With space to be together in a light-filled kitchen, or alone in their bedroom suites in a separate mews house, it’s no wonder Alison Henry’s daughters are still living at home in their twenties. They have an independent front door, desks for their work and a dance studio – all within easy reach of the convivial family quarters.
“I wanted to create a home that would work for everyone,” explains Henry, an interior designer. “The girls are all different ages and doing different things – one wants to be a singer and the other a ballerina – plus when my parents come to stay from New Zealand, they don’t just come for a couple of nights.”
Multigenerational living, either with grandparents or adult children, is on the rise. Between 2009 and 2014 there was a 36 per cent increase in families living together as two or three generations; according to research by Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research there are now around 1.8 million multigenerational households.
Experts predict that, following lockdown, multigenerational living will become more popular: “People are rethinking their lives quickly and dramatically,” says Steve Howat of super prime construction company London Projects, who remodelled Henry’s home. “We are working on a number of schemes where part of the house is designated for adult children or elderly parents.”
The increase in is part due to the fact that many more adult children are returning to the family home – 20 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds now live with their parents, compared to 16 per cent in 1991 – but the Cambridge figures also include middle-aged adults returning to the family home following a divorce, and retirees cohabiting with their adult children and grandchildren.
Post-lockdown, the benefits of combining forces are more obvious than ever, according to Theo James-Wright from Savills. Grandparents can help with babysitting; graduates can save for a deposit and the older generation has the security and company of younger relatives. According to a study for The Telegraph by Barclays, those with ageing parents see multigenerational living as a solution to our ageing population.
Multigenerational households can also save money on council tax and utility bills and in some instances, by pooling resources, they can afford to live in a larger, grander property with more outside space.
This is not to say that multigenerational living is completely straightforward. Tom Hudson, of property finders Middleton Advisors warns that complications can arise if both parties plan to invest in a property – banks are more reluctant to lend when those over 70 are named on the title deeds.
Such an arrangement can also lead to issues over ownership, inheritance and financial obligations in the future. “It’s always more straightforward if one person owns the property and the others contribute to running costs or pay some form of rent,” Hudson says.
It also requires patience to live in a family commune: the Cambridge study showed multigenerational living can lead to arguments over personal space, or residents not feeling sufficiently independent. Plus, on a practical level, many houses simply do not have the space for multiple families. More than half of those surveyed by Barclays would need to move house to accommodate three generations.
The best houses for multigenerational living are those with a basement flat, loft annexe or mews cottage. “It should accommodate people’s needs across the board – the old, the young and those in the middle,” says Robert Wilson, architectural director of Granit architects.
Increasingly, architects are being commissioned to design newbuild multigenerational houses – a recent project by Granit in north London has space for four generations, including grandparents, parents, and a grown-up daughter with a baby. Caring Wood in Kent, designed by James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell as a village-in-a-house, accommodating an extended family in four units, with communal space and eight staircases, was crowned Riba house of the year.
While Wilson concedes that both creating a multigenerational home from scratch and converting an existing property for multiple family members, requires thought – and expense – he believes that it can save you the hassle and cost of moving house in the future. “A bedroom with kitchenette for a nanny will also be useful for adult children or elderly relatives and the space you create for a buggy, will be ideal for a wheelchair,” he says. “It’s amazing how things come full circle.”
How to win at multigenerational living
Your own front door
Ideally, different generations will access their part of the property via their own front door, Hudson says. If not, doors within the house should be treated as personal thresholds; it can work well, according to Wilson, to access a granny flat or teenager quarters off a neutral space such as a conservatory rather than a busy communal space such as a kitchen.
Zone the space
As well as dividing the house into personal and communal areas, you can divide larger rooms into separate zones by using free-standing bookshelves and furniture. “One of my clients has recently done this to enable him to work at home while his daughter is doing her schoolwork,” Howat says.
Also bear in mind that everyone will need storage for their possessions. “As well as wardrobes and drawers in bedrooms, designate cupboards and shelves in the communal areas for each family member,” he says.
While you might prefer to live in a minimalist way, you can’t expect elderly relatives to give up all the possessions they love – the same goes for young adults. Discuss what they most want to bring and find a space for it, says Wilson. “You might have different styles and you have to accept that.”
That said, you don’t need to spoil the aesthetic of your home with plastic and metal stairs and rails for less mobile relatives. “There are ways of designing these to blend in with the look of the house,” he says.
Sort out the technology
Audio-visuals are key, says Howat. “Given that broadband, televisions, lighting and music will be used by both the older and younger generations, they need to be simple to use and powerful enough for a large household,” he advises.
Try to consider the height of windowsills and light switches, adds Wilson. “As you grow older, you tend to be more stationary – you need to be able to see out of the window from a chair,” he says. “And remember that brighter light is better for those whose eyesight is failing – consider installing a solar shading system where daylight levels can be maximised and controlled.”
Don’t be too precious
With such a high footfall, your home will need to be robust and hard-wearing – you don’t want to be making everyone take their shoes off when they walk in, explains interior designer Alison Henry. She’s chosen neutral colours in her house, which can be wiped down or repainted, and wood flooring and carpets that won’t be ruined by teenagers and dogs.
Go big on bathrooms
The more bathrooms you can have, the better, says Henry, who has given each of her four daughters their own bathroom. “If you’re short of space, install shower rooms in bedrooms – a generous shower is still smaller than a bath,” Howat suggests. “But make sure there is at least one bath in the house, too.”
