Multi-Generation Homes

Many people say that it's been coming for a while, now -- the trend toward living spaces designed to accommodate more than one generation in comfort and style. Sociologists as well as home designers and architects point to historical records as indicators that the concept, which worked so well for generations past, could serve to provide harmony and shelter for future families as well.

The changing economic climate of the past few years, and the bleak employment climate for young people, has led to a number of adult children returning to the homes they so eagerly abandoned a few years ago. Because of economic hardship, some senior citizens have found it necessary to seek shelter and family togetherness in lieu of independent retirement housing.

It's not yet a mainstream concept, although that may be changing as well.

Western society has long held that the nuclear family has no place for multi-generational living arrangements. Young people move out of the family home, often far away, as a matter of course following high school or college, and the "empty nester" syndrome leads to inevitable "downsizing" and a search for new housing on the part of many parents who hesitate to invite their own parents to live with them.

Despite this, multi-generational living does have its place in Canadian life. According to Statistics Canada (as quoted by CTV) there were 362,600 multigenerational families in Canada in 2011. This is a significant sum—and for good reason!

Many who have tried this particular brand of "blended family" living are quick to enumerate the benefits. They acknowledge, however, that separate wings or floors, and well-defined spaces in living quarters are a necessary component to making it work. Family relationships are said to flower, with young and old sharing chores, meeting for meals, participating jointly in activities, and reaping the benefits of different perspectives and levels of experience.

The value of built-in babysitters in the form of loving grandparents can't be measured in terms of inconvenience or the loss of a little privacy, notes one young mother. During good times and bad, having people who care about you and your welfare close at hand can be an immense advantage, says another. Even financial affairs seem to be simplified when several incomes can be at least partially combined to meet expenses.

There are pitfalls to be avoided, according to family counselors. It is wise for families considering consolidation to hold detailed discussions, even committing some basic rules to written form.

If a multigenerational house might be in your future, consider looking for housing that has separate bedroom wings, sufficient bathroom space, and perhaps unfinished attic or basement space that can be converted for other use. An apartment above a detached garage is ideal for young professionals who move back "home and guesthouses or "quarters" can be adapted for family groups. Looking for property that has additional land to expand can be another method. If this becomes the future, chances are you will begin to see some of these features incorporated into higher priced homes, beginning in the not-too-distant future.