Designing a Multi-Generational Home

As multi-generational living arrangements increase, many people look to design to help them understand how everyone can live in harmony under one roof. Interview with This Old House designer.

We recently had the privilege of working with “This Old House” to outfit all the bedrooms of their 2017 Idea House in Rhode Island with Sleep Number beds.  This newly constructed house offers a new inspirational layout designed with multi-generational living at the forefront, to comfortably facilitate aging in place. The result is a home that works for three generations and combines traditional design with modern tech amenities.

Below is a recap of our chat with the home’s interior designer, Denise Enright, from Stamford, CT., to learn first-hand what it’s like designing for a multi-generational home, and what you should consider.

Q: How did you get into the design business? 

A: I was inspired by my Grandmother who was one of those women who could do it all. She was the women’s fashion buyer for a large downtown Minneapolis department store, and also dressed former Miss Minnesotans.  She had a very successful career and was also an amazing homemaker long before that was as common as it is today. She taught me how to wallpaper, design & sew draperies and pillows. She had an amazing eye for design and the perfect finishing touches, and her home always looked like it came out of a magazine.

I actually spent the first 10 years of my career working in the biomedical industry as a director of marketing.  When I had kids, I decided to leave and apply my passion for design with my goal of starting my own company.

I went back to school, and dove right in. While I started out creating custom faux paint finishes for clients, as each project developed, I was eventually able to provide and execute all aspects of a full service interior design company. It’s been twenty-three years & my business has never looked back.

Q: How long have you worked with This Old House?

A: I’ve been fortunate to be part of the This Old House Idea House team for the last two years.  In 2016 we designed a modern farm house in Massachusetts, and this year’s house was a beach house in Rhode Island.

Q: Are you seeing a trend of designing for more multi-generational homes?

A: I see a dual track for multi-generational homes. A) Younger home owners where their parents or in-laws move in, and B) The older generation wanting to age in place and have their kids and grandkids move in with them. The 2017 Idea House was designed with the latter in mind so the grandparents can have their extended family and friends come to live, have room for the holidays, or enjoy summer vacations.

I have many clients in their 50s and 60s with big beautiful homes.  They’re financially secure, and thinking about retirement.  They wouldn’t mind downsizing so they don’t have a big home to take care of, but this is the home they raised their kids in. Unfortunately, their home’s floor plan isn’t laid out well to age in place. The Master bedroom is upstairs, for example. Can they keep a bigger living space but modify it so it’s sensible for them as they age?

Some build new. I had a client who sold their big old home with narrow staircases, and is renting while they build what they want.

Q: What are the main features of the Idea House that make it work for three generations?

A: The Master bedroom is on the main floor, has a curbless shower, and has stylish wider doors for wheelchair/walkers.  We put the main laundry on the first floor.  All outdoor spaces have easy access in/out, with two little steps to get onto the porch.

We added a second-floor stackable washer/dryer for anyone living or staying upstairs. There’s a big third floor bunk room for the kids, and a Game Room for teens and adults to watch a game, play cards, or enjoy drinks.  We added outdoor spaces for together or alone time too.

Q: Some people can be intimidated by tech in their homes. How do you see this working for all ages?

A: The integration of tech in a home is a way to bring generations together. Millennials and younger kids can help their grandparents and parents figure it out. As the older generations become more tech savvy, their comfort level increases.  Half the people in the tech store at the mall are gray haired now. Everybody has a smart device.

It was so great having the Sleep Number beds in the bedrooms since the firmness on each side of the bed can be adjusted to each person, and the SleepIQ technology inside the beds helps with tracking sleep.  That could be a great conversation starter amongst the generations too. “How did you sleep last night?”… they can compare SleepIQ scores and learn how to better support each other in this area.

See the bedrooms in the 2017 Idea House.

Q: What trends are you seeing in bedroom design?

A: Bedrooms are such personal spaces. I don’t see one specific trend. More people like to have an on-suite set up. Generous bedroom with good access to a bathroom and walk-in closet. Heated floors, and unexpected colors like purple, and funky rugs.

Q: What other considerations did you think about for the family as a whole—whether to have time together, or alone by themselves?

A: Find common interests that all generations can do together. Make sure there’s an inviting space to accommodate so you can spontaneously seize that moment. Movies, sports, having a great table for board games or puzzles, being outside together around a fire pit, etc.

Q: What advice can you share with other business owners?

A: I’ve gotten wiser over the years and focused on my ability to determine my own path.  In the beginning I didn’t say no to anything. I ran myself ragged. I’ve learned to take on fewer, but bigger projects, so I have more time to focus.

 

View full 2017 Idea House tour here.

 

Quality sleep is essential to staying happy and healthy.. Sleep Number® beds are designed with that in mind. You can adjust each side to your ideal level of firmness, comfort and support to create your perfect Sleep Number® setting. Plus, when you add SleepIQ® technology, youll always be informed of how to get your best possible sleep.