This post was originally published in the Shreveport Times, August 21, 2014. Author Jeb Breithaupt
It doesn’t happen too often, but every now and then I’ll get a call from a pair of good friends who are getting a little older and have decided to share a home both for companionship as they age and to help each other out because they don’t have family nearby. So they want to live together, but in separate quarters. Shared housing as seniors allows people to age in place.
What They Want to Share
They might like to share the kitchen, living room and other common areas of the house, but they want separate — and equal — master bedroom/bathroom suites; separate home offices; and maybe even separate hobby rooms or outdoor decks.
Sometimes the same request comes up when a homeowner wants to make room for an older parent — but the parent would like to continue to live an independent lifestyle — albeit, with family close by.
Or an empty-nester couple welcomes a grown child — and maybe even her small kids — back into the “coop” after a divorce or a financial setback.
It’s a smart request that can prevent a lot of problems. Too often, I hear both friends and clients complain that the “roommate” — even when she or he is a dear friend, a much-loved parent or a welcomed adult child — is cramping their family’s lifestyle, making their homes too noisy or infringing on the privacy of the original homeowner.
That makes for a tense household. Better: Make a plan to accommodate the addition to your family so she doesn’t feel like a guest or intruder in her own home — and so you don’t feel put out.
Ideas for Your Remodel
Here are some ideas for remodeling your house so everyone has a place of his or her own — a first step toward harmony.
Carve two master suites out of a three- or four-bedroom home. You’ll lose at least one of the extra bedrooms, but the two new suites will be roomy and will likely appeal to other multigenerational families when it’s time to sell the home.
- If either the original homeowners or the newcomer are healthy and mobile, create one master on the home’s main level and put the other one upstairs. That puts some distance between the two parties, allowing lots of privacy.
- If both residents want to live on the main level so they don’t have to climb stairs, convert two downstairs bedrooms or a bedroom and an unused formal dining room into two first-floor suites. Other candidates for conversion: a roomy attic, a playroom that was long-ago abandoned by the kids, a little-used home office or the garage. You also could add a room onto the home.
- Offer more than a bedroom to the newcomer. Within the second master suite, create a private bathroom, a walk-in closet, and a sitting room or den, where the occupant can close the door and read, watch TV or have private conversations without sitting in her bedroom.
- Build each suite on an exterior wall of the house, and then cut in French doors or a sliding glass door that leads to a small, private patio outside of the downstairs suite. Upstairs, add a second-story deck just big enough for a couple of chairs and small table. It would be nice to have a third patio or a screened-in porch that everyone can share when they want to get together or invite friends over.
For Multi-Generational Families
- Include a sink and countertop, a microwave oven and a small refrigerator in the extra suite so your friend/elderly parent/adult child can make coffee and snacks without visiting the home’s shared kitchen.
- If youngsters still live in the house, add a bathroom just for them so they won’t have to traipse in and out of their parents’ suite to use the facilities.
- If your new roomie is elderly, incorporate universal design features, like a roll-in shower, wide doorways and grab bars into that suite’s bathroom.
- Before you make any changes, convene a meeting of everyone involved, including the newcomer, so you can incorporate everyone’s ideas and accommodate their needs with the remodel. For example, you might learn Grandma would prefer to live in a part of the house where she’s out of earshot of those noisy grandchildren she loves so much.
Pay Attention to Zoning
- Check with your contractor or the city about zoning regulations. Some jurisdictions, for example, won’t allow you to build a second kitchen in your single-family home, while others limit the number of unrelated roommates in one house. This kind of remodeling job isn’t as much about combining rooms or adding onto the house as it is about protecting privacy and preserving harmony among your diverse, new “family.”
This is good advice from someone who knows how to see the remodeling possibilities. Some homes are better suited to sharing than others. Many homes can be made more sharing-friendly. As my friend who remodels for a living says, “The big things are cheap. It’s the details that cost.” So putting up or taking down a wall is not such a big deal. But changing faucets or countertops can be very expensive.
Do you think your home could be made more comfortable for sharing? What ideas do you have for that?
Read about shared housing communities for seniors: Solterra Co-Housing Paves the Way for Senior Aging-in-Place , Rosehill—Shared Housing for Seniors by Design