Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

"The trend is that more people are doing expensive upgrades of kitchens or bathrooms with marble counter tops, heated floors, etc.," said Mark Benkowski, president of Custom Design Associates. "They are spending money on themselves and on entertaining guests, rather than their kids."

Benkowski is also the past chairman of the remodelers council for the Metropolitan Builders Association. Jill Liptow, president of The Remodeling Center Inc., is the current chairman of the remodelers council.

The home upgrades by empty-nesters are done for various reasons. They no longer have to worry about having a child-friendly environment in their homes, Benkowski said.

Benkowski and Liptow both have empty-nester clients planning to turn their basements into an entertainment space with a pool table, a wine cellar, a wet bar or a theater.

Other clients are spending $50,000 to $100,000 on upgrading and expanding their kitchens to feature custom cabinetry, decorative tile backsplashes and marble or granite countertops.

Some empty-nesters have created master suite bathrooms by combining a larger bathroom in the hallway and a smaller bathroom in the master bedroom to include double sinks, tall vanities and a shower for two with dual shower heads, Benkowski and Liptow said.

"We do a lot of high end kitchens for clients because their homes are paid off and looking at condos, new homes or land is so expensive," Benkowski said. "To find a nice condo can cost $250,000, and a client can get a high-end kitchen for $50,000 to $100,000 and stay where they are."

Other clients stay where they are and upgrade because they are looking forward to large family gatherings as their children marry and have children of their own, Liptow said.

"Instead of meeting for large family dinners at a restaurant, clients prefer that the family comes back to their home," Liptow said. "They make the home so that it can be expanded when it needs to."

Expansions happen mainly in the lower levels, bathrooms and kitchens, Benkowski and Liptow said. Others have added front or back porches, additions above the garage or an additional garage to store a summer car, Benkowski said.

One of Benkowski’s clients, who had eight children who no longer lived at home, wanted a larger space to entertain at family gatherings, he said. Custom Design Associates opened the walls surrounding the kitchen to create a large open space instead of having three separate rooms.

"The formal living room and parlor room are a thing of the past," Benkowski said. "Clients are removing the walls and converting the rooms into a friendly informal entertainment space that can accommodate a large group of people."

Opening space is a common kitchen upgrade, and it serves many purposes, Benkowski and Liptow said. A larger kitchen can accommodate multiple people and allow for more cabinet space and an island with seating.

With empty-nesters, an open kitchen is also attractive because people can still communicate between the kitchen and a family room., Liptow said.

"More and more people are spending money on their home because they are planning on living in it for a long time," Liptow said. "Most likely a $200,000 home does not have a large kitchen."

Clients who come to design/build professional contractors are looking for ease and the convenience of the architect, construction and interior design components all under one roof, Liptow said.

Most of the clients are not customers who have large homes, Benkowski said. Most of the homes Custom Design Associates has worked on were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them had wood-paneled living and family rooms and were built more for a family than entertaining, Benkowski said.

Lower level upgrades can be used for entertaining adults and as a low-maintenance place for grandchildren to play, Liptow said.

"A wine cellar is not something (empty-nesters) needed when they had kids living with them, but now they are entertaining adults their age and being able to enjoy wine on the lower level is more of a luxury for them," Liptow said.

Empty-nesters also are spending more time at home than they had before, even to work and to exercise, Liptow said.

Some clients are creating multi-use spaces, Benkowski and Liptow said. Bedrooms that have been converted into offices may have a Murphy bed or a futon, so the space can still be used as a spare bedroom when company comes.

"For one client, we converted a small bathroom with a walk-in closet into a large master suite bathroom," Benkowski said. "We raised the ceiling and added everything the bathroom could have if you saw it in a half million-dollar home – a whirlpool, a large shower, a double sink, a skylight…"

Many bedrooms are not just turned into offices by moving furniture, but into nice libraries by adding skylights, hardwood floors, ceiling beams, built-in shelving and a fireplace, Benkowski said.

"As much as the empty-nesters are slowing down in their careers, they are probably busier now than they were when they were working 9 to 5," Liptow said. "They are traveling more and seeing what is available to them and bringing it home."

One of Benkowski’s clients saw a 10-foot makeup vanity in a magazine and Custom Design Associates created one similar for her, he said.

"It was a tiny house in Milwaukee," Benkowski said. "She just wanted something fancy."

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