How Well Do You Know Your Baby Boomer Clients?

authors Kim Berndtson | May 10, 2013

Baby boomers are such an important group to kitchen and bath designers, typically representing a large percentage of many firms’ business. While it’s quick and easy to group them according to age – officially identified as people born between 1946 and 1964 – it’s important to not make too many assumptions beyond that general classification when designing spaces for this age group.

Like Generation X and Y, there can be surprises when you try to stereotype them, as discovered when KBDN conducted a recent survey where more than 300 dealers and designers responded to questions related to kitchen and bath design trends and important concerns/products/project elements for Gen X and Y, baby boomers and mature homeowners (see related article about Gen X and Y, January 2013).

One reason why it’s important to not make too many generalizations is that the official baby boomer category is such a large group, with diverse preferences.

“There’s a misconception that baby boomers are a homogenous group,” says Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, Ellen Cheever & Associates, Wilmington, DE. “But it’s too big of a group. It spans 20 years. It really needs to be divided into leading edge and trailing edge baby boomers. Younger – leading edge – baby boomers are much more like Generation X. The older half – trailing edge – baby boomers, is much more like our mature clients.”

The KBDN survey supports her thoughts. While there were several similarities within the baby boomer category, there were also some surprises as well.

Age in place

One common theme was a desire for baby boomer clients to age in place. Several designers indicated that clients use a renovation at this point in their life to incorporate products that will help them age in place.

“They love extra drawers or pull-outs as they are trying to age in place,” notes Shirley Landels, M N’ M Cabinets in Portland, OR.

“I’m finding baby boomers are looking to make things more ‘user friendly’,” says Art Warren, CMKBD, Gravelle Woodworking, Ltd., Burlington, Ontario, Canada. “They are realizing that age is going to start playing a factor and they are making that concern one of the more important factors in their design selections. They are more concerned with cabinet options that make storage items far more accessible than just ‘toys’ to occupy space.”

Jessi Lowry, Bath Classics Showroom, NY, agrees. “They are staying in their homes longer, planning for a time when they may not be as mobile,” she says. “Decorative grab bars, walk-in showers with hand showers and items that are easy to clean [are important].”

Function is also highly rated, with responses ranging from fewer, or no steps, cabinet organization and designs that utilize ease of use, with one designer mentioning his clients want “soft close everything.” Quartz countertops are a frequent request, as are pantries and pull-outs.

Prabhat Kaikini, PK Architect in FL, indicates her clients want shorter walking distances and appliance height to ease usability.

Lynn Hegstrom, Bollinger Design Group, in Colorado adds, “Baby boomers want things handy, a place for trash and recycling, drawers for everything rather than doors with roll out shelves.”

Transitional and contemporary styling gain ground

Traditional styles are still common with many designers’ clients with descriptions such as “classically styled,” “simple elegance” and “timeless” recurring in several responses.

“Baby boomers are sticking to the more traditional color palettes and more traditional quartz and granite… nothing wild,” says Michelle Goetzinger, Blume’s Solid Surface Products, Freeport, PA.

Carl Heitz, CEK International, New York, NY, indicates his baby boomer clients want tasteful spaces, designed with a focus on resale. “No bright colors, basic white subway tile or marble, with a tasteful border edge or cap,” he says.

But some designers are beginning to see a change and are entertaining more requests for transitional, and even contemporary, styles. For Trish Burgess, Kitchen & Bath Concepts of St. Simons, Inc., GA, clients are looking for simple lines with fewer places for dirt and dust to hide or settle. “They want easy to use and easy to keep clean appliances,” she says. “Less is definitely more, but this group also wants it to be very attractive since they are continuing to entertain at home.”

“Baby boomers right now are still doing the more traditional looks, but are also moving into more transitional design,” says Evelyn Boldt, Interior Expressions, Inc., FL.

Dale Good, QCCI Quality Custom Cabintery, Inc., PA, agrees. “I am seeing transitional designs, door styles and finishes,” he relates, “leading to an upscale look, but minimizing excessive detailing.”

John Lang, Lang’s Kitchen & Bath, Newtown, PA, sees contemporary styles becoming more common. “Bucks County has been a very traditional market in the past,” he indicates. “With boomers we see much more simple and clean-line kitchens. Contemporary styling seems to be creeping into our traditional styles. As for baths, large-format porcelain tile in earth tone colors still represent the bulk of the market, although we see a trend occurring with contemporary horizontal grain, hanging vanities.”

Hip and tech savvy

While there are some similarities amongst baby boomers, there are a few potential surprises as well, reiterating the importance of not making too many assumptions about any particular age group.

“It has amazed me how our baby boomers are much more hip,” says Dawn Zarrillo, Custom Design Kitchens, Inc., New York, noting their interest in cleaner lines and warm wood tones. “Potfillers, wine storage and coffee bars – even in master suites – are a must.”

And don’t count them out when it comes to technology and new products.

Debbie Morick, Debbie Morick Interiors sees her baby boomer clients requesting newer technology such as induction cooktops along with carved wood refrigerator fronts, decorative hoods over stoves, two dishwashers, some glass front-lit cabinets and aged finishes on islands. “Most important [requests] are high-end appliances and efficient layout with best use of height for cabinets and more storage with pull-outs and sliding shelves on cabinets,” she says.

“Younger baby boomers are very tech savvy and comfortable using the internet,” notes Cheever. “This is a generation that loves to learn.”

As such it’s important for designers to help clients determine why they want a certain product or design. “A designer’s role is to offer alternatives, not talk a client into or out of anything,” Cheever stresses.

One designer also notes that it’s his baby boomer clients who are stepping up to the plate as far as “green” products.

Jonathan Smallwood, Kitchen & Bath Wholesalers, PA, reiterates that trend. “I would say there is an overtone of ‘green mentality,’ now more than ever,” he says. “Concerns about lumber sources of manufacturers come into play (i.e., sustainable forestation). This mindset carries over to countertop inquiries as tops containing recycled material are gaining in popularity in this age group.”

Make a statement

Several designers also indicated that their baby boomer clients appreciate their expertise and are looking for advice about how to make a statement.

“Baby Boomers are looking for a big impact in design,” says Jonathan Synovic, Source 1 Project Solutions, Inc., WI. “They most likely have not changed the kitchen or bath in many years and are ready to bring it back to life. They understand the process and really enjoy working through design. A growing number of boomers are looking for products that will aid them as they get older, but they want these items to look and feel very elegant.”

“Baby boomers have worked hard to attain a new kitchen and see it as a reward,” adds Steve Livingston, Livingston Interiors, CA. “They want to be fussed over and enjoy good service. For some it can be the culmination of a life’s work. Design wise, they trust the expertise of the designer and appreciate their specialty. Personalization is important, too, and they want a unique element in the design, i.e. a special finish or wall treatment that is a conversation point.”

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