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Creative Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

Creative Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

Creative Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

design for multigenerational homes

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When parents move in with their adult children or when young families move in with elderly relatives, relationships change and boundaries blur. Expectations might shift significantly depending upon the circumstances under which a new living arrangement is made. Privacy might be scarce and residents might find themselves practically living on top of each other. Multigenerational families planning to live together might either purchase a new home with all necessary bells and whistles or decide to retrofit a currently owned home to match the needs of each new resident. Further still, they might purchase a home lacking proper accommodations. For those in any of the above situations, follow below for a few design tips for shared multigenerational homes. Combined with mutual respect, individual privacy and willingness to listen and adjust, Living Deep's design tips will hopefully contribute to a happier home for your multigenerational family.

The Changing Shapes and Faces of Multigenerational Households

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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Multigenerational households -- once relatively uncommon in the United States -- have come to represent a sizable demographic in recent years. We explained the trend in our article “Multigenerational Living: Faster Alone, Further Together.” As we noted, “the number of multigenerational households has experienced quite the incline over the past four decades.” Though the number of multigenerational households hit a record low in the 1980s, it has experienced an impressive rise since the early 2000s, hitting a fever pitch during the Great Recession. Between 1980 and 2016, the share of multigenerational homes amongst all demographics of households increased from 12% to 20%. 

As we noted in our article, “the sharpest incline in percentage of Americans living in multigenerational households occurred between 2009 and 2016.” The makeup of multigenerational households -- and the profiles of the homeowners -- has changed significantly over the last ten years. For instance, according to the Pew Research Center, adults aged 85+ were previously the most likely demographic to live in multigenerational households. However, today, young adults have become “the age group most likely to live in multigenerational households.” 

Our Top Five Creative Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

#1 Establish Indoor and Outdoor Social Spaces

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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According to a recent Grand Designs article, those living in multigenerational homes should acknowledge the “different needs and space requirements” of each person or group of persons. Divvying up the social space of the home -- e.g. the backyard, front yard, patio, living room, kitchen, den and/or basement -- for different generations or different personalities within the household protects against monopolization of social spaces. For instance, encouraging teens or young couples to utilize outdoor spaces for social events will allow older generations -- or those with different preferences -- to use quieter indoor social spaces. Creating equal social spaces both indoors and outdoors offers each group more privacy during their various activities and events. As Adam Knibb of Adam Knibb Architects explains, “essentially, there needs to be room for a combination of social spaces for everyone to gather, but you’ll also want private zones to retreat to.”

#2 Look for or Convert to a First Floor Master 

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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Split-level or multilevel homes can offer a series of benefits to multigenerational households. Oftentimes, the first and second -- and/or even the third -- levels can be cordoned off from each other and transformed into separate apartments, allowing for greater privacy for each couple or family unit. However, establishing these separate living spaces may not be possible if the first floor does not come equipped with a bedroom. Even if the home has been outfitted with a third floor bedroom, lack of a first floor suite can be hard on senior or elderly relatives.

As the Architect Magazine article “6 Ways to Design for Multigenerational Households” notes, finding a home with a first-floor bedroom -- or legally converting a bonus room on the first floor into a bedroom -- is key for a number of reasons. Quoted in the article, Scott Rappe -- AIA of the Chicago firm Kuklinski + Rappe Architects -- notes that each home his firm designs must offer the option “for a future master bedroom and bath on the first floor.” In a multigenerational household, Rappe explains, “even if age isn’t currently an issue, knee, hip, and ankle injuries can often make a first-floor bedroom a welcome convenience.”

#3 Avoid Being Overly Pushy About Design Cohesion

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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Before elderly parents moved in or adult children joined the household, your home’s design scheme might have represented the perfect balance of contemporary chic and cozy comfort. From room to room, the decor, furniture and finishings was cohesive and consistent -- if a bit quirky. Long story short, before your home became multigenerational, it was uniquely you, a special and personal echo of your character, style and memories. It can be unmooring or upsetting to relinquish total aesthetic control. 

However, allowing each couple, family or individual to express themselves by contributing to the interior of the home will not only help keep the peace, but it will likely reinforce feelings of joint-ownership and responsibility. Try leaving more “public” spaces -- the great room, living room and/or kitchen -- as they are to maintain cohesion throughout the front of the home. Encourage your parents, adult children or whomever you share your home with, to redesign their private spaces to their own liking -- even if their preferences do not match the vision you held for the home. 

#4 Jointly Define How Each Space will Be Used

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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If your home has an open floor plan, try creating zones that establish how the space should be used. Creating activity zones in a large great room or multi-use dining and living room will help prevent residents from stepping on each other’s toes. In a large great room, consider placing a small desk, credenza or sideboard in the corner with a chair to establish a writing and/or computer area. Set the couch or sectional up in the center of the room or off to one side rather than against an opposite wall to allow for additional zones behind the sofa. 

Place a pair of armchairs in one corner with a bookcase to create a reading zone. Toss a couple ottomans or cushions in an area near the window to zone a section for meditation or reflection. Dividing up social spaces gives each person or couple in a multigenerational household more activity options by spelling them out explicitly. Similarly, establishing the dining room or kitchen for more formal or date-like events while the great room and/or den is used for more casual events ensures everyone knows what to expect in each space.

#5 Create Separate Entrances

Design Tips for Shared Multigenerational Homes

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In a recent article for My Move, Jae Curtis emphasizes the importance of affording privacy to each member of a multigenerational household. Curtis writes that one important “design consideration to make in multigenerational homes is how each generation will actually enter the home.” If one person, couple and/or family rises earlier than another and/or retires earlier or later than other, competing schedules might create conflict. Curtis writes that “design[ing] separate entrances” can offer a solution to these scheduling conflicts. As Curtis explains, “not only will this reduce traffic and chaos throughout the day, but it can provide your family with a sense of autonomy.” While living together prevents loneliness and offers financial security, “being able to separate some coming and going can help each generation feel more independent.”

Bonus Tips

Other design tips for adapting one’s home to accommodate elderly parents or relatives include expanding doorways, widening hallways and reflooring rooms with slippery surfaces. For homes newly welcoming teens and/or young parents with infants, one might consider soundproofing certain rooms of the house. These might include rec rooms like the basement as well as spaces specifically for small children like nurseries and playrooms. 


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