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Multi-generational living spaces

Multi-Generational Living: Creating Separate Spaces Under One Roof

According to Statistics Canada and CTV News, multi-generational homes are rising amid increasing costs and are the fastest-growing household type in Canada.

Immigration is fuelling some of this trend, with first-generation Canadians of foreign heritage living with parents, an accepted norm in their cultures. Multi-generational living has been the norm in many European countries – particularly in Southern Europe – dating back centuries.

During the pandemic, many Canadian families were forced to think differently. Many families departed from the nuclear family model, moving together to share resources, reduce expenses and provide care for grandparents or sick family members who chose to isolate together.

Rising living costs are significant hurdles for young people looking for affordable housing. Rental rates are skyrocketing across Canada, forcing many young people to live with roommates or move back in with their parents. And it’s not only affecting singles; many married couples with children are struggling with rent, or they are trying to save for a downpayment on a home.

Many Canadians lost their jobs and small businesses during the lockdowns, putting a strain on finances that made it very difficult to make mortgage payments on time. A return to multigenerational family living is a familial solution that is proving to be a financially, legally, and emotionally viable alternative to toughing it out in separate households.

New construction vs. remodelling

Common wisdom is that it’s less expensive to remodel an existing home than build a new custom home. In Canada, most existing single-family homes were not designed for multi-generational living, so multi-generational remodels can be extensive and costly. Building new gives you the most control over the outcome, and how your completed home will look and function.

That being said, builders in the Greater Vancouver area are saying that almost every renovation client wants to remodel their property to accommodate three-plus generations. Parents are looking for a way to help their adult children out financially, while re-designing their home to either age in place themselves, or to make it available to in-laws.

Remodelling is viewed as a succession planning strategy, a way to self-actualize or simply to have more space available to accommodate the family on visits or special occasions.

With remodels and renovations, you will be more limited to the confines of the original structure. To accommodate more people, basements and attics can be finished, walls can be moved, and perhaps you can even add horizontally, to the main floor, or upward, by adding a floor.

Optimizing common spaces

Open floor plans and large common spaces offer areas for an extended family to congregate both inside the home and outdoors. Spacious great rooms, open kitchens and extended outdoor living spaces are generally preferable to formal living and dining rooms.

Some families may prefer a large eat-in kitchen, where everyone sits around a large table for a traditional dinner. And other families like to gather in front of the large screen TV, with everyone grabbing a plate and serving themselves buffet-style. While others in mild-weather regions like BC’s West Coast enjoy eating and relaxing outdoors for three seasons of the year.

Accessibility and universal design standards

Your family may not have any pressing accessibility needs at present, but if you are living with aging family members, it’s important to consider how their needs could change over the years to come. Making spaces wheelchair accessible, with an energizing balance of artificial and natural lighting, and height-adjustable furniture are ways to future-proof your new home design or remodel.

A universally-designed home is built with accessibility in mind and includes features like wider hallways, bedrooms on the first floor, walk-in showers without a step, and flat walkways leading up to the exterior doors, instead of stairs. Open spaces make it easier for family members who may require the use of a wheelchair or walker.

Putting bedrooms and kitchens on the main floor

For multi-generational homes, it’s important to have a bedroom or two, and a full bathroom, on the main level. If some family members will be aging in place, it’s important to plan for the eventuality of restricted mobility, even if the in-laws currently have no mobility challenges.

Having grandparents or other elderly family members living on the main floor, while the younger generations have bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, or in the basement, supports autonomy and can help to create useful boundaries for family members.

Another option is to use a main floor bedroom as a home office, playroom or workout room until it’s needed as a bedroom. Converting another space into a bedroom is more difficult than converting the bedroom into another useful space for a few years; and then restoring it to its original function.

Designing the kitchen for connection

For most families, the kitchen has become the hub of the home, particularly since most families have been spending more time together following the lockdowns. If cooking is a family bonding activity in your home, there must be enough room to allow for more than one person to be prepping and cooking at one time.

If there are children or people with wheelchairs, providing some lower countertops, in a split-level configuration, will allow them to be involved in cooking, while feeling useful and more independent. In multi-generational households, a kitchen island is almost essential, offering additional seating, storage, countertop surface and a place for a cooktop, sink or dishwasher. Islands can be the solution to creating the ideal work triangle between the stove, refrigerator and sink.

With people of all ages sharing the kitchen, storing pantry items or kitchen utensils so they are easy to find or reach can greatly improve its functionality. Storing dishes in pull-out drawers at waist level can make plates, cups and cutlery available to everyone without requesting assistance.

Living and thriving with in-laws

In-laws live with their adult children and grandchildren for a variety of reasons. In some cases they choose to sacrifice some of their independence, to reduce their living expenses to help their children shoulder their mortgage. Or they may be looking to downsize now that their children have moved out, and the children are quick to see the advantages of renting the basement suite or carriage house to their parents rather than to strangers.

In other situations, a parent may require in-home care or feel very much alone after the passing of their spouse. Your family’s unique needs will determine whether you want shared spaces within the main building, a separate in-law suite or a completely separate building like a carriage house.

In-law suites typically have a bedroom or two, a bathroom, a kitchen, and a living space. They have a separate entrance, so the occupants can come and go as they please, without walking through the main floor. However, if both parties agree, your in-law suite could be connected via a door.

Privacy and multiple living spaces

Privacy needs can vary depending on the makeup of your household, the age range and cultural norms. For example, a family that recently immigrated to Canada from a European or Asian city where they grew up in a multi-generational household is likely to require less privacy and personal space than a third-generation Canadian family that is only considering living together with in-laws for the first time.

Having several generations under the same roof can feel somewhat suffocating to many Canadians. If a separate in-law suite isn’t practical, creating distinct living spaces for each generation can provide everyone with some much-needed privacy. If the grandparents live on the main floor, the parents live on one end of the hall upstairs, with the main bathroom separating them from the children’s bedrooms on the other end of the hall, each generation has its dedicated area.

Ensuites can be designed for each generation, to further enhance the privacy offered by each living space, with one off the master bedroom, another shared ensuite between the children’s bedrooms, and one in the grandparent’s bedroom downstairs.

Well-designed other rooms can serve as quiet retreats, such as a family room, playroom, den, home office, workout room, reading or sewing room, or even the laundry room. Add one or two comfortable chairs in the laundry room and it can become a quiet haven in a bustling multi-generational household.

Extending your living space outdoors

Outdoor living spaces have become a popular home design trend in Canada, and they can be particularly valuable for multi-generational homes where space is at a premium. You can maximize your outdoor space, backyard or rooftop patio to increase your functional living area during fair-weather months.

Outdoor living space options include conversation areas with fire pits, outdoor theatres, outdoor kitchens and dining areas, pools, swim spas, hot tubs, water features, pergolas, gazebos, decks, and lush gardens.

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