Remodeling for Multigenerational Living

While multigenerational living is a new type of family dynamic in the 2010s, in reality, it’s nothing new. In 1940, about one-quarter of the U.S. population lived with three or more generations in one home. After WWII, American families largely became two-generational, with parents and minor- age children under one roof.

Then the share of the population living in a multigenerational-type of household – defined as including two or more adult generations or including grandparents and grandchildren younger than 25 – declined from 21% in 1950 to a low of 12% in 1980.

Today a record 64 million Americans live in multigenerational households.

What’s leading to the increase of remodeling to have Grandma or Grandpa in the same house?

Many theories exist; here’s a few:

1. People are marrying later, so adult children and parents are living under the same roof longer.

2. Large numbers of Latin Americans and Asians have immigrated to the U.S., and they are more likely to live in multigenerational families than those who have not recently immigrated.

3. More Baby Boomers are financially secure and able to offer their parents a place to live in their old age while providing a home to their own children.

4. During the Great Recession (2007 – 2009) many Americans lost their jobs or took pay cuts. With financial losses jeopardizing retirement savings, sharing household expenses with other family members makes a lot of sense.

5. Children are growing up in a world where it’s harder to achieve financial independence.

6. Seniors need help with daily living.

7. Young parents need help with child care, and having their own parents live at home provides a “win-win-win” for all three generations.

8. Student debt is driving recent college grads to move back in with their parents.

9. Some don’t like the idea of having their beloved parents placed in a facility away from family and would rather have parents live with them where they feel loved and have close family interaction.

Multigenerational Remodeling Considerations

Most homes today were not designed and built to accommodate multiple generations sharing living space. For those who want to stay in the home they have, remodeling becomes a necessity.

Important considerations for successful multigenerational living include:

1. Privacy

2. Safety

3. Independence

4. Comfort

5. An ergonomic environment

Even if your parents aren’t moving in today, it’s smart to incorporate multigenerational features when considering a home remodel. The features will be there if / when you need them, they’re great for when you have weekend guests, and they’re a marketable asset if you decide to sell your home.

Features to Include in a Remodel for Multigenerational Living

Here’s a few of the concepts to consider when beginning design work for your remodel with your designer or architect or builder:

  • Smooth ground level entrances without stairs

  • Stable, slip-resistant floor surfaces

  • Eliminating steps or barriers to entering the shower or bath, and adding places to sit in each

  • Wide interior doors and hallways

  • Light switches with flat panels rather than small toggle switches

  • Buttons and controls that can be distinguished by touch

  • Bright lighting, particularly task lighting

Universal Design.

Making living space accessible to all is the focus of universal design. It is not just for people with disabilities but  includes young, old and every age in between. 

Finish the Basement.

Finishing a basement is one of the most cost-effective ways to increase usable living space. Not only will this give you more living space to use now, but it can double as a bedroom for your potential housemates.

Your finished basement should include a full bathroom. Soundproofing the ceiling keeps the noise of basement activities in the basement.

Your designer, architect or contractor can advise you of any local building codes that might impact this type of remodel.

Build an Addition.

An addition gives everyone more room and will give both you and your live-in family members more privacy.

Add a second entrance.

Having a second “front door”, even if it’s around the back of the house, creates privacy and a sense of independence for both residences in a home.

Remodel Your Kitchen.

The most popular room in the house can be hectic when three or more generations are present. Increase the space and/or re-allocate the space by adding cabinets, pantries and additional shelves and drawers to help maintain order and comfort. Your designer will probably recommend a more open-concept plan to create more space for multiple cooks. This could involve knocking out a wall or part of a wall to open things up.

Kitchen Function Is Always The Priority

While the finished kitchen should be beautiful, kitchen function is always the priority. That’s especially true when grandchildren and grandparents are sharing the same space. If the kitchen is open to the living room, the space becomes the social epicenter of the house.

So that your designer can design a kitchen where everyone is comfortable, have the answers to a few simple questions prepared to assist him (or her) in the design process. Think about how the kitchen will be used.

  • Does a member of the household need quiet time in the morning?

  • Are there little ones who want to help cook with the adults?

  • Are the most-used dishes and snacks in accessible locations?

  • Is there room for people to gather while meals are being prepared or for after-school snack and homework time?

  • Is there adequate lighting for safety, task and ambiance?

Make Your Remodeled Kitchen More Multigenerational-Friendly

In addition to integrating universal design principles into your kitchen, here are some other ways you can make your kitchen more adaptable to multigenerational living.

  • Add a second sink and/or dishwasher

  • A refrigerator drawer is easy to access from a wheel chair

  • More counter space to makes it easier for multiple cooks to work at the same time

  • Eliminate the formal dining room to get a larger kitchen

  • Install a pull-out pantry with drawers and rotating organizers to make it easy to find things

  • Add a pot-filler to eliminate the need to move a pot full of water from the sink to the stovetop

  • Install induction cooktops to prevent accidental burns

  • Place the microwave on a counter or install a drawer microwave to prevent bending and reaching and make it easier to remove hot, heavy dishes

More Suggestions for Making Your Remodeled Kitchen Multi-generational Friendly 

  • Get lazy susans installed in corner cabinets to fit more inside and easily find what you need

  • Use drawers instead of doors on base cabinets so you can easily see everything that is inside without having to move things to get to what you want

  • Create wider pathways to allow for multiple people to use the kitchen at once and also accommodate someone in a wheelchair. The ADA guidelines for a U-shaped kitchen is a minimum of 60” between cabinets, walls and appliances; for a galley kitchen the minimum is 40”

  • Install under cabinet lighting to make meal prep easier for everyone. Use LED undercabinet lights in addition to overhead lights for layered lighting. LED lights can also be installed in the cabinet toe space to provide night lights.

  • Install electro-mechanical hardware so that wall cabinets can be pulled down.

  • Include pull-out or roll-out shelves where possible

  • Customize countertop and appliance heights. Countertops at different heights allow everyone to be together as a family. If you have a cook who is taller, increase the heights. If you have someone who is shorter, lower them. Is someone is in a wheelchair or likely to be in one down the road, take that into consideration as well.

  • Install large drawer pulls or cabinet handles that don’t require gripping

  • Touch-free faucets are a smart option

Adapt Other Rooms in Your Home For Multigenerational Living

  • Touchless faucets with a set water temperature in the shower

  • Grab bars around entrances, stairs, seating areas, toilets, and bath or showers

  • Comfort height toilets

  • Doors and windows with stops

  • Doors that chime when opened

  • Open spaces with clear sight lines to watch children

  • Wider doorways and hallways for strollers, walkers, wheelchairs

  • Electrical switches 48” above the floor, and outlets at 18”- 24” high

  • Shower bench

  • Barn-style or sliding doors

  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs

  • Zero-transition shower

  • Stair-climbing-chair


Your professional kitchen designer – Craig Teitsma of Craig Allen Designs – will work hand-in-hand with you to design a layout that accommodates the wide range of needs and wants that three or four generations will have.

Resources used in this article and sources for further reading.