By Kristi L. Nelson The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
Real-estate agent Cindy Bradley has known for years how she'd want to get older, should she end up alone. She saw it on a sit-com about three widows and a divorcee.
"My friends and I had always laughed when the 'Golden Girls' were on, and I would always say, 'Don't worry -- when we're old, I'll buy us a quad pod!'" Bradley said.
Then one day last year, Bradley was looking at an empty lot behind her office, Signature Homes on Cedar Lane, and inspiration hit. Later, she sat down and sketched out on a paper napkin plans for what she nicknamed the "Golden Girls House," where four women could live together but have their own space.
"I had a widowed client who told me how afraid she was of living alone, and how lonely she was," said Bradley, 60. "I thought, you know, with 10,000 of us a day turning 65, we have to change the conversation about how we house seniors. So I thought, 'OK, how do I want to live if something happens to my husband? ... I like to be alone, but I don't want to live alone."
Architect Bob Alcorn and builder Gerald Cress made her plans a reality. The result, completed in November, is a 3,000-square-foot house on the lot, with four master bedroom suites, each with a private sitting room and bath. Residents will share a large living room, dining room, kitchen and screened-in porch.
Bradley designed the one-level house with "aging in place" in mind. Doorways all are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs; corners all are rounded. A bar in the kitchen is low, for sitting during food prep. Shower stalls are open and include a built-in bench, hand-held sprayer and grab bar disguised as a shelf.
"We literally tried to build these so you could move in at 55 and still be here at 95, and go through knee replacement, hip replacement, whatever," Bradley said. "I think if we live this way, we live longer, and we live healthier."
Preparing and eating meals together would help avoid the malnutrition seniors sometimes develop because they don't bother to cook for themselves, she said. And there's lots of light: large windows, recessed ceiling lights.
"We need more light as we get older," Bradley said.
There's a pocket door between the bedroom and the sitting room in the suites, for entertaining guests. Bradley plans reversible "Available/Not Available" plaques for the suite doors.
Bradley said she was looking for alternatives to other senior living options in North Knoxville, for seniors who don't yet need assisted living, such as what's provided at the Courtyards a few miles from the house, and don't relish the idea of living in an apartment tower. The closest independent living community, Parkview Senior Living, currently has a waiting list and runs from $1,450 monthly for the smallest efficiency apartment up to more than $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Bradley has trademarked the name "LifeShare Homes" for her concept, although she still calls it the "Golden Girls House."
She'd like to lease it to four women, each at $1,200 a month, including utilities, cable, Internet and maintenance, and said she thinks the first tenant is on the verge of moving in, although she's not in a big hurry to fill the suites.
"This is a heart project, not a money project," she said. "I want it to be a home that's filled with love and happiness."
Bradley declined to say exactly how much it cost her to build the LifeShare house, but said a structure of its quality typically would run about $125 a square foot.
"But we overdid everything," she said. "There are 65 can lights in here. ... You could build this much more economically."
She hasn't ruled out building another, if the demand is there; the challenge, she said, is finding a big enough lot in an area that offers the accessibility seniors need.
"I probably could have already filled this one up with men, which I didn't expect," she said.
The design could also work for multigenerational families, she added.
"A lot of people my age are caring for parents and raising grandkids," she said.