Courtesy of Paradigm Building Group
Courtesy of Paradigm Building Group

Demographics are leading some residential architects to adjust their initial client conversations. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the over-65 population growing from 47 million in 2015 to 71 million by 2030. In a 2016 Home Advisor survey, respondents over age 55 said they wanted to stay at home for as long as possible. The result? More households than ever will be accommodating multiple adult generations.

"We're getting more requests for homes that accommodate multiple generations," says Tim Winter of Paradigm Building Group, a design/build firm in Fairfax, Va. "A lot of clients are asking for a first-floor en-suite bedroom for aging parents." If the parents' won't be moving in just yet, the room can be configured as a study or guest room.

The rise of the multigenerational home means the programming model should include conversations with more people and a deeper look at lifestyle issues, according to Chantilly, Va.-based architect Warren Ralston, AIA. Ralston raises the possibility of an older parent eventually moving with all clients.

The reaction has been positive. "People in their 30s or 40s appreciate that we're helping them plan ahead," he says. Given the exorbitant cost of assisted living facilities, clients are increasingly asking for features that will ultimately make their own houses more accessible. These include:

  • Blocking in walls where they might need to install grab bars
  • Baths with curbless showers and enough floor space for a wheelchair
  • Wide interior doorways
  • Lots of interior lighting
  • Contrasting surface colors
  • Large, easy-to-open casement windows in lieu of hard-to operate double-hungs
  • No-step entries

His goal is to make accessibility subtle: "You don't want people to recognize that the light switch is in an unusual position or that there's a different flow pattern in the bath." He also uses good aesthetics to downplay the accessibility features. "In that bigger bath, for instance, we will put high priority on nice finishes," he says.

If possible, Ralston tries to include the seniors in the discussion—that ensures he can design a home that works well for everyone. "With good design you're creating a tailored suit rather than trying to shoehorn them into something off the rack," he says. "With a multigenerational household, that tailoring has to take all members of the family into account."

Although most people approach multigenerational design as a necessity, Ralston points out the positives, especially when clients have school-age children. Multigenerational living means that children will grow up as part of an extended family—which most Americans did until very recently and which is still the norm in much of the world. Additionally, parents will have a trusted adult in the home. "When the husband and wife both work, it's great to have a grandparent at home to watch the kids."

For design inspiration and window and door products for multigenerational homes, click here.