Inside Out (Australia)
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Flexible design is key if you end up with parents (or adult kids) living at your place. The experts share their advice on making it work for everyone
Flexible design is essential when two generations (or more!) come together under one roof
Homes that can accommodate two or more generations living under the same roof are back in vogue. The combination of steep house prices and an ageing population is resulting in more children staying at home longer, and elderly parents moving back in with their adult children with an eye on needing assistance further down the track. With blocks getting smaller and land becoming pricier, it also makes sense for families to combine resources. According to research compiled by City Futures Research Centre at UNSW, about 20 per cent of the Australian population now lives in a multi-generational household, and it’s a trend that builders have duly noted. “Probably five years ago, the ‘guest suite’ version of a floor plan didn’t sell at all,” says Stephen Thompson, managing director at Allworth Homes. “But now our most popular designs are floor plans with guest suites.” Here’s what you need to know if you’re renovating or designing with family in mind.
That second living space could easily be turned into a bedroom and ensuite arrangement STEPHEN THOMPSON, ALLWORTH HOMES
Consider who you need to accommodate, and take a look around your home to see whether it’s possible to reconfigure your existing layout. Ideally, you’re looking to create a zone that your family members can call their own, such as a bedroom-ensuite set-up with enough space to fit a sitting area. If your home already has two living areas, you’re well placed for a multi-generational renovation. “That second living space, maybe with a next-door powder room, could easily be turned into a bedroom and ensuite arrangement,” says Stephen. A multi-storied house can lend itself well to creating private zones, but access is a key factor; elderly relatives may struggle with stairs, making an upper-level renovation unsuitable. On the other hand, turning your top floor over to your adult children – especially if you can close it off in some way – might be just the ticket.
For bigger adjustments, it pays to plan ahead. “Talk to an architect and create a masterplan that projects as far into the future as possible,” says Andrew Benn from Benn + Penna Architecture, who created an award-winning, multi-generational home for his own family from two adjacent Balmain terraces. “Maybe even put your development application in to council with more than you may end up doing, just to give you that flexibility.”
Extending? Think out rather than up. “Usually mobility is a big issue, so the best option would be to consider an addition on the ground floor,” says Andrew. “If your block is wide enough, you could build an add-on to the side of the home.” In the terraces that Andrew and his family share with his mother, the houses are separate domains, while the backyards connect up towards the rear to become the communal area. “If you build a side wing, both generations could have access to the garden and you could even zone the garden into separate spaces, depending on its size,” explains Andrew.
If you have room on your block, building a self-contained studio in the backyard can be a great solution to housing more than one generation. At a minimum, and especially for older relatives, try to include a bedroom, bathroom and separate kitchen-living area that is spacious enough for entertaining. However, there are some design tricks that can make the most of a smaller studio footprint for older teenagers or adult children, such as fitting a mezzanine sleeping platform or incorporating a wall bed.
Another idea that is gaining traction, especially on inner-city blocks, is building an apartment above the garage, with rear access via the laneways. “Often the home is on a long thin block, so if someone is living at the far end of the block over the garage, then privacy is not an issue,” explains Andrew Benn. “Usually, the cost is kept down, too, because the builders have good access down the back lane, and the granny flats tend to add value.” As a bonus, services such as power and water can be metered separately, which can help avoid potential arguments over the home’s running costs.
pretty and practical
When it comes to the home’s aesthetics, satisfying the different generations’ ideas of a beautiful interior can be tricky, especially if your grandmother wants to move her collection of much-loved antique furniture into your pared-back, Scandi-style home. Hiving off a separate zone makes it easier to embrace style differences, but where you have communal spaces, make sure everyone has a say rather than allowing one faction to dictate the whole look. “It’s fair that the home reflects everyone’s tastes to a degree,” says interiors stylist Naomi Findlay, who recommends agreeing on the ‘hero’ items of the house and then adding individual touches. “These days, interior designs are very fluid, so contemporary and classic can be hybrids of a few different styles,” she explains. “You can also unite your different styles through pops of colour or texture.”
There are practical considerations to be thought of too. Bear in mind that a grandparent may require a warmer room than the rest of the household in cold weather, so you may want to fit a heating system that allows you to set different temperatures in different zones. Good lighting, non-slip surfaces, handrails and lever doorknobs and tapware are among the inclusions that will make life easier and safer for both elderly and very young relatives.