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Bridging the Generation Gap

February 15, 2015

Sunday Times, Home Magazine February 15th.

The demand for multi-generational home designs is sky-rocketing as an increasing number of Australians find themselves living with their ageing parents and adult children.

Whether it’s accommodating our “boomerang kids”, or filling the needs of the “sandwich generation” supporting both grown-up children and elderly parents, Perth builders are rising to the challenge. With the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011 Census indicating that one in five Australians now lives in a household made up of two or more generations of related adults aged 18 years or over, requests for multi-generational designs are on the rise.
Forward thinking has become the key, as the “M-Gen” embraces designs with flexible spaces and thoughtful zoning. An extra bathroom, room for a kitchenette, ample storage and a private courtyard are also common features.

Robert Kirkovski, design manager for The Rural building Company, says ensuring everyone has their own personal space is the top priority. “Especially living areas that are independent of each other and have external outlooks that are private,” he says. “A definite feature would be to have separate points of entry – this cues towards independent living.”

There are many multi-gen designs for standard-sized lots, dispelling any myths that a big block is needed to accommodate a big extended family in a new home. “A big block is not needed. Multi-generational living just needs to be incorporated into the planning stage so that it has proper consideration in the design,” Robert says. He adds that having more people in a household – and therefore a smaller building footprint per occupant – increases the design life of a home, contributing to housing sustainability.

Brook Leber, principal designer at Oswald Homes, is finding that when it comes to multi-generational designs, the predominant brief is from middle-aged families who have grandparents moving in. “Baby boomers have also built homes for their children and grand children to move home due to changing circumstances in their children’s lives,” he says.

“The popularity of multi-generational homes has increased dramatically over the past few years and is now a major consideration for many clients.” With this in mind, Brook says separate zoning to allow family members to have their own privacy within the home is a must. “A kitchenette and another bathroom is a major requirement,” he says. “A good multi-gen design is one that gives the various occupants the ability to live in harmony within the home and not be treading on each others toes on a day-to-day basis. “The home must also be able to adapt over time as the family unit evolves.”

Flexibility, adaptability and versatility certainly seem to the watchwords that are shaping today’s designs as multi-generational living becomes a reality for more and more of us. Builders are even happy for clients to nominate specific internal walls as non-load-bearing so that they can simply be knocked out at a later stage if need be.

Damian Monteleone, sales and marketing manager at Switch homes, says it’s easy to take out walls to create bigger spaces if the original design allows that to work. The builder has a range of multi-gen designs, but also has requests from clients who need separate rooms in the short term, but know they will eventually need to make changes. “A wall doesn’t have to be structural and a lot more people are starting to think that way,” he says. “You can nominate for that wall not to be load-bearing because that wall will potentially get knocked out. “And it doesn’t have to be stud frame. You can do it with brick and plasterwork – just take the wall out and patch up.”

With homes accommodating bigger family units, provision for bin bays and parking also needs to be considered. “Councils and forward planners need to start thinking about making setback provisions to accommodate four-car garages,” Damian says. “If you’re not using the extra garage space now, it can become a gym, playroom, hobby room or workshop in the meantime. “If you’re talking about multi-generational living, the biggest issue to come out of that will be parking for vehicles.” Adding a roller door at the back of the garage when designing a home for several generations can sometimes create invaluable parking for a trailer or boat. “You’ve got to understand what you’re after in order to create the opportunities,” Damian says. “Ask yourself, ‘What do I need?’, not ‘What do I want?’. ‘Am I meeting my needs?’ is the question, followed by ‘How do I go about it?’.”

The team at Livable Homes has plenty of tips, ideas and checklists on its website to help create a home that people of all ages and abilities can live in or visit in comfort.

A State Government initiative, Liveable Homes has partnered with WA builders, architects and building designers, and housing industry associations, including Master Builders WA and the Housing Industry Association, as well as the Disability Services Commission, to provide strategic direction on livable home design. Livable Homes advocates universal design access features, such as wider than average doorways, open-plan spaces, higher than standard power sockets, hob-free showers and flush thresholds.

Dr Ron Chalmers, director general of the Disability Services Commission, says most of these features can be added at little or no extra cost when designing a home. “It’s all about universal design access features,” he says. “We believe they make a home more livable for everybody. “It’s also about good use of infrastructure, making it more economically and socially sustainable over the life of the home.”

by Paula Evans.

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