How to design a multi-generational home

A well-considered layout, dedicated spaces for each family member, and an area to enjoy together are key to multi-generational space, says architectural designer Greg Toon

TODO alt text

Many of us are preparing to accommodate extra guests during 
the festive season, but for some, this 
is a permanent state of being. Granny flats have been with us for a long time, but with the rise of Generation Rent, we have ‘graddy’ flats – spaces for offspring returning to live at home after graduating. With average house prices doubling in only 10 years and high elderly care costs we have seen a 46 
per cent increase in multi-generational homes in the last decade*.

Well-thought-out house design is key to living in a multi-family home and 
can greatly mitigate the pressures 
of three – or even four – generations living under one roof.


Related articles: How to add more space with a garden room | How to create a open plan house | Zoning an open plan space | How to create a new kitchen design


Plan your multi-generational space

Firstly, do you have to live under one roof? For many, the pooling of financial resources will open up a multitude of options. Grandparents downsizing their home will likely have made a good profit and, in most cases, younger generations should be able to contribute rent, too.

If you’re heading towards the prospect of multi-generational living, it’s a good idea to sit down together and discuss the savings you could make to fund the adaptation. Remember to budget for future changes, such as elderly care, and allow younger members the ability to save a deposit for their own place.

Consider moving

It might make sense to move house, 
choosing somewhere with a decent amount of land that has potential for extra development, which planners 
may resist on a smaller site. Look for properties with large rear gardens and 
a good driveway to maintain suitable access should you build additional living space.

A large site with self-contained accommodation could feasibly be divided up and sold off in the future, so could be a good, long-term investment, as well as a solution to many family members living in the same property.

multi generational home

Create the most practical layout to suit everyone

Whether staying in your existing home and making room for relatives, or buying somewhere new that suits everyone’s needs, it always makes sense to have accommodation for grandparents on the ground floor, providing easy access. This will likely free up space on the first floor, which you could utilise as a living area, or even a second lounge for younger generations.

If you have created independent living spaces and are now 
tight for space, consider keeping the lounge 
room smaller and cosier, rather than sizing it for the whole family. Instead, use a projector screen in the family kitchen area for when everybody wants to watch TV together. Or, you could forgo a downstairs living room completely and install a sitting room off the master bedroom for some sanctuary.

In my experience, the youngest residents can be brilliantly creative when it comes to accommodation: give them a quirky, or odd-shaped space and a budget to do it up and they’ll be much happier in it than in a conventional square bedroom. Think lofts or converted garages and outbuildings with bed-level mezzanines, which offer both opportunity for fun design, as well as a contained space 
that feels like their own.

Think about linking and separation

This is often one of the hardest aspects to resolve. On one hand, both the older and younger generations will crave some independence, but on the other, they need links to shared family spaces. Creating links that function well is tricky – no one really wants a door in their living room that has guests asking 
what it is and having to answer: 
“oh, that’s Zac’s bedroom”. For a harmonious house, it is ideal if the 
older and younger generations have their own small, set-away living 
spaces and kitchens, places to 
escape to when it all gets too much.

Include a social hub for the family

Multi-generational living fits well 
with the trend for large, family-centric kitchen spaces where everyone can 
get together to cook, eat, relax and entertain. Remember though, poorly designed kitchens or spaces with too much furniture in can be frustrating when several people are using the 
area, so including circulation space 
in the design is crucial – at least 1.3m between units is ideal.

If space is limited, think about multifunctional solutions: a dining table can double 
as a worktop for food preparation or 
a large island can be both work surface and diner. Use sofas and rugs in 
the space to help diffuse noise, as well as create zones for different uses.

greg toom project manager

Greg Toon is the founder of architectural design business Potential etc

He specialises in providing affordable concept designs to help homeowners and buyers visualise the potential of their properties.

He writes a regular column for The Sunday Times’ Home supplement on designing solutions for readers’ problem houses.