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Adaptable spaces / flexible custom home spaces

Designing for Flexibility: Adaptable Spaces in Custom Homes

Over the past few years, families have been spending a lot more time at home together. The lockdown restrictions caused a shift in our thinking towards creating home-based work environments, workout areas, home theatres or playrooms, and even considering the option of taking charge of our family’s futures by designing aging-in-place or multi-generational living spaces.

Many homeowners discovered there simply weren’t enough rooms to provide that level of functionality, and today’s adaptable spaces have allowed us to bring functionality and flexibility together. Adaptability ensures that each space caters to your family’s unique lifestyle, serving two or more distinct functions, to create a truly customiable living space.

What are adaptable spaces, or flex rooms?

Whether you’re designing a custom home, or a remodel, flex rooms can effortlessly transition from a lively playroom, with a kids’ sleepover overnight, to a tranquil and productive office within minutes. Toys are tossed into rollout bins and pushed into their respective cubicles, and a slide-out wall removes all traces of the room’s double life in time for your Zoom meeting. A flex space can be the perfect way to create work-life harmony.

Soundproofing and storage solutions allow you to divide your home into several multi-function spaces that won’t interfere with each other. Your fitness space can offer a quiet sanctuary to practice yoga or meditation, or a compact home gym with dumbbells or kettlebells, and an all-in-one fitness machine like a NordicTrack Fusion CST or Titan Fitness Functional Trainer. After the workout the mats are rolled up and popped in their bins, a sliding wall pulls out, the comfortable couches slide into place on rollers, and the room becomes a comfy home theatre, with a buffet table for dinner and a movie.

These are just two examples of flex spaces that can adapt to your family’s evolving needs.

Transitioning from one function to another

Call them flex, adaptable or combination rooms, these multi-purpose spaces can easily transition between an office, playroom, nursery, guest room, and workout space depending on what you need. Hidden doors or slide-out walls can provide “stealth” storage space, if the office transformation must be complete, like providing an undetectable corporate environment during an online conference call or team meeting.

In more relaxed environments, a modular storage wall with shelves, roll-out bins, drawers and doors, and perhaps a desk on wheels, will allow you to switch the functionality of the room within minutes, but without the challenge of removing all traces of its other roles. There are desks available that fold away or slide into cabinets to switch seamlessly between functions.

And then there are true dual-purpose rooms, that will typically be designed so that all of the furniture and elements can remain out at all times. A home office may function as both an office and nursery for toddlers or perhaps an art studio or sewing room. A corner of the office may include children’s tables, easels for art projects, and big cushions, or a second study desk for one of the teens during the evening hours.

What is adaptable design?

In his book, “The Adaptable House : Designing Homes for Change”, Avi Friedman contends that “physical environments should be designed and constructed to easily adjust to the evolving lifestyle of their inhabitants. A home should be structurally flexible enough to adapt to changes such as children ‘leaving the nest,’ elderly relatives moving in, or the need for home office space.”

Adaptable design can accommodate your future lifestyle changes without the need to demolish or substantially remodel your home in the future. With today’s focus on sustainability, adaptable design should be a central theme when building any new home or planning a remodel. Adaptable homes are specifically designed so that rooms and spaces can fulfill several different roles over the house’s lifetime.

As an example, over the first years, a room may serve as your young daughter’s bedroom. Then when she enters high school, a study area and larger closet may be built at one end of her room, with a door and double-sided lock to provide direct access to the bathroom. A few years later when she leaves for college, she may find a partner and marry. With a minor renovation, the room then becomes a home office, sewing room or den. But then one of your spouse’s parents passes away, so it’s decided you’ll convert that room to an in-law suite.

Adaptable homes allow you to remain in your home while children are added to the family, they grow up and leave the nest, through aging, injury or illness, and potential multi-generational living arrangements. Whether you’re building a new custom home, or renovating your current one, flexible design principles allow you to enjoy the long-term savings and benefits of sustainable and energy-efficient adaptable design.

Adaptable design principles do not only apply to floor layouts. Installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system may take a decade to pay off through monthly savings on your hydro bills. However, solar renewable energy systems can easily last 25 years, and if you’re looking at retiring within the next 10 years, those monthly savings could make it easier for you to afford to age in place.

Flexible home design can also generate an extra income for retirement. That three-car garage was considered essential when your teens were growing up, but now that they’ve moved out on their own, that space could be renovated into an attached rental or Airbnb suite. Many young adult children and couples are struggling to earn enough money to save for their own home with today’s high rental costs, so having a comfortable private suite available, with a separate entrance, could really help them out.

Designing a more functional home for life

1. Aging in place

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, “Over the next 20 years, Canada’s seniors population — those age 65 and older — is expected to grow by 68%.” To counter the shortage of senior living options that is rapidly developing, an increasing number of homeowners are choosing to live independently in their later years.

Aging-in-place design principles focus on creating spaces that are safe, comfortable, and accessible for all members of your household, of any age and ability. They promote independence and enhance the quality of life.

Many of today’s two-story houses place most of their living areas, such as the primary bedroom and bathroom, upstairs. Creating a barrier-free accessible suite on the main floor, even if those rooms accommodate guests right now, is a fantastic way to include adaptable spaces that can accommodate whatever life brings. It’s an elegant alternative to installing a stair lift and generally costs a lot less than an elevator. A typical main floor accessibility floor plan includes a spacious bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen.

Smart lighting systems can turn energy-efficient LED fixtures on as you enter the room, and off when you leave while enhancing visibility and safety. This is particularly important for seniors with reduced vision. For ease of use, door knobs can be replaced with lever handles, push/pull bars, press lever handles, or even automatic doors. Traditional light switches will usually be replaced with rockers. Wider doorways, hallways and stairways allow for wheelchairs to move between rooms effortlessly.

Kitchens can be made more accessible by installing adjustable heights in features like worktops, cabinets and tables to accommodate changing needs. Adjustable sinks, pull-out shelving, wide pathway areas for wheelchair mobility, well-placed grab bars and nonslip floors can make kitchens safer.

In the bathrooms, removing barriers is the best way to make these spaces more accessible. Features such as grab bars, non-slip flooring, curb-less or roll-in showers, or walk-in tubs, offer both safety and convenience. Virtual assistants can summon assistance in the event of a fall or other emergency.

2. Changing family situations

Children grow up, some leave for post-secondary education, and most eventually move out of the home permanently.

Many married adult children are struggling to save for a home and welcome the opportunity to move into a suite to reduce their living expenses. One of your parents may move into a suite after the loss of a spouse. According to the 2021 Census, “Multigenerational households have increased in number by 50% since 2001 – much higher than the overall increase of 30%.”

A family home often begins with one or two people. It can swell to six or seven as children are added or extended family arrangements are made, then slowly decrease to two again, or eventually one. Adaptable design anticipates the many roles your home’s spaces may have to fulfill over the years and includes flexible room functionality so that each can deliver the maximum value over several iterations.

The takeaway

If you’re designing a custom home, or planning a renovation, an emphasis on adaptable spaces and flexible solutions offers an exciting opportunity for creating a home that not only meets your current needs but also anticipates future challenges and opportunities.

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