AGING IN STYLE | Design bridging the generational gap

There is much discussion about the contrast in life and work styles of different generations of Americans. Two of the most often referenced generational cohorts are the so-called baby boomers (commonly defined as those born between the mid-1940s and the early 1960s) and the millennials (usually defined as those born between the early 1980s and 2000).

While there is much debate about the differences in these generations and whether it’s fair to lump together the values and culture of millions of people based primarily on their years of birth, it is an intensely studied subject; the data from which is used to evaluate and forecast important trends spanning from healthcare to work force management, consumer purchasing, and housing.

Baby boomers make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population and millennials account for about 25 percent of our nation’s people. These demographics are important to retailers, employers and housing developers, and are fascinating to design and lifestyle-trend forecasters.

While certainly there is not one specific style that is predominant among either of these generational cohorts, there are definite trends. The most hotly debated point in the baby boomers vs. millennials dialogue is the vast difference in their work and life styles and general attitudes. Interestingly, though, there seems to be a trend developing toward a common design aesthetic popular amongst both cohorts. This aesthetic is likely based on culture for Millennials and life stage for Baby Boomers.

The common thread seems to be that of a cleaner, “less is more” design aesthetic focused on getting the most out of smaller spaces. The baby boomers are likely taking this path as they ease into retirement or semi-retirement and are downsizing and redesigning their spaces in consideration of lower maintenance and aging in place. Millennials may be drawn to this style based on having been raised during a recession and in a world where people are vocal about the human effect on the environment.

Regardless of the whys, it’s interesting to see that these two groups, often-at-odds with one another, are loving the same look at home. Baby boomers are quite intentionally furnishing and styling their homes for function as they age whiling making sure it “does not look like an old person lives there.” Millennials are about maximizing their spaces for function and efficiency, with a high focus on technology. Baby boomers don’t have a problem with technology at home, as long as it’s easy.

So, what is trending in the design world … whether you’re 33 or 73?


Every year, designers and paint manufacturers wrestle with the ever-important prediction of what will be the latest trend in color for the upcoming year. Sherwin Williams has an annual party for designers to make the big announcement for their “Color of the Year,” which, for 2017, was Poised Taupe (SW 6039). This color is poetically described on their website as “Earthen brown combines with conservative grey and the result is a weathered, woodsy, and complex neutral that celebrates the imperfections and authenticity of a well-lived life.”

Warm greys and cool taupes are resonating with Baby Boomers and Millennials alike. Both groups are employing the technique of using greys and taupes as the starting point for wall-color; this is combined a pop of accent color. Pastels in the mauve and sage families are trending for accent walls as are muted autumn tones. Nature is the inspiration for these trending color pallets.


Tailored, upholstered furniture in durable, stain-resistant fabrics is where it’s at. Fabric manufacturers who have historically geared their products toward commercial applications are breaking into the residential design world; appealing to all ages.

Combining vintage or antique furniture with new pieces is popular and a striking technique.

Millennials are looking for multi-use pieces to capitalize on efficiency, while both groups are focused on smaller scale and comfort.

There are complete furniture lines targeted toward small-space living and aging in place considerations.

Prints, Patterns and Textiles

Tropical prints are big as well as natural textiles and art-inspired wallpaper (yes, I said wallpaper).


Natural-hued light and lighting used as art are common themes.

In essence, the design aesthetic being embraced by many Millennials as well as Baby Boomers is comfortable and efficient, streamlined and beautiful, and guided by nature.

So, Baby Boomers, if you’ve wondered if the talk about your generation is just hype and/or whether you are keeping up with the design trends of a younger generation, here’s the news: You and your Millennial counterparts are setting style standards together. You’re proof that it is possible to Age in Style!

Karen Pfeiffer Bush is a senior living specialist and owner of two Seattle-based companies, Housewarming ( and Studio 65 ( Contact Karen at (206) 719-1662 or email her at