And invest in plenty of chairs
There might not be space for everyone on the sofa but a few extra chairs in each living space will ensure everyone has somewhere to sit if you’re together, says interior designer Nicole Salvesen.
A social contract
Devise a household charter before you move in. “No one wants to feel underappreciated or indebted. You don’t want to feel as if you have to say thank you all the time,” Hudson says. While some people like being looked after, it’s important to respect the independence of other household members, adds Wilson. “It’s easier to navigate these dynamics if you’ve discussed arrangements in advance,” he says.
Alison Henry has created a cinema room in her basement which doubles up as a playroom, a party room for guests and a music practice room for her children. “It’s a question of creating spaces that can be used by everyone at different times,” she says.
A communal kitchen
The larger the island the better, says Henry – this way everyone has a place to help with meal preparation – and you’ll also need a long dining table. “Ours is a place for spaghetti bolognese at kids’ teatime, teenagers’ dinner parties but also a civilised place for me to drink wine with a girlfriend,” she says.
Space to be together and be apart
Even the smallest London house has space for a quiet room, says Wilson, a place where grandparents can read or teenagers can do their homework. “We often use the room at the front that used to be called the parlour,” he says.
You don’t need to create a series of flats with their own kitchens but ideally you’ll have a suite for each adult generation – each with its own bathroom and bedroom with cubby hole, suggests Wilson. Bear in mind that different generations keep different hours.
Beware of red tape
There needs to be a formal agreement in place if both parties are contributing to household bills and investing money in the property itself. Hudson warns against devaluing your property by splitting title deeds to create two separate dwellings. “Ideally your multigenerational lifestyle will not affect the status of the property,” he says.
Pippa Hutton, dressage rider
My great-grandparents founded the Talland School of Equitation, an international eventing yard in Gloucestershire, and I’m the fourth generation to live on site.
The house is perfect because my boyfriend and I can live under one roof with my parents, Pammy and Brian, eat meals with them, discuss the horses. Yet we sleep in a separate wing, which gives us the space to be ourselves.
Space is crucial when you’re living with your family, and also never holding grudges. My mother is the matriarch – her rules were set at the beginning and we adhere to them. We pay our own way, contributing financially and also helping out with the business – I am taking over the reins this year.
During the coronavirus outbreak we were locked down with athletes of all ages from around the world we have on our training programme – it was up to us to keep them motivated, safe and feeling as if they belong to one big family.
There’s no doubt that multigenerational living keeps the meaning of family alive; I’m endlessly inspired by my parents and feel very lucky that I can see them every day.
Vanessa Talbot-Ponsonby, mother of three and entrepreneur
We never envisaged living as a family until mid-March, when we made the decision to shield together at my in-laws’ home in Hampshire. It makes sense – our three children can spend time with their grandparents and my husband and I can keep his parents company.
As their home is a historic house which sleeps 26, space isn’t an issue: my in-laws have a separate flat within the house and we live in three of the rooms around them. The children can run around making noise and probably a bit too much mess. We soon realised, however, that with a group of this size, division of labour is key. We’ve fallen into a relaxed rhythm: the grandparents help with the children while my husband and I work; we form smaller groups for cleaning and gardening and then we take it in turns to cook and wash up.
It’s also important that no one is stuck with the same role all the time – there is always something to do and it could become overwhelming. My husband and I do our own weekly shopping to keep things simple but we chip in for fruit and vegetable deliveries – everything has to be washed due to shielding – and we contribute to running costs.
In a household like this, someone needs to be in charge and for us it is my mother-in-law. Her insurmountable energy keeps the whole thing going; I’ve never known her not busy. It’s hard to imagine returning to our former life in London – we could live here forever.
It’s wonderful for us and the children to be part of an extended family group but it also works for my in-laws; they’ve been able to watch my youngest’s first steps and hear her first words. As my husband says, quality time together like this simply isn’t possible over a single weekend.
Alison Henry, mother of four and interior designer, central London
I’ve always liked the idea of multigenerational living and for the past two years I’ve been busy creating the perfect home for my extended family.
My parents live in New Zealand, so when they come to stay it’s always for a long stint, and I want my four daughters, aged from 11 to 20, to live at home for as long as they want. Being a widow, I’ve brought them up to know that we’re a team and we support each other in good times and bad – but with so many of us, we require a home that suits both the older and younger generations. I didn’t want anyone feeling shut off for the rest of the family but everyone needs their own space.
In the new house, everyone has their own bedroom and bathroom, and there’s a kitchenette and a dance studio. With its island and long dining table, the kitchen is the main hub of the house, and there’s also a reception room with a piano. The audiovisuals were also a priority; when my mother is staying, she needs to be able to work the television and the lights and connect to the internet herself without calling for help.
Lockdown put the house to the test; we were all here plus the dogs and a rabbit and it turned out to be a very special time – even when three of us have been on Zoom calls and the others practising ballet or drums or doing an online HIIT workout. I didn’t have to ask anyone to unload the dishwasher or put the washing in the dryer, and we took it in turns to cook – my kids are all enthusiastic cooks, although they might not always be the best at cleaning up.
There were times when I needed extra support; I Skyped my father in New Zealand to ask how to work the barbecue, but the experience proved to me how amazing it is to have a family base where we can spend time together.
I’d like to think this is my forever home but then I said that about the last family home we lived in. Right now, there’s no need for us to go anywhere – until the girls decide they want to fly the nest.