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Multigenerational Home Design

Designing Homes for Multigenerational Use

Oct 23 2020
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Over the last few years Modal Design has had an increasing number of clients ask about providing spaces or amenities to accommodate multiple family members in their household. Whether aging parents, young adults preparing for careers, or other family members who for various reasons want or need the assistance of family, these multigenerational households are returning as the norm.

As designers who are trained to problem-solve, we relish the opportunity to consider adjacencies, privacy, costs, and social constructs that support these family arrangements and their specialized needs.

What is a multigenerational home?

Multigenerational households are broadly defined as having more than one generation living under the same roof.

As a bit of background, multigenerational households used to be quite typical. Up until the 1960’s and 70’s, it was customary for grandparents to augment child care, or for young adults to live at home in order to participate in family businesses. Starting in the 60’s this mixed, or extended family model gave way to nuclear families living alone. Childcare was outsourced, relatives visited each other, and celebrations or life milestones became the only times these groups typically cohabitated.

Today, with social, economic and health demands forcing families to reconsider their support systems and the ways they live, multigenerational living is surging back. According to program, policy and strategy nonprofit Generations United, “one in five Americans currently lives in a multigenerational household”, with the number rising more than 50% between 2000 and 2016.

So, what are the elements that homeowners planning a remodel or new construction consider in a multi-generational home, and what are the ways to integrate them?

What should you consider when planning a multigenerational home?

There are four basic arrangements in which structures might absorb or be designed for multi-gen living. While each situation and context is unique, this is a way to generally consider options, including the considerations such as privacy, entry/exits (shared versus separate), noise and sound, and the ability to separate – whether by choice or illness, from others within the household.

1. Carving out space within your house

In circumstances where a separate structure or expanded area is not feasible, analyzing the spaces you do have may offer opportunities for a successful co-living arrangement.

Simply converting a room to correct privacy and sound issues, or accommodate accessibility or specific living needs can sometimes simply be an issue of built-in cabinetry or furniture, adjustments in wall or floor treatments, or the addition of lighting and paint.

Multigenerational Home Design

If your floor plan has the capacity for an actual living unit within the confines of your existing home, you can also, in the State of California, apply for a Junior-ADU (JADU) permit. In LA County, this is defined as an additional, independent living unit created through the conversion of an existing legally permitted bedroom or habitable area in a single-family dwelling.

2. Adding square footage or a new wing to a home

In circumstances where a home’s lot can accommodate an enlarged structure or new wing, expanding living area with an additional bathroom, kitchenette or just additional living space can make the difference between cramped quarters and tenuous living, and ample space with family harmony.

Multigenerational Home Design

Carefully evaluating the location of expansions or new wings is key to success of these efforts: are there scenarios that would allow a separate entrance, which adds value and allows coming and going without disruption to others; what blends with, or might even enhance, the existing architecture; and what is feasible given set-back requirements by the City? Once these sorts of parameters are determined then designing interior spaces and their flow with the rest of the house can begin. From our experience, needs usually cited for these types of spaces include an enlarged or second Master Suite, sometimes with separate sitting areas, or secondary living spaces or even kitchenettes to allow family members to have a quiet meal or distanced social interaction by themselves.

3. Using levels to reorient space

Whether via renovation or in the design of new construction, adjusting your thinking of how various levels or floors of a home can meet the needs of in-laws, grown children, or other family members can offer solutions for multi-generational house plans. In scenarios where multiple floors already exist, such as townhouses, reorienting ground floor living space or bedrooms for older generations saves worry over falls or unachievable stair climbs. If health isn’t an issue, then maintaining shared kitchens or living spaces with a second small living space on an upper level allows for some separation from noise and larger groups when needed. In these types of designs, primary challenges arise with duplicate spaces, so considering ways to provide separation or autonomy without recreating entire living units is key.

4. Adding a separate structure

If the opportunity exists, designing for the needs of multiple generations under one roof is ideal. Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s), guest houses, or even design of a courtyard home, can accommodate private entrances, separate living areas, and varying types of “family” rooms. These designs do not equate to just larger houses; they benefit from shared resources such as laundry, storage, garages and parking, and outdoor space, but offer generations the flexibility to have shared or private lives. In concept, it offers flexibility to be together, but at the same being apart if desired.

Multigenerational Home Design

Addressing the peculiarities and logistics of life in a multigenerational home get done on a DIY-basis on a daily level, and in many ways, that works. The benefit of working with an architect to plan for, or improve, this type of living arrangement ensures a design that truly fits a range of needs – organizational, aesthetic, regulatory, and budgetary – in a methodical, comprehensive way.