Multigenerational Housing Meets Universal Design

by joshe on August 7, 2012

Yo te vigilo
Multifamily housing is on the rise in America, but there’s another trend, similar in name but very different in context, strongly growing across the country: multi-generational housing.

Where multifamily living suggests different families living in separate units in the same building, multi-generation living is about different generations of one family living in the same house. The reasons for the increase of multigenerational households are like a perfect storm of cause and effect. Baby boomers, the most populous segment in America, are sandwiched between adult children moving back home for economic reasons (the “Boomerang Generation”), and aging parents who may be moving in for health reasons (the Silent Generation). To top it off, some of the Boomerangers have children, so a portion of these 51.4 million households have 4 generations living under one roof – the largest increase in modern history. The multi-generational upswing is further propelled by the effects of an economic recession, waves of immigration, and increasingly delayed marriages among 25 to 34 year olds.

Those are some of the key factors behind multi-generational homes, but what are the ripple effects? How will it change the market of new homes for sale, buying a house, and real estate investing? How will it change the way homes are designed, built and remodeled? This is where Universal Design comes in.

Changing the New Home Marketplace

Adapting to the multigenerational influx and the driving market force of boomers reaching retirement age, more new home builders and architects will be offering homes that feature Universal Design, or Design for All (DfA), which basically means houses that are more convenient and accessible to live in for all ages and abilities. Shea Homes has started designing for multigenerational households, as seen in home series like Jade at Blackstone in Brea, CA, where buyers have an option for large, independent, first-level bedrooms, formerly called guest suites, which are ideal for older-generation residents.

No-step entries, lever door handles, wider hallways, non-slip floors, shower benches, single-touch appliances – these are all common features of universal design that are helpful whether you’re navigating a baby stroller or helping a spouse deal with arthritis. Another tenet of DfA is having all basic requirements, such as kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, laundry, media, on a single floor (even in a two-story house), which represents a complete living environment for residents whose mobility has been compromised.

So universal design doesn’t necessarily look any different from a conventional house; but it functions in subtly different, yet profound, ways: safer, simpler, smoother, for everyone from toddlers to elders. The 78 million boomers, who have recently opened their doors to the Boomerang Generation and the Silent Generation in record numbers, will benefit from universal design in their homes — for adapting to a multigenerational present and comfortably aging in place in the future.

About the author

Josh Englander is a novelist and the founder of DesignLens, an online architectural publication that explores residential design and land planning concepts in America.

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