In-law suites, part of a growing trend toward multigenerational households, give aging parents their own space while bringing extended families closer together.
Growing up in Green Bay, Wis., Rachel Orman remembers her grandmother living with her family, in a private suite they had built just for her. As an adult, Rachel knew that she and her siblings would be willing to do the same.
"There was no question that one of us would take our parents in when they got older," she said
Last winter, Rachel and her husband, David Jones, fulfilled that commitment. After Rachel's father, Eddie Orman, had a stroke and her mother, Millie Orman, developed Alzheimer's disease, the couple decided it was time to expand their small two-bedroom Cape Cod in Minneapolis to make room for Rachel's parents.
They enlisted Sid Levin, principal/designer at Revolution Design and Build in Wayzata, to figure out how they could add a cozy in-law suite, a family room and, while
they were at it, a new master bedroom. Levin designed a two-story addition on the back of the house, with a bedroom, bathroom and vaulted family room. Upstairs, an open balcony overlooking the family room leads to the new master bedroom.
But just a few weeks before the remodeling project was completed, Millie died. "We were happy we could move Dad in right away after that and didn't have to leave him alone in his apartment," said Rachel.
The living arrangement has turned out better than Rachel ever expected. The family room, off Eddie's suite, is a shared gathering space where their daughter, Isabelle, plays board games with her grandfather, and he helps her with history homework.
Although Rachel said she worries about Eddie falling and now feels obliged to make dinner every night, "it feels really lonely when he's not here," she said.
Eddie appreciates being included in his daughter's household. "When [you] get older you worry about security," he said, "Here I have all the independence I want, but I'm also part of the family. You can't get much better than that."
There's no denying that massive numbers of baby boomers are getting older. Many housing experts predict that more retired parents will move in with their adult children, who may in turn want to modify or remodel their homes to give them comfortable quarters.
"These types of remodels for in-laws are not very common yet," said Levin. "But I think there will be more demand for multigenerational expansions because people will realize the benefits of this type of living."
The economic downturn has helped spark growth in multigenerational households, according to a recent population survey conducted by AARP (the organization for people age 50 and older). In 2008, there were 6.2 million such households; by 2010, the number had risen to 7.1 million, including many seniors living with their adult children.
"The economic slump means that a lot of people can't afford their own place, and assisted-living facilities are very expensive," said Shoreview architect George Cundy.
Cundy, chairman of the Builders Association of the Twin Cities' 50-Plus Housing Council, predicts a dramatic increase in the need for multigenerational housing, especially to accommodate seniors who need some level of care. He recently designed an addition for a grandmother's suite that includes a sitting room where she can entertain friends. "Togetherness is wonderful," he said. "But make sure each person has their own space and privacy."
The Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) doesn't track specific types of remodeling projects, but executive director Sandra Meyer said multigenerational housing is a hot topic among members.
Last month NARI members attended a national program on housing trends, which included accommodating in-laws. "People are talking about the social, economical and generational factors influencing housing today," said Meyer. "Families are coming back together for a variety of reasons."
More clients are inquiring about changes they can they make to their homes to accommodate aging parents, said Lynne Shears, senior designer for White Crane Construction in Minneapolis. In June, her company will complete a two-story addition on a Rosemount home that features a mother-in-law suite with an art studio. "I predict we'll be seeing more parents moving in with children for financial and medical support," she said.
In the real estate arena, Gregg Larson, an agent for Coldwell Banker Burnet, said he's had more requests from buyers searching for homes with separate living quarters for their parents.
He currently has a listing for a home in Tonka Bay with an in-law apartment, complete with a kitchen and living room above an attached garage. Homes with such apartments represent a specialized niche, adding value for the right buyer who needs that kind of space, he said, but possibly reducing resale value for someone who would prefer to alter the space for another use.
Last year, A.J. Johnson and his wife, Susanna Styve, were that specialized buyer, hunting for a house that already had a mother-in-law suite or that they could remodel to create one for Styve's mother, Marilyn Styve. The couple found a 1970s split-level in Mendota Heights with a dated shag-carpeted walk-out basement.
Immediately after moving in, the couple hired Michael Anschel, principal/designer at Otogawa-Anschel in Minneapolis, to transform the basement into private cozy quarters for Marilyn, who stays with them for six months each year and may live with them permanently in the future. Anschel created a new garage entry with tall storage cabinets, put an egress window in the new bedroom and added an attached bathroom.
Such remodeling projects are few and far between for his company, Anschel said. "Americans in general don't like the idea of sharing space with family members. We have more clients that are concerned with making spaces more accessible to help them age in place."
Johnson and Styve, however, are thrilled to share their Mendota Heights home with Styve's mother.
"I get along with my mother-in-law really well," said Johnson. "It's good to have her here to help with the kids, and they can spend time with Grandma."
Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619