According to the 2000 Census, 3.9 million American
homes have three or more generations living together. (Seventy-eight
thousand households contain four generations.) “One
segment of this growing population is baby boomers caring for aging
parents,” notes Janie Murnane, president of Design Basics,
“Another group consists of younger families
who live with able-bodied parents in order to pool finances in expensive
housing markets or so they both can afford to live in a nicer home.
Having grandparents involved in their grandchildren’s lives
and available for babysitting is an added bonus.
“The last group is made up of empty nesters
who welcome their grown children back for a period of time to help
them get on their feet financially after graduating from college,
losing a job or going through a divorce.
“A well-designed in-law suite can make sharing
a household much more enjoyable for everyone. But before getting
started, it’s important to check local codes to see if there
are any restrictions. For example, some municipalities prohibit
a single-family home from having two full kitchens or a suite having
a separate entrance. Others will allow these options, but will require
homeowners to verify a relative is living in the space.”
“Privacy is one of the most important features to consider,” comments
Design Basics Custom Home Designer Marshall Wallman. “A home that provides
private spaces for each generation and comfortable, common gathering areas
offers the best of both worlds.
“Location is the obvious starting point. Commonly, the in-law suite is
located on the main floor in case there are accessibility issues at some point.
In a ranch, it should be separated from the other bedrooms.
“Creating a suite on another level offers extra seclusion. In a 1-story
home, it may be the only bedroom suite on the main level– which may later
become the master suite.
“ Finished lower level suites work well if the family members don’t
have mobility problems or if an elevator can be added. I designed one home for
a couple who had two bedrooms in the basement for the wife’s parents; the
parents used the rec room’s bar for their kitchen.”
“If the family entertains frequently in the basement, the in-laws may prefer
a separate kitchenette so they don’t feel like they’re intruding,” remarks
Carl Cuozzo, also a custom home designer with Design Basics.
“I designed an in-law suite on a second level for an active widow who lived
with her daughter and son-in-law,” Cuozzo continues. “I stacked two
closets on the main floor and upper level so that an elevator could easily be
added if it was ever needed.“ Having the suite near an outside entrance
to the home or including its own exterior door adds privacy to the suite – so
visiting friends don’t have to come through the rest of the home.”
Soundproofing is a final way to maintain privacy. Older people who
are hard of hearing may turn their television volume up; young adults
enjoy listening to movies and music louder than other family members
prefer. “ Using insulation, sound board (special dry wall),
two layers of dry wall or sound channels (corrugated rubber behind the
dry wall) in interior walls and solid doors will help quite a bit,” advises
“Adding an acoustical wall covering will help
absorb sound as well,” adds Grant Gribble of Gribble Interior
Group in Orlando and a national spokesperson for the American Society
of Interior Designers. “So will drapery and other soft surfaces.”
Plan 42045 features an
optional Apartment Suite.
“ It’s so important to make the other generation feel they have their
own space that’s not just an offshoot of the main home,” says Gribble. “Even
a simple kitchenette – with a small table, microwave, sink and fridge – will
allow them to have breakfast by themselves, warm up some leftovers or have
a snack on their own schedule.”
“In a smaller suite that doesn’t have its own living space, it’s
preferable t o a t l e a s t have a bedroom big enough to accommodate a sitting
area for a loveseat, a couple of chairs and a television set, so the residents
can entertain guests privately,” observes Cuozzo. “ A roomy
walk-in closet is also important. It can be difficult for people to
part with too many belongings, especially items with sentimental value.”
If the in-law suite will be used by aging parents, incorporating
some universal features in the beginning will be most cost effective. “It
may only cost $6 extra to put in a 36-inch door during construction,
but it could cost $650 to change it later,” explains Wallman.
“The bath should receive special attention. Extra space around the toilet
is another thing that is hard to add later,” notes Gribble. “A no-threshold,
trackless shower will be the most accessible. Vinyl or linoleum flooring and
rounded corners can reduce the possibility of injuries. Another accessible feature,
an elongated toilet, provides a higher end appearance at the same time. An elevated
commode may also be desirable – provided residents aren’t small
“Installing backing materials in the walls for possible grab bars around
the toilet is a way to make the bath universal-ready. There’s also a company
that makes grab bars that actually enhance a bath’s decor rather than
fight against it. Their web site,www.GreatGrabz.com offers grab bars that
sexy, with matching towel racks, toilet tissue holders and robe hooks.
“Incorporating lots of natural light (ideally with a view) and plenty of
ambient lighting will keep the space cheery and be particularly appreciated
by anyone over 50, experiencing changes in vision. If homeowners are concerned
having too much light, they can always install dimmers.
While planning an in-law suite, it’s wise to remember it may only
be used for a limited time. Make sure it can flex to other purposes when
it’s no longer needed; perhaps it may be used as a guest suite,
a home office or a master suite. Be careful not to design a space so
specialized it would impair the home’s future resale value.
Photos by Ray Andreski.
Originally Printed in the Fall 2006 issue of
Design Basics Her Home Magazine.