Living with in-laws? Adult children? Everyone's doing it these days. Editorial Director Joanna Saltz talks with five designers about creating homes that span generations.
Joanna Saltz: I think now more than ever people are talking about real-life issues that impact how we live. And one of those is the fact that more homes than ever in America right now have multiple generations under one roof.
Kristen Peña: With COVID, we’ve seen a lot of our clients want additional space for, say, their parents, or even for themselves—in my own home we had an office in our ADU space and now with the kids at home we needed to spread out as a family, so we kind of reclaimed that space for a family hangout.
Jess Weeth: It’s interesting; where I work in Rehoboth Beach, which is normally a very quiet town, you see people have kind of been moving away from cities when they can and spending more tine in their vacation homes. I worked on one project with three generations of women, and their plan was to spend maybe four months a year there today. But now they are living there because they’re working from home.
Bryan Mason: My family’s home is multi-generational in a different way, in the sense that six generations of my family have lived in this home. The African American experience of home has been a little different because it’s included periods of being regarded as both refugees and immigrants. My mother’s side came up from South Carolina in the 40s or 50s and purchased a home. At the time it was relatively common to have people living in larger groups. So it was my great-great grandmother and her daughters end eventually my mother. Since then, that house has been sort of a cornerstone for the entire family. Everyone lived there for awhile—it was that place that was always there if somebody needed a place to stay. Now my sister’s son is the sixth generation to live there. When my sister and her husband moved in we did some renovation because it hadn’t been done in years and years.
Jo: My family grew up in the Jewish area of the Bronx and it was a very similar situation, where they had one family home that everyone came through. I think that speaks to the question, too, of, how do you create a space that not only makes different people happy, but pays respect to the past?
Bryan: We actually found a crystal chandelier that had been in the basement, and we were able to restore it and hang it there. So it’s a different sense of inter-generational but it’s similar in the sense that it’s all about the story you tell.
Jess: It’s an interesting challenge to work to make things ADA-compliant and handicap-accessible but also gel with the overall concept.
Natalie Kraiem: Right now I’m in an apartment we designed for my in-laws, and we’ve been living with them since March. One thing I do with all the multi-generational homes I work on is I really try to reconfigure spaces to maximize them. The apartment I’m in is a three-bedroom apartment but we brought in bunk beds and folding beds—I’m working at the dining table. Everyone can find a space to work and live.
Chet Callahan: We’re working on a multi-generational compound in Culver City that started because there was a family of four, who wanted grandparents to be closer. They started looking for real estate, but LA is not very affordable, so they began thinking about how they could adapt their existing house to make it possible for all six of them to live together. So I felt like we were really responding to many real-world realities. And there’s a lot of thinking too about how one can have that private space and be able to retreat but also commune and be part of the larger group.
Bryan: Looking at this statistic, I think we have to ask whether this is just an interesting trend or the result of specific social and economic factors?
Jo: Absolutely. Because there is a housing cirrus in America. And in a lot of ways people like you are helping people make sound decisions so they do have a comfortable place to live.
Jo: Now that we’ve had this experience, do you think we will see this desire to sort of hunker down with loved ones grow?
Jess: I think we’ve been able to be more present in out homes and not be caught up in this rat race, and maybe the takeaway is we don’t need to jump right back into that pace.
Kristen: I have two daughters that I feel have appreciated family in a way I didn’t know would ever be possible. So I hope we are appreciating each other more.
Bryan: I think in many ways you’re giving people more of their lives back not sitting in a cubicle. And they’re still getting their work done but you have that choice of what you do.
Natalie: I think it’s teaching us a lesson and making us want to improve our quality of life by living within our means but also trying to find space. And right now we need these spaces more than ever. You don’t have restaurants, you don’t have the gym—you have to find it within your own house.
Chet: I think there will really be a push towards flexibility in general. For a long time we've been thinking strategically about how to integrate these kind of additional living spaces within a single family house.I mean we've always needed our support systems and maybe COVID is giving a space to think more deeply about what that is and what how we might design spaces differently. But it’s also highlighting the kind of two Americas where there are workers who are out of work and then those who can afford to do this.
Bryan: Right, the nature is that those who can afford it get that freedom so ultimately we have to be mindful about how we shift. How do we prevent that from happening? How to we create flexibility that leads to equity and not say that only those with economic access have the right to survive?
Chet: I do think that greater flexibility in home design could help create a more equitable future. For example, when you're falling hard times, having an apartment or a space within your house that could be apportioned off as an apartment that you could rent out to someone or even just provide a home for a family member who has fallen on hard times and needs a place to live. I think that our homes could become a bigger safety net for our extended families, and even for ourselves.
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