Remodeling the Empty Nest

The kids have left home, and you’re left with extra space. If you’re looking for ideas for your empty nest, here are six transformation ideas for a newly vacant bedroom.

By Jackie Dishner | Updated Jul 30, 2020 10:28 AM

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Some families prefer to leave bedrooms alone when their children move out after high school; they want their children to have a familiar place to come home to. But for the parents who want to find a new use for that space, experts have some suggestions.

If you plan to stay in your home, says Judith Sisler Johnston of Sisler Johnston Interior Design in Jacksonville, FL, you’d be wise to invest in a renovation that might include built-ins, lighting, and new furniture. Sisler Johnston says the cost to renovate can begin at $10,000 and increase depending on what you want to do and where you live. “But from a practical standpoint and resale value later, it’s worth it,” she says.

If the price sounds steep, it doesn’t have to be. Hardware stores offer do-it-yourself books, products, and ideas that can cost a lot less, but only if you don’t intend to hire designers and labor or to tear out walls.

A Master Suite for Guests
But tearing out walls between bedrooms is common these days. “Most of our residential clients are converting those spaces into multiple guest rooms for the returning adult children and grandchildren,” says Sisler Johnston, who has worked with clients who have transformed spare bedrooms into spas, complete with massage tables, or meditation areas or exercise rooms.

She’s not talking about just any kind of guest bedroom, however—she’s referring to creating a guest suite. It’s the latest trend to provide your guests with the ultimate comfort.

Maintaining a guest room or guest suite is top of the list, says Letty Rozell of Designworks in Denver. It can include adding full bathrooms, king-size beds, and sitting areas. Some homeowners might even add a wet bar and big-screen TV. Rozell, who works with builders who design homes for active adults, says, “It’s not about having more square footage—it’s about having the square footage do more.”

A Room of One’s Own
Some couples might decide to have separate bedrooms in which to retreat and even sleep. “They want their own space,” says Sisler Johnston, “even their own private bathrooms. He gets the shower. She gets the Jacuzzi.” Rozell agrees, saying, “Living together 24/7 is tough. Spouses still want a place to do their own stuff: watch investments, read a book, watch football, smoke a cigar, whatever. So that extra bedroom becomes a nice way to do that.”

Sandye Abele, interior designer and owner of SAS Designs in Las Vegas, suggests creating a relaxation room. “I did this two years ago in a client’s downstairs bedroom,” she says. “The oldest child was getting married, and she didn’t need the room anymore.”

The client wanted a room to read and loved spas. Abele removed everything from the room, installed slate tile flooring, painted the room a light celery color, and added music, dim lights, and aromatherapy. A waterfall affixed to a wall gave the homeowner soothing sounds to listen to while she read. Furnishings included two chaise longues and a side table for her cup of tea. Live plants and palm trees finished the look and gave the client a nice place to unwind.


A Place to Play
Another trend is having a space to set up the card table. “It’s the new cool thing,” says Rozell. More and more baby boomers are playing games like mah-jongg, bunco, Uno, and poker. Without the kids at home, they have more time to host card parties and want a room to play. All you have to do is clear out the bedroom furniture and put in a round table and club chairs, shelving or cabinets, and wooden floors, these experts suggest.

One of Abele’s clients, who had gone back to school to take art classes after her kids moved out, wanted an art room in the spare room. And she wanted it ready to go, says Abele, “We took out the closet doors and put in a small kiln,” she says. “We brought in a potter’s wheel on a bench so she could throw pots. We left easels out on stands. She had her paints out, ceramics out, canvas on the floor, artwork on the walls. It was her place to play.”

Home Work
Other families with less space might keep the spare bedroom but add a work area with a desk in the corner, says Rozell. It gets the computer out of the family room and provides a more private place to go online. If you’re going to do this, she adds, “Pottery Barn makes great bookshelves that don’t take up too much space.”

For those who need more than just a desk area, the newly empty bedroom is also the perfect place to put a home office. For a more professional look, hire someone to design and install custom millwork. That’s what Sisler Johnston did for her husband, who was helping care for their elderly parents. Their son’s bedroom was converted into an office decorated with matching mahogany desk, bookcases, and cabinetry for storing paperwork and supplies.

Store It
Empty nesters alone with extra space? “In theory, that may be true,” says Pat Simpson, an Alabama-based contractor and the host of Fix It Up, a remodeling show on HGTV. “But no matter how many cabinets or closets you have,” he says, “there’s always a shortage of space—especially in the Southwest, where for the most part homes don’t have basements or attics.”

You can make good use of a small bedroom by transforming it into a cedar closet. “It’s a safe storage space we can all use,” Simpson says. Just line the walls of the closet with cedar plank or panel liners, which you can buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot for less than $200, and it’s an easy nail-in weekend project.

“You can position the planks horizontally, vertically, or even diagonally to create a great look,” says Simpson. The benefits go beyond being visually appealing. Cedar planks made of 100 percent eastern red cedar smell wonderful, are safer than mothballs, and have a natural resistance to moths, roaches, and silverfish.

Buy extra cedar planks to trim the rest of the walls in the room. Then the entire space becomes a great place to store seasonal outdoor equipment and clothing that might otherwise take up space in the garage.

Wrap It Up
If you have all the storage space and bedroom you need, Abele suggests a hobby room. For one client she created a gift-wrapping room. “It’s great for families with grandchildren,” she says. She has used organizing systems, including peg boards and pullout drawers, to create a fun place to hang ribbon rolls and store gift wrap bags and ready-made bows. And she discovered that drawer organizers that you’d use for jewelry or makeup make a handy place to store gift tags.”You can get creative or carried away,” she says.

Whatever you do with that extra space, says Robert Weinstein from the Weinstein Design Group in Boca Raton, FL, make sure it blends well with the rest of the house.