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Empty nesters carve out ‘boomer caves’

Those looking to get away without leaving home are creating rooms to watch movies, sip wine, or otherwise relax.

Bill and Lisa Vanderweil converted a bedroom in their Back Bay condo into a cross between an entertainment room and a den where they can enjoy movies or sports.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff/Boston Globe

Preparing to renovate their new Back Bay condo, Bill and Lisa Vanderweil were sure about one thing: They wanted one cozy "getaway" room where they could relax, watch TV, read, or just talk.

So they converted one of the three bedrooms into a cross between a small entertainment room and an old-fashioned den, complete with wood paneling, big-screen TV, wet bar with a small sink and refrigerator, large chenille couch, club chairs, and other items to give the room a relaxed feel.

"This is the spot where I just want to hang out," said Bill Vanderweil, 67, managing principal at Vanderweil Engineers LLP. "The room is so much fun," added his wife, Lisa Vanderweil, 52. "We love going in there and watching Pats games and movies."


Empty nesters such as the Vanderweils are carving out special spaces within, or outside, their homes — favorite spots to call their own or intimate spaces they can share with family and friends.

Call them "boomer caves," such "getaway" spaces come in all sizes, shapes, and varieties — movie rooms, wine-tasting alcoves, intimate patios for alfresco dining, gardening sheds, basement exercise rooms with saunas, studies for work and pleasure, free-flowing kitchen-into-living-room spaces.

"We're doing a lot of our work for empty nesters and others over 50," said Greg Childs, business development manager for Concord's Gallagher Home Builders Inc., which handled the Vanderweils' recent condo renovation. "People are less formal than they used to be. They want more intimate and yet communal spaces, for themselves and family."

Whether it's the perfect reading nook or a casual place to enjoy a glass of wine and good conversation, here are some of the more popular indoor and outdoor caves that people are creating for themselves.

The room features wood paneling and club chairs to make it a “spot where I just want to hang out,” Bill Vanderweil said.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Indoor caves Movie/entertainment rooms. They're classic — and come in many different sizes and styles and prices. Paul Apkarian, owner of Paul Apkarian Architects Inc. in Westborough, said movie rooms — also known as "home theaters" or just plan "entertainment rooms" — remain the most popular dream of people trying to create that ultimate comfy, escape room.


Depending on how extravagant people want to get with the electronics and furniture, the prices for such getaway rooms can range from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.

The bells and whistles include top of the line big-screen TVs, surround-sound systems, sound-proofed walls, wet bars, old-fashioned movie seats, luxurious couches, and recliner chairs. The more modest settle for a couch, recliner, or maybe even a rocking chair — just as long as there's a big-screen TV for their favorites programs, movies or games.

"They're not so much man caves anymore," said Apkarian. "They're more grown up. They're female- and family-friendly. They're meant to be elegant and comfortable."

Wine-tasting alcoves. Not everyone can afford, or has the space for, a wine cellar with a side table and chairs at which they can sip and sample and talk about fine wines.

But most people do have basements — and with built-in wine racks, temperature and humidity control units, and a little Tuscan imagination, they can have their own version of wine cellars and tasting rooms. And it doesn't just have to be for wine storage and tasting — it can be for lunches or places to retreat to read while sipping a red.

Depending on the type of equipment, racks, and furniture people want, a wine cellar/tasting room can be had for $7,500 to $15,000 — not including the wine, of course, Apkarian said.


"It's can be a great ambience space," he said.

Exercise rooms. Usually starting out as extra space, often in basements, where one can hide and zone out while keeping healthy and burning off stress. The fun part comes when you add TV and sound systems, maybe a sauna or steam-shower. The latter can be expensive — well over $20,000 — but prices fall if people already have bathrooms or other plumbing fixtures in basements.

Studies/dens/small TV rooms. There's really no exact description for such rooms. Dens sound old-fashioned — leather chairs, framed fox-hunting prints, dark-wood book cases, and cigars. Studies are associated with work spaces, computers, and serious contemplation. Small TV rooms are . . . small TV rooms.

But some people want a combination of the above. The Vanderweils, for example, said they got it with the small 12-foot-by-13-foot former bedroom that's been converted into a part man-cave den and part spare family room for everyone.

"I even have permission to occasionally smoke a cigar in there," Bill Vanderweil said.

Outdoor caves

Outdoor kitchens and dining areas. Duo Dickinson, a Connecticut architect who redesign properties in Massachusetts, said more clients are adding "outdoor rooms" where they can cook, eat, and relax in comfort and style.

"The outdoors is no longer vast, rolling landscapes that you just view," he said. "It's become a place you occupy."


Such getaway spaces can be as simple as a small brick or stone patio, with a nearby Weber grill, comfortable outdoor tables and chairs, and surrounded by flowers, bushes, and trees to create an intimate place to cook and eat and relax.

The spaces can also be extravagant: Virtual "outdoor kitchens" with all-season gas grills, stoves, refrigerators, and even sinks, sound systems, and enclosed TVs. The cost for outdoor kitchens can easily push into the tens of thousands of dollars.

"They become virtual kitchens and living rooms," said Dickinson.

Garden, potting, and tool sheds. Whether for gardening, woodworking, or just making simple repairs to household items, these sheds can have radios or TVs, as well as accompanying small outdoor tables and chairs. Some people are even building chicken coops and fenced in areas for animals, creating a "mini-farm effect," said Apkarian, the Westborough architect.

"It's part of the quasi-green, sustainability thing," said Apkarian. "Personally, I also think it stems a little bit from Martha Stewart."

If you want a Martha Stewart-level of sophistication for such spaces, outdoor garden and work sheds can cost up to $15,000. But they can be had for much less, depending on how truly rustic you want to be, Apkarian said.