Modern Family: Multi-generational living

More than ever, families are coming together under one roof out of necessity. And it’s a global phenomenon. Multi-generational households, which are defined as two or more generations of related adults living under one roof, are on the rise.

Between 1957 and 2011 the number of multi-generational households has increased almost 60 per cent, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported. Now as many as one in four adult children aged 20 to 34 in Australia are opting to stay with parents to save a deposit or continue studying.

A paper delivered at the 2013 State of Australian Cities conference revealed that one in five Australians, or more than four million people, share their home with parents, adult children or other extended family. The proportions are higher in cities. This equated to a 57 per cent increase in just 30 years. More than a quarter (27 per cent) lived together for care arrangement and support, and more than half (55 per cent) did so for financial reasons.

The benefits flow well beyond the obvious. reported in 2015 about a University of Oxford study that found teenagers were happier when grandparents were involved in their upbringing. The study of more than 1500 school-age kids concluded that teens who spent more time with a grandparent had fewer emotional and behavioural problems than their peers and were better prepared to handle adverse life events, such as death, divorce or bullying. The same study attained similar results in Israel, Malaysia and South Africa. Likewise, it reported that a Boston College study found that adult grandchildren and their grandparents showed fewer symptoms of depression if they maintained an “emotionally close relationship”.

The older generation would also rather live at home than in a retirement village. Home Instead Senior Care found families were coming together for three primary reasons: To share caregiving duties (either the senior needs care or provides care to grandchildren), seniors feel the need for physical or emotional support if they lose a spouse, have health issues or can’t maintain their property; and, the economy is affecting the financial outlook of seniors living on fixed incomes.     

At a time when one would normally expect Baby Boomers to be downsizing at this stage of their lives, many are trading up – for the sake of family. Calls have even been made to give tax breaks to families where there are three generations living under one roof.

The changing demographics of households has spawned nicknames such as the Sandwich Generation, Boomerang Kids and the SKI Generation (Spending the Kids Inheritance). Younger members of the Baby Boomers are sometimes referred to as “the Sandwich Generation” because they have children still living at home in addition to elderly parents. Second, Australia has had a wave of so-called “Boomerang Kids” moving back in with their parents because of the cost of living and rising property prices.

The good news is that builders are adapting to the changing circumstances. Many are integrating floorplans that provide adaptability to reflect the various stages in life of its occupants. Flexibility is the mantra in terms of design but in an ideal world, the design should enhance the lifestyle of all.

One of the major pieces of advice for those considering multi-generational living is to ensure each generation has their own space, and this has been noted by many building firms who have taken it to the next level by implementing universal access principles. At first glance, homes look and feel more spacious but they also factor in environmental performance, versatility, social inclusiveness and useability.

First and foremost, universal access principles improve accessibility for those with mobility challenges, such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women or those with an injury or disability. It may be immediately evident in flat walkways to a flush entry, wide doorways and halls (for pram or wheelchairs), toilets with clear access and reinforced walls in bathroom and toilet for the safe installation of grab rails. It extends to open (walk-in) showers to eliminate trip hazards, ground-level toilet with clear access, and open-plan living with generous circulation space in key areas, such as the kitchen and dining room. The design of homes for multi-generational living generally factor in larger bedroom sizes, two-way bathrooms, guest bedrooms with an en suite and walk-in robe, granny flat options (attached and detached) and multiple living areas.

Long Island Homes’ sales and marketing general manager Susan McDermott said the multicultural aspects of Melbourne had greatly influenced house designs over the past decade, with many of the company’s designers being asked to “make room for our parents”. “Ninety per cent of our double-storey designs have a parents retreat and a master bedroom on the ground floor. The owners have it all planned out…mum and dad will be on the ground floor so they don’t have to battle with stairs. It will then be used later (by the owners) if their knees or backs become sore,” McDermott said. “Adding small en suites to each bedroom is another common request for a double-storey home, and our new designs that offer an upstairs kitchenette have been very well received. In single-storey designs an additional en suite for ‘our parents’ is often asked for.”

McDermott said the toilet usually won’t be included in the downstairs bathroom, or a powder room may be added to satisfy peak demand. “It (the toilet) will be separate, with a vanity providing a multifunctional area for a busy household, to cleanse your face and hands, clean your teeth, apply make-up and style your hair,” she said.

Porter Davis interior designer Koraly Symeou said having several living spaces was the key to successful multi-generational living. These areas may include a theatre room, a lounge room or study, all of which can revert to utility rooms if required. Symeou said double-storey dwellings were the norm for multi-generational living, particularly as block sizes increasingly became smaller. But single-level designs, such as the Dunedin, were also suitable.

“Having a variety of living spaces is important, so the various family members have a space they can escape to, where it doesn’t feel like you’re living on top of one another,” Symeou said. “It’s all about creating a noise and privacy buffer. Perhaps the most crucial component is a large communal space off the kitchen in which everyone can feel comfortable. It has plenty of natural light and usually combines with an al fresco space for indoor/outdoor living.”

Symeou said the five bedrooms and five bathrooms contained within the Waldorf was a popular design with extended families. The Astor was another. “Having en suites with most of the bedrooms means that you’re not fighting over bathrooms and not feeling as if you’re on holiday,” she said.

Just as virtual reality tours bring an extra dimension to the online experience, Symeou said Porter Davis provided interactive floorplans that enabled users to tailor designs to suit the changing needs of their families. “Ultimately, the design will come down to the family and how they live,” Symeou said. “But it’s inevitable people will create spaces to suit them because people enjoy living with their family.”

Laser screens or shutters were one way of creating privacy or increasing visibility in activity spaces, such as a study to allow people to work while they monitor the kids. Or a sliding door to close off a busy area. Second kitchens – either housed in the butler’s pantry or in the outdoor room – allow food preparation behind the scenes to contain odours and mess. They work well in conjunction with servery windows, fireplaces or firepit, ceiling fans, and outdoor sheers or blinds for a year-round entertaining space. “Melbourne doesn’t have the most consistent weather, but we want people to enjoy their life in their home – inside and out,” Symeou said.     

Dennis Family Homes’ Inspirations 2016 Series also incorporates many such features. The single-storey Hartley and Cosgrove and the double-storey Churchill and Balmoral have been designed for extended family. Dennis Family Homes general manager Mike Butler said the Hartley and Cosgrove designs have a dual-entry shared bathroom – one of which is from a bedroom that is larger than the others. A powder room provides extra accessibility.

Likewise, the 38-square Churchill 382 design has a larger main bedroom at the front of the home and three bedrooms upstairs, all with an en suite. The 50-square Balmoral 503 design has it all. With four living spaces and five bedrooms, all with en suite and walk-in robe, it has plenty of space for adult children or grandparents. 

Given that up to three generations are inhabiting one home, storage is another vital area. “There are many areas in a home design to accommodate extra storage,” McDermott said. “We specialise in providing walk-in linen cupboards and storage cupboards in the entry hallway, if the design permits. Laundry space can be converted into a European laundry, leaving more room for storage. Or you can move the European laundry to the garage, giving you even more internal storage. Enclosed stairs to double-storey homes also provides a great storage area. Attics may also become popular due to this trend.”

“Large homes for multi-generational living or very small homes for affordability is where the market is heading. And there’s no doubt the house design is the key to accommodate this change,” McDermott said.

Words: Ross McGravie

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