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Empty nest
Ideas for transforming your newfound space after the children leave home



When the kids finally move out of the house, it can be a difficult time for moms and dads who must get used to the sudden lack of activity. Emotions can run the gamut from the blues to a newfound feeling of freedom. What some parents choose to do with that freedom has created a market for home remodeling firms and decorators.

Although many parents are compelled to leave their childís old bedroom as a shrine to that child, others who donít want to be constantly reminded of their kidís absence opt to change their environment. Look at it as a positive experience, say some experts. You can finally decorate your home to match your own lifestyle; you can have that home office or master suite youíve always wanted.

"At least 60 to 70 percent of the work we do is for clients whose kids have left home," says Ed Miller of E. Miller and Associates in Mequon. What the homeowners choose to do may depend upon their age, he explains. "Itís a little bit driven by demographics. Many people have had children a little later in life, so theyíre a bit older when the kids leave and theyíre more apt to want to pamper themselves," he says.

That means many homeowners with empty nests often want a new, larger master suite or new master bath with all the bells and whistles. "We often incorporate one of the kidís bedrooms that was adjacent to the parentsí room and put in a much larger master suite, including a big bathroom with a walk-in shower. In some cases, we might eliminate the tub and just have the larger shower with multiple shower heads, especially if the house already has two full baths," he says.

A second-story addition is another option for people who want to add a private master suite away from the other bedrooms, notes Jill Liptow, president of Remodeling Center Inc. in Waukesha. "If a client has a three-bedroom ranch home, what we have done in some cases is use the smallest bedroom and add a staircase to a second floor master suite. We have added an entire suite with bedroom, bathroom and a loft area or sitting room," she says. In some cases, she notes, they might add a complete two-story addition, with the master suite upstairs and a family room downstairs.

What was once a childís bedroom often becomes a multipurpose room. "Once the kids move out, a lot of people try to make a place to work on their hobbies or create a home office that also serves as a guest room," says Kelly Briesch, sales manager for Rubinís in Milwaukeeís Third Ward. "Parents donít always want to completely erase all evidence that the child was there, so they might keep some of the kidsí things in place, but add some new items," she says.

Home office furniture can be just as beautiful and multifunctional as the other furniture in your house, Briesch says. "Someone might buy an armoire that can provide storage for office equipment, but also can function to hold other items. Bookcases can also do double duty, housing office materials or crafts and also personal book collections," she says. "We can help clients design a floor plan that will allow them to make better use of the space they have."

While parents are happy to have their offspring learn to take off on their own, they also want to be sure the kids know they can come back ó for a visit. "Once the kids move out, one of the things we often hear is that the homeowners want to change things so when the kids do come home, itís a more desirable place to be," Liptow says.

"When children come back to visit with their own families, the parents want to have room for the grandchildren. This is usually five to 10 years after the kids have gone," Liptow explains. "We are getting more and more requests to remodel the kitchen, opening it up to make it into a great room. People usually are looking for a place for casual entertainment where the entire family can gather," she says. "We might create a snack bar area that separates the kitchen from the family room area, with the kitchen work space behind it. We try to create a cooking area or cooking triangle that includes the range, refrigerator and sink out of the normal flow of traffic."

Home theater rooms or entertainment rooms are also in demand, and not just in very large homes. "Some couples want to create a space where they can enjoy spending time at home. They are allowing themselves a few luxuries," Miller says. Instead of adding on a room or

eliminating a bedroom, which could lower the value of a home, many people opt to put these rooms in the basement.

Another approach to remodeling the empty nest is to plan ahead by building in new features that can be more compatible with your lifestyle a few years down the road. "They might create a master suite on the first floor, for example, in an effort to accommodate their future needs," Miller says.