull-out drawers/shelves
5. Double sink
6. Central island
7. Recessed lighting
8. Drinking water filtration
9. Desk/computer area
10. Granite/natural stone countertop


In my own practice, I’ve seen a strong desire for extra kitchen storage space and added details such as:

    • Wine cabinets
    • A prep area with vegetable sink
    • Separate range top and cooking center
    • Stainless-steel vent hoods
    • Universal design features such as pull-out lower drawers
  • Soft-close drawers
  • Drawers with space-saving organizers
  • Lightweight cabinet doors with soft-close hinges


Over the last few years, we have seen a major shift from heavy, traditional interiors to a more modern look with cleaner lines and less clutter. However, traditional cabinet designs are still No. 1 in popularity for boomers as these consumers aim for increased practicality and for durable products that hold up longer.

When it comes to cabinet finishes and colors, stained wood cabinets are still the most requested. Dark stains (left) such as Espresso and Java have increased in popularity, and are coupled with sleek, stainless hardware to add sparkle. Painted cabinets also are re-emerging, with white being the most favored.

That’s not to say that a more modern, urban approach to kitchen design isn’t on the rise. Smaller homes, like urban apartments, require clever space planning and innovative ideas. Open shelves and free-standing storage pieces create a more spacious feeling and allow for flexibility.


All corners of the 50+ kitchen must be well-lit. We can no longer get by with just overhead lighting above the sink and stove. Recessed can lights and low-voltage or LED lighting have taken the place of the typical fluorescent fixtures of the past.

We all need more light as we grow older, and under-cabinet task lighting is becoming more and more popular. We’ve found that adding lighting above the cabinets as well (left) will add balance and make the kitchen feel more spacious.

Pendant lights over the island are not only functional, but also add a decorative touch. The proper blend of lighting and fixtures creates both ambiance and a well-illuminated work space.


According to research from the Association of Home Appliance Manufactures, stainless-steel kitchen appliance finishes won’t be going out of style any time soon. Stainless steel continues to be an overwhelmingly popular choice, and many builders are offering it as a standard feature in their homes.

Many home buyers are looking to include appliances that are smart and high-tech that fit into their décor — including 50+ buyers who are showing an increased interest in cooking as a pastime. Steam oven cooking is an emerging trend among boomers because such appliances, which promote convenience and health, are appealing to them.  Steam/convection combination ovens offer the best of both worlds.

Mature market buyers also have been asking for:

  • Doubles: Two sinks, ovens and/or refrigerators
  • Microwave ovens installed in drawers to save valuable counter space
  • Wine storage units that can be synced to an alarm system to notify
    security if the temperature falls below a certain level
  • Steam ovens and steam-enabled appliances

Decorative Elements

The decorative elements of the kitchen play a key role in creating a dazzling space that blends with the rest of the living areas. The choices are endless when it comes to backsplash materials, but some of today’s most popular choices are glass, metallics, or linear mosaics in combinations of glass, marble and natural stone.

Extending the backsplash above the cabinets to the ceiling (right) and adding above-and-below cabinet lighting adds a special touch. Quartz countertops are a great alternative to granite, particularly in modern applications, and can make a dramatic statement when lit from underneath.

Builders who pay attention to emerging trends, as well as to what their target customers want, are more likely to see increased home sales as buyers recognize and appreciate that they’re working with a company that understands their preferences, their lifestyle desires and how they want to live in their home.