Enter the space age

Downsizing for retirement doesn't have to mean squeezing into a tiny flat. Cheryl Markosky searches out homes with room to swing cats

One of the greatest fears of retirees is being stuck in some pokey little hole after tearfully waving goodbye to the spacious family home. And who wants to try to cram in family and friends for drinks, or even Christmas lunch, in a spot not large enough to swing the proverbial cat?

One of the greatest fears of retirees is being stuck in some pokey little hole after tearfully waving goodbye to the spacious family home. And who wants to try to cram in family and friends for drinks, or even Christmas lunch, in a spot not large enough to swing the proverbial cat?

With house builders recognising this need for space, flexibility is being displayed when it comes to accommodating owners and their visitors in mid to top-end schemes. Communal rooms are available for parties and the homes are designed to fit even the most exuberant of knees ups.

Downsizing might mean fewer rooms, but they should be of a decent size, reckons Sir David Lumsden, who moved into upscale English Courtyard's Wyke Mark a year ago. Sir David, a former principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and Lady Sheila gave up their six-bedroom Cambridgeshire house and large garden for a three-bedroom, second-floor apartment 10 miles from the centre of Winchester, where their youngest son has been appointed director of music at the Cathedral.

Prices for the 25 two and three-bed apartments at Wyke Mark start from £446,500 and their apartment measures more than 1,600sq ft - the size of an average four-bedroom house. The couple has managed to squeeze in all of their furniture, books, music and even a grand piano. It was hoisted in to the amusement of the neighbours, one of whom shot a 20-minute video of the event with music and commentary, says Sir David. "It is no effort to have eight sitting round the table for dinner or a buffet for 15. We have booked the guest suite for friends, where they can make their own breakfast and have a nap in the afternoon."

English Courtyard's twin-bedded guest suite can be booked for a nominal sum (£15 the first night and £10 there after) so owners can make full use of every room, rather than feel compelled to keep one "spare" for occasional visitors. This means Sir David can feel guilt-free using what would normally be the spare room as a study.

John and Barbara Harrop sold their family house in Kingswood, Reigate, to move into a three-bedroom, first-floor apartment at top-end Beechcroft's Bramley Grange near Guildford, in May. "We looked around a lot of places," says John, "and this was the best in terms of space. There are quite substantial bedrooms and ironically, I think the size of the rooms here is far greater than in our old house." Entertaining is important to the couple and Barbara says they have a lounge and dining area, which are generously proportioned. "We can put in two extra leaves to make the table twice as big. In our old home, we could only fit in one." There also is a balcony, she adds, which is perfect when friends come round for drinks.

As the Harrops spend four months a year in their second home in Spain, they appreciate the high levels of security and concierge at the development, where prices start at £330,000 for a two-bed apartment. John likes the five acres of landscaped gardens that he doesn't have to mow or prune. "We have wonderful gardens that are so peaceful," he adds.

The Carnarvon Arms Apartments, converted from a former railway inn by JCQ Homes, in Brushford, in Somerset, could suit retired people bent on merrymaking. The seven apartments - with one dedicated to a live-in concierge - and starting from £250,000, all have good-sized rooms.

According to selling agent Stags, the most expensive apartment, number five on the ground floor for the sum of £395,000 - contains a large vaulted reception room that was once the billiard room where the food was served up at balls. Measuring around 35 by 25 feet and with a raised platform at one end with a large window, there is plenty of space.

Jackson-Stops & Staff's Dorchester office is marketing three airy retirement homes in Dorset, where guest lists need not be kept to a minimum. A two-storey, three-bedroom £295,000 Beechcroft house at Barton Farm in Cerne Abbas offers plenty of room for relatives in its large sitting room, dining room, conservatory and kitchen.

An equally generous three-bed house for £250,000 at Edgcumbe Manor, Dorchester and a two-bed home for the same price at Walpole Court in Puddletown, Dorchester both offer room for revelry.

There is a guest suite for residents' guests at Walpole Court, along with a separate modern laundry.

In Dunchurch, near Rugby, Retirement Villages is launching old manor Cawston House, the focal point of their over 55s scheme, Lime Tree Village. Cawston House with its "country club" feel, in an Edwardian building, has a snooker room, a library with 2,000 books, a meeting room with a piano, a restaurant, a bar, a conservatory, a croquet lawn and a putting green. Prices start from £160,000 for homes on the 30-acre site.

A restaurant and a concert hall are on site at Elmbridge Retirement Village in Cranleigh, Surrey. Opened 20 years ago, the fourth phase of nine, two-bed detached and chalet bungalows is being rolled out from £315,000 to £357,500. One and two-bed apartments are available from £97,000 to £275,000.

English Courtyard, Wyke Mark, 0800 454627; Beechcroft's Bramley Grange through FPDSavills 01483 891830; JCQ Homes' Carnarvon Arms Apartments through Stags 01398 323174; Jackson-Stops & Staff, Dorchester, 01305 262123; Retirement Villages' Cawston House through Shipways Estate Agents 01788 812846; Elmbridge Retirement Village through Roger N Coupe 01483 268555.

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