In this day and age, it's not uncommon for several generations to live under the same roof. Financially secure couples in the 40-to-60 age range are frequently finding themselves facing a full household. Elderly parents needing care often move in with their adult children rather than moving into senior homes, and offspring in their 20s and sometimes 30s often opt to live with their parents in order to save money. Finding a way to accommodate everyone, while maintaining family harmony and respecting individual privacy, can be a weighty task. Here are some things to consider when designing and building a home intended for extended family living.
Joseph Kantor, owner and founder of Joe Kantor Construction in Medford, is regularly called upon to construct homes for extended families. Kantor points out that the first step in building a home intended for multiple generations is to decide on the best location for the house. "If you have elderly people living in the home, you will probably want to build the house on a lot close to medical offices or the hospital. Being in close proximity to a drugstore can also be helpful, so that you can easily fill prescriptions," says Kantor.
Decorating a home elegantly with extended family in mind can be tricky. Furniture arrangements, chair heights and décor must all be taken into consideration. In general, for elderly family members as well as infants and toddlers, clean simple lines with less furniture is a better option than more cluttered styles.
Furniture should be arranged in a manner that creates the most open space, so that individuals have plenty of room to get around the house. Space between furniture is crucial for family members with disabilities. Make sure areas are wide enough to allow wheelchair access, if necessary.
Another important thing to consider when decorating is the height of chair bases. The cushions on chairs and couches should be at higher levels, so that family members with mobility issues can more easily lift themselves in and out of their seats. Also, buy chairs with arms. Armchairs and kitchen chairs with arms give elderly individuals a little extra leverage. Toilets with higher seats are also good purchases.
If you intend to have small children and infants frequently around the house, make sure that all knickknacks and other small décor items are out of reach of pudgy hands. Also, make sure stairs are blocked off so that little ones can't topple down them. Baby gates, which come in a wide variety of colors and styles, are an efficient and fashionable way to ensure infant safety.
Once you have chosen the site for your future home, the next step is to choose the design and layout. Lee Ann Isaacson, a broker for GJ Smith Realty in Medford, says, "If you want your extended family to live under one roof, you will want to build a multi-level home."
Multi-level homes can provide needed space and privacy. "Building a bi-level home with a daylight basement is an economical option that many couples seem to enjoy," says Kantor. A bi-level home is a house with two levels built into a hillside. At the front of the house, the upper level is ground level, but at the back of the house, the lower level opens to the backyard. The bi-level feature essentially enables one couple to live on one floor, and the extended family to live on another, ensuring a measure of privacy, but enabling easy access if an elderly family member needs help.
Design elements should also take into account the needs of anyone with disabilities. For those with walking challenges, stairs can be a problem, but not an insurmountable one. In the last home he built, Kantor inserted a stair chair lift. "This kind of chair lift is inexpensive. It's basically a chair that runs up and down the staircase. You flip the seat down, push a button, and the chair carries you up the stairs." Another option, albeit a pricier one, is to install an elevator.
For added privacy and ease, another option is to place the living room, dining area, kitchen, laundry room, and a bedroom and bath for the extended family on one floor. As Kantor points out, when the major facilities are all on the same floor, elderly family members have easier access to the general living areas. "The master suite is on a separate floor," adds Isaacson, "so that the adult couple can have ultimate privacy. I would also include a little kitchenette on this floor, so that they don't always have to go to the kitchen for a quick drink or bite to eat."
Another option is an ADU (additional dwelling unit), or often referred to as a mother-in-law's cottage, for extended family that doesn't need direct care. It's a separate structure that's built on the same lot as the primary house. Essentially, what it creates is more of a neighbor-to-neighbor living situation, which offers far more privacy for all concerned. However, as Isaacson points out, "There are very strict rules and regulations when building ADUs. For example, in Medford, an ADU can only be up to half the size of the original structure." Isaacson recommends checking with your local city before designing and building a unit.
Before designing or building your home, make sure your architect and contractor are fully aware of your needs for an extended-family home. With some thoughtful planning, you'll find that multiple generations can live together harmoniously and still maintain their privacy.