Want par­ents close by? Build a granny suite

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - DAVID SQUARE

FIF­TEEN years ago, it was frowned upon to ap­ply for a per­mit to build an ad­di­tion called a granny suite. In those days, the pre­ferred nomen­cla­ture em­ployed by the City of Win­nipeg was ser­vants’ quar­ters. Ap­par­ently, the city’s man­darins be­lieved granny suites would be­come rental units in parts of the me­trop­o­lis not zoned for rental. There­fore the pru­dent choice for a name for such an ad­di­tion be­came ser­vants’ quar­ters, with its im­plied un­der­stand­ing only fam­ily re­tain­ers would oc­cupy the ren­o­va­tion, cer­tainly not street plebs who might clog re­spectable neigh­bour­hoods with beat­ers and beer cans. This logic could have made sense at the turn of the last cen­tury, when even mid­dle-class fam­i­lies could af­ford to keep a maid or two, but in this post-mod­ern world, very few of us can af­ford or de­sire to do so. It took about a decade be­fore mod­ern city plan­ners re­al­ized the wind­fall in tax rev­enue that would be gen­er­ated by al­low­ing granny suites (ser­vants’ quar­ters weren’t cut­ting it) to pro­lif­er­ate through­out the city, and, af­ter 10 years, a lot of the old prudes who had favoured the term ser­vants’ quar­ters over granny suites had re­tired and were living in the lat­ter. Ad­mit­tedly, granny suite is not a moniker that will win the ap­proval of fem­i­nists, or even nor­mal women. Per­son­ally, I would not be of­fended if they were called grandpa suites; how­ever, that might sug­gest some­thing un­tidy and, well, un-vac­u­umed, such as a man cave. Bet­ter, I think, to re­tain the ti­tle of granny suites as we all know grannies are im­pec­ca­ble house­keep­ers, ac­com­plished cooks and re­ally great babysit­ters. (Is grandpa go­ing to read to the grand­kids at bed­time? No, he’s go­ing to keep them up to all hours watch­ing a Jet’s game.) Granny suites, if you have been won­der­ing, are clas­si­fied as ren­o­va­tions that in­clude their own sources of power, wa­ter and sewage. They av­er­age 800 to 1,000 square feet into which is fit­ted a bed­room or two, a bath­room, a living/dining area and a fam­ily room. Depend­ing on size, some suites have a laun­dry, but this is not re­quired be­cause the main house to which the suite is at­tached has a com­mon washer/dryer area shared by all fam­ily mem­bers. A large, out­door deck is ac­ces­si­ble from a door in the kitchen.

MARIA and Miguel San­tos kindly showed me their granny suite in St. Vi­tal. About two years ago, it was added onto a large house owned by Maria’s daugh­ter and son-in­law. Maria said she and her hus­band de­cided to sell their condo in a dis­tant part of the city so they could live next to her fam­ily, in­clud­ing two grand­chil­dren aged two and four. “My daugh­ter and her hus­band both work, so the grand­kids stay with us when their par­ents are at work or away,” said Maria. The granny suite is sep­a­rated from the main house by a four-car garage, a short, in­door walk for Maria or Miguel when they pick up or re­turn the grand­chil­dren. “It is such a joy for us to be close to our fam­ily and to be a part of their grow­ing up,” said Maria, who has lived in the suite with Miguel for more than two years. “When we lived in our condo, it was so much work to get the kids. Now we can be with them when­ever we want,” she said. For his part, Miguel said he en­joys watch­ing the fam­ily grow and ap­pre­ci­ates the short drive from St. Vi­tal to the cen­tre of Win­nipeg. The cou­ple’s daugh­ter said she rec­om­mends the living ar­range­ment be­cause her par­ents are avail­able to babysit and, more im­por­tantly, can par­tic­i­pate in fam­ily life with the op­tion of re­turn­ing to their own pri­vate space when they are tired. The suite was built by Larry Lar­wyn of Lar­wyn Cus­tom Homes for about $130,000, a very re­spectable price con­sid­er­ing the cost of ren­o­vat­ing in to­day’s mar­ket or the price of a new home. Lar­wyn said granny suites are popular be­cause they are an in­ex­pen­sive al­ter­na­tive to con­dos or sin­gle-de­tached dwellings. “They also keep el­derly peo­ple out of care homes where they are left alone and shut off from fam­ily and friends,” said Lar­wyn, who has built a num­ber of suites in dif­fer­ent parts of Win­nipeg. One of his most re­cent was com­pleted in Wolse­ley, an area with a stock of larger homes that are be­ing con­verted back to their up­per-mid­dle-class 1900s splen­dour— many in­clude ser­vants’ quar­ters or, as we now call them, granny suites. Lar­wyn can be reached at 204-9976770.


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