With the rising costs of living – not to mention senior communities – multi-generational households are coming back in style. According to Pew Research, the number of people living in multi-generational houses has doubled over the past three decades, and that trend isn’t expected to change anytime soon.
Multi-Generational Households Require Livable Home Designs
A while back, I read a design article that referenced the phrase “livable designs.” The idea was that accessible or universal design tenets weren’t just for the old or handicapped; rather, they were design features that made a living space more livable for everyone – be they young, old, small, tall, using a walker or not.
I love this idea and feel like the best interior designers work to create livable designs in every home they meet. Here are some of the livable design features that make the most sense for families, retirees, those who plan to age in place and/or those who plan to live with extended family members.
Design a private suite or two
When I was a child, I was so envious of my friends who had bedrooms with attached bathrooms. These master suites felt so luxurious – and they are. If you plan to live with parents or in-laws, or your kids plan to move in with you when you are in your golden years, it makes sense to design a private suite or two so everyone has their own space.
These master suites can be quite simple – large enough to accommodate a bedroom and sitting area, as well as a bathroom. Or, they can be more complex, including the addition of a small living area, kitchenette, and/or patio space. The more independent the suite is, while still being accessible to those with mobility aids, the more functional it will be. These living spaces are also convenient should you ever need to hire an in-home caregiver.
Make it easy to get around
Increasing the number of residents in a household makes navigation more of a concern. Leave ample space in hallways and along walkways, so it’s easy for people to pass each other, walk two-by-two or manipulate a walker or wheelchair. Install ADA accessible doorways from the get-go. Leave plenty of room around tables and chairs, as well as other seating areas, so the walking and functional flow aren’t obstructed when family and friends are gathered in eating and communal areas. Think about transitions between different flooring materials as well as entrance/exit thresholds so they are smooth and trip-resistant.
Flooring materials should be anti-slip and low-profile so they’re easier to get around on in a wheelchair or walker. The benefit of all of this is that you and your kids will be so appreciative when a sprained ankle or unanticipated surgery requires that you use crutches, canes or other mobility aids.
Think about safety
After the “getting around” pointers, I recommend taking a good look at your lighting plan. Focus on ample daylighting by way of expanded windows, skylights and solar tubes. This makes electric lighting superfluous until just before sunset. You will also want to include more task lighting since older eyes have a harder time seeing. By setting everything on dimmers, each space can be illuminated to suit the current occupant’s needs.
Under cabinet lighting in both the kitchen and the bathroom is a welcome addition during the nighttime hours and can keep falling and post-sunset accidents to a minimum. Gentle night-lighting will also prevent little ones and elders from being disoriented or fearful in the dark.
Balance an open floor plan with private space
Open floor plans are certainly accessible. However, in a household with multiple generations in residence, it can also feel like there’s no place to call your own. Be thoughtful about creating different zones within the central area so there is room for those watching TV as well as those who want to curl up and read a book or focus on their homework. Your interior designer can assist you in using area rugs, pony walls, furniture arrangements and other tricks of the trade so there are plenty of areas for your family members to feel at home.
Not only will your home benefit from livable design features, it will also be more appealing for future homebuyers.