Empty-nester remodels: making the most of your home

April Dykman | Improvement Center Columnist | February 7, 2014

The kids are off to college or living in homes of their own, and suddenly you have a lot of extra house on your hands. Some couples choose to downsize to a smaller home, but others want to stay put. Maybe the housing market isn't great and they don't want to try to sell until it improves, or maybe they love their home and neighborhood and just don't want to ever leave!

If you're staying in your home and looking for ways to make your extra space more useful, here are five ideas for transforming your house:

1. A guest suite. Let's say that you have an extra bedroom and want to keep it that way for when Junior comes home to visit. One easy upgrade is to turn the bedroom into a guest room by making over your teen's room with more adult decor. Some homeowners even opt to combine rooms to create a guest suite. "Many older houses…have smaller bedrooms that can be combined if they are adjacent and the floor plan conducive," writes Marcelle Fischler for The New York Times. This gives your guests a place to retreat to during a visit, or a place to lay your future grandkids down for a nap! (If you build it, they will come?)

2. A media room. Many newer houses come with a "bonus room," which is typically a space that winds up as a play area or hangout space for kids and their friends. But once the kids are all grown up, it's a great place for a media room. Mount the TV on the wall, get some great speakers, and install some blackout curtains, and you'll have a theater experience in your own home.

3. A hobby room (or man cave). Virginia Woolf once wrote a whole book on the need for "a room of one's own." Of course, she was referring to female writers and talking about much broader issues, but also, she was talking about a literal room in which to write. But if sewing is your thing, you could turn a spare room into a sewing room. Or if your husband commandeers the TV from fall until Superbowl, maybe a man cave with a soundproof door is the best use for the room.

4. A home gym. If you want to get fit, but signing a contract at a mega-gym isn't your speed, consider turning your extra space into a workout room. You don't have to shell out a lot of cash to get started, just clear the space and start with a few small purchases, like a dumbbell set, a jump rope, and a small TV and DVD player for P90x videos or yoga dvds.

5. Senior-friendly renovations. Some couples don't ever plan to move from their home -- it's the place they want to grow old together. If that's you, you might consider a remodel that looks a bit further into the future: making your home senior-friendly. A few practical changes can make your house comfortable and inhabitable for the rest of your life. For instance, as we age, it becomes more difficult (if not impossible) to step over the side of a tub. Risk of falling increases as well, which can cause serious injury to an elderly person. One solution is a walk-in tub, which have a door for easy entry and exit.

So what if you're still paying tuition and can't afford a pricey remodel? Or what if the kids come home pretty regularly and you're not ready to change things too much? Case Design Remodeling in Washington, D.C. offers the following advice: "Even if you don't do a major remodel, home improvement projects such as fresh paint, replacing old, worn out furniture, and redoing floors in high-traffic areas can help make your home look new again and give it some much-needed updates."