It was Friday night. Three families and their kids gathered in the kitchen of a century-old home in Minneapolis for a pizza dinner. But no one had to worry about transportation to their weekly get-together.
The six adults and four children, representing three generations of one family, all live together in a large Dutch Colonial where they share spaces — and expenses.
Tina Lee tossed a Caesar salad while her husband, Joshua Kent, visited with their teenage daughter, Nathalie. Nearby, Tina’s sister, Rachel, put the finishing touches on an apple crisp, while her father, Will Baudler, rolled out dough and spread homemade sauce on the pies. Also pitching in were Tina and Rachel’s mother, Carol; Rachel’s husband, Jonathan Blaseg, and their children, toddler Otto and baby Hattie, plus Tina and Joshua’s son, Henry.
Multigenerational households are increasingly common — there were 57 million nationwide in 2012, double the number in 1980, according to a Pew Research Study. Such living arrangements can be a win-win for everyone, with benefits that include dividing household expenses and grandparents pitching in with child care.
“Otto loves to have breakfast with Grandpa,” said Will.
Henry playfully tossed his cousin Otto in the air. “Sometimes he can be distracting while I’m doing homework,” Henry said. “But mostly he’s fun.”
Go for it
In 2013, the three families were at a crossroads and toying with the idea of sharing a big house.
“I spent some time in Norway and was interested in some kind of collective housing,” said Joshua Kent, a social worker. “I loved that idea.”
Meanwhile, Rachel Baudler Blaseg was expecting her first baby; she and Jonathan would have had to renovate their existing house in Minneapolis or find a larger one.
Carol and Will, who were living in California, were nearing retirement, and planning to buy a condo in Minnesota to be closer to family.
Just for fun, Kent and Lee decided to explore a 6,000-square-foot house in Lowry Hill. It had been converted into a triplex decades earlier, and boasted seven bedrooms and five bathrooms on three floors.
The foyer held a handsome mahogany staircase accented with an Arts & Crafts motif stained-glass window, possibly designed by John Bradstreet. The living-room fireplace was surrounded by green glazed tile, wood paneling and a hand-painted pastel mural.
Kent and Lee loved the home’s rich character, but it was the sound condition, layout, attractive location and immense potential that instigated an important family meeting. The home’s best attributes by far were the large multi-bedroom apartments that would give each family private quarters and space to spread out.
The cramped galley kitchen would undoubtedly have to be expanded and renovated to serve everyone, “but it would be worth the investment in this neighborhood,” said Kent.
“We could envision how this could work,” added Rachel, a landscape architect.
The family realized they had found the right house — at the right price — to make communal living a reality. “We all agreed and said, ‘Let’s go for it,’ ” said Lee, a writer and yoga instructor.
“I actually was surprised that everyone said yes,” added Will.
Lee and Kent, with their teenagers, settled into the three-bedroom apartment, with its generous-sized master suite, on the second floor. They tore out the tiny kitchen sink, turning that space into an office.
“It’s bigger than our whole house was in Linden Hills,” said Kent.
Rachel and Jonathan and their two young children have the three-bedroom apartment on the top floor. They kick back in a high-ceilinged living room that once was the home’s elegant ballroom.
“The only drawback is having to walk down four flights of stairs to the basement laundry room,” said Rachel.
Will and Carol Baudler live in a “condo” on the lower level, and everyone shares the Arts & Crafts-style living room, music room and formal dining area.
Last year, the families collaborated on an expansive kitchen makeover, working with Sid Levin, principal at Revolution Design+Build (revolutiondesignbuild.com) in Wayzata. The home’s main-floor apartment and a spiral staircase were demolished to make room for the revamped kitchen.
“They requested a big communal kitchen with multiple work areas where they could roll pizza dough, chop vegetables or make a snack for the kids,” said Levin.
However, working with six adults with six different opinions proved a challenging process, Levin added. “We were stuck in the muck on making compromises that everyone would be satisfied with.” His solution was to appoint Lee as the conduit for the family after they had reached a consensus on different parts of the project.
In the final design, a 13-foot-long center island, topped with butcher block, provides seating, work zones and doubles as a social hub. Will can spread pizza dough on a detachable storage cart, at the end of the island, which can be rolled out for other functions. There’s plenty of room for people to prepare meals at the same time.
“The food has been the highlight and a uniting force among the families,” said Kent. “We eat a lot more homemade meals from scratch every night.”
Crisp white subway tile, Mission-style cabinets and new double-hung windows echo the Dutch Colonial’s early 1900s aesthetic. When knocking down walls, Levin exposed an original 100-year-old brick chimney. “It’s like an old-school version of a modern restaurant kitchen,” he said.
The three generations have now cohabited for nearly three years. They appreciate that dividing expenses three ways makes it more affordable to live in a desirable, walkable neighborhood that’s close to downtown Minneapolis, lakes and bike trails.
But the couples are at different stages in their lives — from raising young children to retirement — which can affect their expectations and their collective decisions. Although there’s an element “of winging it,” said Will, they’re committed to making this living arrangement work.
“It’s a lot messier living this way than in your own single-family home,” said Kent.
“Some nights everyone is going in all different directions, and someone’s laundry is still in the dryer,” added Lee.
But for every trying time, “there’s some insanely idyllic moments,” said Kent.
For Lee, sitting on the front porch in the summer and watching the cousins play together “is fantastic.”