Multigenerational Living — Private Space: Remodeling Takes a Plan and Serious Discussions
Everyone under one roof: How to make it work
Remember The Waltons, Earl Hamner’s Virginia-based classic TV series? Three generations lived together – usually happily – during the Depression and World War II.
Now, what’s old is new again. A 2011 Pew Research Center report found that from 2007 to 2009 the increase in the number of Americans living in multigenerational households — from 46.5 million to 51.4 million — was the largest increase in modern history. The increase continues. Why? Adult children sometimes are unable to find employment. … An aging population often brings the elderly back to their children’s homes. … Veterans come back into a difficult economy. …
How to make this newfound togetherness work?
We spoke to a modern-day family, a forward-thinking contractor, a writer who’s an expert on the aging process and a level-headed family therapist. Here’s what they had to say:
Private Space: Remodeling Takes a Plan and Serious Discussions
— STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JEFF QUINN —
While many of us have thought about the eventuality of aging parents moving in with us, today we see veterans returning home with life-changing injuries, children returning home from college, and divorced or widowed children moving in with their own young families. I also see an ever-growing desire of clients to stay in their homes as they age. All these situations can cause us to re-think the design of our homes.
I had this conversation with a family about a year ago as we sat to talk about their planned addition. Al, Madhavi and their two young girls, Anna and Meera, had always hoped Madhavi’s mother, Jotsna, would come to live with them when the need arose. (The family asked that we not use last names.) But a twist of fate and the death of Madhavi’s father a few years ago led them to re-think the situation. “We always looked at this as a future event but we just thought that sooner rather than later was a real possibility,” Madhavi said. “So we invited her to live with us now.”
PRIVACY A MAIN CONCERN
After searching in vain for an existing home that would suit all their needs, they settled on a home with remodel potential to add a single- level suite for their mother. “Because my mother is so independent and active,” Madhavi said, “she insisted that the space be suited to her and not change her lifestyle.” Jotsna was also concerned about not feeling as if she was intruding on the family’s privacy.
The main design challenge was incorporating a sense of private space in the new addition. We gave Jotsna a private entrance, ample room for sleeping, entertaining, working and even accommodations for guests on extended stays. The connection to the main house was through a common laundry to the shared main kitchen. It featured lockable doors for both sides of the family.
An early concern of Madhavi’s was resale value. “Would we make the home too specialized for future buyers?” The answer was a resounding, “No!” For all the reasons listed above, this design would give them an edge in the housing market, with features surprisingly difficult to find.
DON’T FORGET ZONING REQUIREMENTS
When adding on to an existing home, you must consider zoning. There is a fine line between adding a multigenerational suite and converting the structure to a multifamily dwelling. One determining factor is the presence of multiple kitchens. So we were careful to provide only a convenience bar with microwave, sink and refrigerator. The main kitchen became a shared space for this family.
Adding bedrooms, not bathrooms, to a home requires a review of the existing septic system. In this case we had to move the system anyway to accommodate the location of the addition, so we took the opportunity to upgrade at that time. The county health department can help determine your requirements.
We also discussed universal design, a theory developed by architect Ronald Mace, FAIA, of North Carolina. It’s a response to an ever-increasing demand for more ergonomically and cognitively designed products and mobility-friendly spaces. Our architect, Douglas Bollinger, AIA, did a fantastic job of listening to the family’s concerns and incorporating them into a seamless addition to the home. “The biggest compliment we get,” beams Al, “is that ‘it looks like it’s always been here.’”
AND THE RESULT …
The project was completed in August, and I recently met with the family to discuss how the new space was working out.
I was surprised to hear that Jotsna had not moved in completely yet. “She is taking her time,” said Madhavi, “moving a little at a time. She has been in the old family home for over 30 years and the transition has to be on her time schedule.”
They did, however, have a two-month trial period as Jotsna recovered from recent knee surgery. “It went great,” said Madhavi. “In fact, she [Jotsna] recently commented how ‘quiet’ the old house was when she returned home. I think she misses the family more than expected already.”
I asked whether there have been any surprises in how the new space is used, and Al grinned: “It’s funny how of the girls will troop through the kitchen and announce, “We are going to [Grandmother's] house!’ They will stay over there for hours and everybody is happy. It’s a real bonus that the girls get to spend so much time with their grandmother.”
THREE TIPS FROM THE FAMILY
If you are considering mutigenerational remodeling, my suggestion is to hire a contractor or design expert familiar with the principles of universal design.
And consider tips offered from Al and Madhavi:
1. Carefully consider the lifestyle of the new family member and design to suit those needs. There can be apprehension on all parties involved if a lifestyle change is feared.
2. While planning for the future, consider making the move sooner rather than later. For this family, the move is a happy one done at a time when everyone is independent, happy and healthy.
3. Finally, recognize the period of adjustment. The change can be trying for any family. Right now Jotsna spends weekends with her family and will move in cIompletely upon the sale of her home this year.
Jeff Quinn is a Class “A” general contractor and remodeling specialist based in Chesterfield County. He established his company, Quinn Home Improvements LLC, in 2005 after a 20-year career in the U.S. Army. You may reach him at Jeff@QHImail.com.