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.
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.
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.
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 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.