February 2

Many empty-nesters remodel rather than move

They keep what suits them, and indulge in changes they’ve always wanted.

By Barbara Williams
McClatchy Newspapers

HACKENSACK, N.J. — David Shanks longed for a bigger house. A roomy kitchen was on the list – he loved to cook and had a hard time whipping up specialties for his wife and two daughters in their old narrow one.

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When their kids moved out, Elizabeth and David Shanks decided to do a whole-house renovation rather than move to a new home that fit their needs. Their daughters opposed renovation – “They wanted a shrine to their childhood,” David Shanks said. But it happened anyway.

McClatchy Newspapers

But his No. 1 priority was a shower stall in the bathroom large enough for him to maneuver without jamming his elbows against the tiles.

“We’ve always had a small house, including one small bathroom that I shared with three women,” said Shanks, a retired publishing executive. “I really wanted a shower where I could stretch my arms and not knock my elbows every time I moved.”

After the girls moved out after college graduation, Shanks and his wife, Elizabeth, were done with tuition bills and their mortgage was paid off. It’s a time when many empty-nesters downsize, or find their dream home, or both.

But the Shankses are one of the many couples who decide to keep the houses where they raised their children, remodeling them into their dream home. Many have features in their current houses that they don’t want to give up, and they finally have the time and money to spend on such indulgences as walk-in closets, roomy master baths and cozy breakfast nooks.

Like many, the Shankses wanted to remain in their hometown.

“Our ties are really in Tenafly and we were very content to stay where we were,” Elizabeth Shanks said. “Our friends thought we were crazy to do this at this time of our lives but we renovated and put everything into the house that we wanted.”


The Shankses’ daughters didn’t want any changes to their childhood home – they didn’t want their parents moving out of it, nor did they want any renovations.

“They moved into their own places and we were left with this tiny kitchen and a shower that gave me bruises,” Shanks said. “They wanted a shrine to their childhood.”

Despite the girls’ objections, the Shankses looked at a few homes in Tenafly before deciding to renovate the three-bedroom colonial where they had lived since 1977.

Remodeling specialists in North Jersey said they are seeing a steady stream of customers who want to renovate and stay in the houses they’ve lived in for decades, houses where people have created strong ties to their neighborhoods.

“Some clients are remodeling as soon as the kids go away to college – they want a bigger home so they can enjoy it when the kids bring friends home from college or their spouses after they get married,” said Mark Cobucci, owner of Dovetail Designs in Bergenfield, N.J.

“One client wanted a bigger kitchen that looked over the family room because when she was cooking she always felt trapped in the kitchen while everyone else gathered in the family room.”

David Goscinski, owner of JJED Remodeling in Dumont, N.J., said he’s had clients request bedroom renovations or upgrade basements that had been crammed with toys and used for play areas.

“Some are putting in home theaters or a man cave,” Goscinski said. “Others are taking bedrooms and making them into offices so they don’t have to pay their bills on the kitchen table.”


Peggy Vandervoot and her husband, Mijo Mirkovic, from Ridgewood, remodeled several times as their three children moved through high school, college and beyond. One child is still attending college, another married and a third moved back home between college and medical school.

“We’re of the mind-set that when your kids go to college, they don’t go away and stay,” Vandervoot said.

“They are always coming back, and now my daughter is married and she may start creating more people that will come back to the house.”

(Continued on page 2)

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