Designer Katherine Melvin weighs-in.

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"Helping families step into a new chapter is one of my favorite design opportunities," says interior designer Katherine Melvin of Katherine B. Melvin Design. Melvin's Birmingham-based firm has helped several clients transition into this new life phase and says it's a privilege to be involved. "It is a unique change that requires a thoughtful design to help my clients start over for a new lifestyle while also continuing the thread of their previous home into the space," she says.

Bellewood Cottage Southern Living House Plan
Credit: Southern Living House Plans

If you're looking for a new home to reflect a significant life transition, read on. There is much to consider throughout the process, Melvins says. But no matter the project, she always adds a bright feeling of renewal while honoring the client's past. "We want the new home to feel familiar to the client but fresh at the same time."

Below Melvin offers invaluable advice for empty nesters hoping to move or build, plus an ideal Southern Living House Plan to bookmark. With her guidance, we're confident you'll be enjoying a joyful and exciting home in no time. 

What To Look For

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Open Kitchen with Dining Room Reclaimed Beamed Ceiling
Credit: Jean Allsopp Photography

An Accessible Floorplan and Practical Square Footage

When moving or building, the size and layout of your future home matter a great deal. "Empty nester clients need to think practically about what home layout functions for them," Melvin says. "This often looks like one-floor living, appropriate square footage for the amount of house they want to maintain, and easy accessibility."

Rectangular Pool Behind House with Grass and Stepping Stones
Credit: Jean Allsopp Photography

Ample Entertaining Space

For those with large families, entertaining becomes more of a priority, too. "It's equally important that we consider how the client's lifestyle looks in this new chapter. For example, many of our empty nester clients have more time to entertain at home," she says, "so ample dining space is essential."

Four Bunkbeds with Ladders in Bunk Room
Credit: Jean Allsopp Photography

Grandchild-Friendly Living Space

"Many also need space for their children and grandchildren when they visit," Melvin says. "Welcoming spaces for hosting become very important, too. After we help our clients evaluate these different practical and functional needs, we begin to define the style of their new space." For those looking to host sleepovers, a built-in bunk room is both fun and functional.

Kitchen with Large Island Lantern Pendants
Credit: Jean Allsopp Photography

A Design That Suits Existing Pieces

Often in this stage, many existing furnishings are present to be passed on, repurposed or reimagined. "We love the chance to help our clients usher their existing items into a new look. It's so exciting to see how these pieces take on a new life," she says. "It's our job to help clients choose the timeless pieces they wish to carry into the new house."

Large Den with Built in Bookshelves and White Walls
Credit: Jean Allsopp Photography

Updated Lighting, Fabric, and Accessories

What comes next? "We then add another layer of freshness by mixing in updated lighting, fabrics, and accent pieces as needed," Melvin says. "For example, we might take a client's existing traditional sofa and recover it with a Crypton linen, creating a fresher (and more kid-friendly) piece." Melvin may also use a client's existing vintage rug layered over a new natural fiber rug for an airier aesthetic. "Add in updated floor lamps, a coffee table with tailored lines, and the client's existing chest with a new mirror above," she suggests.

The Bellewood Cottage House Plan

Bellewood Cottage Southern Living House Plan
Credit: Southern Living House Plans

About the House Plan

Melvin's empty nester house plan of choice, The Bellewood Cottage, is a charming three-bedroom, three-bath home with a one-floor plan and character to boot. Described by the Southern Living House Plan team as "a study in the Southern Vernacular," this picturesque cottage boasts classic-style dormers plus a series of covered porches and a bonus terrace. Melvin says she sees these outdoor escapes as ideal retreat-like zones where a homeowner could entertain friends and family. "A big long table is a must and perhaps a swinging bed," she says. Inside, the primary bedroom and laundry room's proximity support accessibility and convenience, while a cozy fireplace adds ambiance. In agreement with Melvin, Southern Living House Plans calls the layout "perfect for gracious entertaining and family living."

Elements That Make It Work

Bellewood House Plan Floor Plan
Credit: Southern Living House Plans

A One-Level Floor Plan

In addition to Bellewood's inherent charm and curb appeal, the cottage's one-level floor plan is the home's most significant selling point. "The Bellewood cottage is the perfect home for an empty nester as the one-level floor plan lends itself to easy and practical living for all ages," Melvin says.

Room for Traditional Furnishings

"The dining room and study can feature some of the client's more traditional pieces," Melvin says. She loves for empty nesters to mix and match their previous home's more traditional dining and living room furnishings in these spaces to update their look.

An Open Area Gathering Space

Stepping through the foyer and into the shared kitchen and den space, Melvin sees an environment that works with and without a large group. "I see this as a wonderful gathering place for extended family when hosting, but appropriate enough in size to be comfortable when only the homeowners are there," she says.

A Primary Suite Nearby (with Large Closets!)

The primary suite's proximity to the kitchen and main living spaces is practical for the empty nester. Equally, the bedroom's square footage and walk-through closet add an air of luxury. "The size of the primary suite is a lovely luxury for this stage in life," Melvin says. "I love to create retreat-like spaces for my clients."

The Bedrooms Are Grouped for Guests

A convenient grouping of bedrooms on the opposite side of the house allows for visitors to stay and enjoy their own privacy, Melvin says. "I see one becoming a bunk room for all their sweet grandchildren!"

A Carriage House Makes Room for Hobbies

For new and old hobbies, the carriage house is an unexpected touch that allows the homeowners to indulge their personal interests. "Try a new hobby and dream a new dream in this new and exciting chapter of life," Melvin suggests.

Lasting Design Advice

Ultimately, Melvin says it's essential to maintain the spirit of the past while ushering in a new day when designing for this phase. "We love helping clients find the perfect balance between the old and new while thinking thoughtfully about how their new home can best serve them in this chapter," Melvin says. "Hopefully, the juxtaposition can be a reflection of their new life. Value the past while looking forward to the future!"