Talkin’ ‘Bout Multi-Generation
Courtesy Integrated Property Services, Salt Lake City LIVING WELL Magazine
“Aging-in-place” can be a misunderstood phrase. For some it means staying in the old family home or simply not downsizing. For others it means living anywhere but a dedicated senior living facility. Still others apply the expression to everyone but themselves since they never intend to age! The truth is it can mean all of the above and more. Among all of its meanings is one some forget: multi-generational living.
With the economy recovering slowly, getting worse or stagnant—depending on your point of view—many families find themselves searching for creative housing solutions and multi-generational living offers just such a solution for some. Boomerang kids find themselves returning to the nest to weather the economic storm, sometimes bringing their own children. Sometimes the generation sharing housing is an older one—a generation that requires additional care and attention, often permanently.
Regardless of how many generations or which generations join us, multi-generational living always brings new questions: How will adequate privacy be created? How will each generational or family group enter and function in the home without interrupting the privacy of the others? How will each receive and entertain guests without disrupting the privacy of the others? These privacy issues can be solved with simple private entrance and party wall modifications.
However, if a client came to my colleagues at Integrated Property Services (IPS) and me and asked us to simply divide their home in half with party walls and separate entrances, I would strongly advise against it. A divided home fails to offer the advantages of multi-generational living that most families are seeking when these arrangements are made in the first place: the blessing of having grandchildren close at hand, the luxury of providing regular care for grandchildren and parents, and the joy of sharing mutual support at a precious time of life.
So how does a family balance the need for privacy with the desire to share time and space with multiple generations? The answer is in well-though-out flexibility through design. Spaces can be designed to be private at some times and shared at other times. For example, by strategically placing a door between a family room and a “guest” suite—with a lock on the family room side—the door can be opened to welcome children and grandchildren who are secondary occupants of the home into the family room for multi-generational activities. The idea of primary and secondary occupants could be bypassed altogether by locating lock-out doors on both the “master” and “guest” sides of the family room, giving both family/generational groups the ability to use the room in privacy or together. The same can occur in virtually any room in the home.
While privacy is a common issue with multi-generational living, health and safety is another. Supervising children and monitoring occupants with health concerns is crucial for many families. And for families desiring to age-in-place, health concerns are typically a growing concern rather than a diminishing one. Privacy and safety can be at odds with one another; removing barriers that provide the visibility needed for safety can also remove privacy. Often, the solution is the same spatial flexibility of design that allows spaces to be both shared and private. In other words: a door can be either a wall or an opening, depending on whether it is open or closed.
Does the old family home meet the demands of multi-generational living? Typically, no; but, then, almost no existing home does. Aging-in-place well is often a question of remodeling well, whether that means modifying the old family home to make it more conducive to multi-generational living or modifying the kitchen or bathroom to accommodate limited mobility (subjects of future articles).
If you’re thinking that multi-generational living might be for you, here are some questions to consider:
- How will we balance privacy with our needs for shared spaces and activities and our needs to monitor for health and safety?
- Which spaces or features in my home (besides bedrooms and baths) need to be duplicated to accommodate an additional generation: Entrance? Living areas? Kitchen/dining? Home office?
- If a second kitchen is in the plan, does it need to be full-sized or would a more modest kitchen be more appropriate?
- Will outdoor areas (including yards, decks and patios) be shared, divided or shared and divided flexibly?
- Is my home accessible as I age, as an older generation sharing the home ages or as visitors to the home age?
- Does my community require special zoning approval for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to accommodate children or parents?
Sean Catherall, AIA, is currently aging-in-place in Utah, although his family keeps him on the go. He is a freelance architect and author with over 20 years’ experience in design in various parts of the U.S. He is currently engaged in an exclusive residential design + build joint venture with Integrated Property Services (IPS). Sean welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org