Creating an In-law Suite for multi-generational spaces for easy living

American families once prided themselves on growing up and moving out, but more families today find themselves moving back in with their parents—long after they get married and have children. AARP reports that the number of households nationwide with more than two generations expanded from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2008. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) says that home remodels can help families accommodate these changing living situations.

Multi-generational remodels can be a smart investment. Demand is rising for multi-generational housing as buyers scale down and reign in expenses, according to a survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Parsippany, N.J. In fact, 37 percent of the company’s real estate agents polled in January said that in the past year, buyers were increasingly shopping for homes that fit more than one generation. Almost 70 percent of the 2,360 agents polled said they expect economic conditions will continue to drive demand for this type of housing over the next year. Financial drivers are the primary reason why multiple generations are moving in together, but health care issues and strong family bonds are also factors, the poll showed.

CG&S Design-Build in Austin, Texas, recently won a National CotY Award from NARI for a residential addition that would accommodate a young family and their aging parents. Senior project designer Mark Lind and project manager Danny Scott transformed a mid-century modern home located in downtown Austin from a 1,600-square-foot, single-story dwelling to a 2,536-square-foot, two-story masterpiece fit for two generations. The remodel needed to accommodate living quarters for a younger couple and their child and a handicapped-accessible area for the wife’s aging parents.

One of the challenges of preserving this mid-century house was the difficulty the design/build team encountered adhering to a new anti-McMansion zoning law in the City of Austin. Instead of simply adding an addition to the existing home, the homeowners had to meet new guidelines that limited the size and the height of the addition, Lind said. For this reason, the family opted to create an apartment over the existing garage that would become home to the younger couple while the elderly parents took over the main house. “This was an unusual project because normally it’s a whole lot easier to build a new addition to incorporate handicapped-accessible bathrooms, but because of building regulations in Austin, we had to build with a very compact footprint over the existing garage,” Lind explained.

The new plan is perfect for the family since the younger couple both worked and the in-laws stayed home during the day to take care of their young granddaughter. The new garage apartment included a small living room, powder room and budget kitchen on the ground floor for the younger couple, along with a beautiful master suite on the second story. In the main house, Lind combined two of the original bedrooms and two of the original bathrooms into a broad and accessible in-law suite. The new handicapped-accessible bath had a generous 5-foot diameter turning radius. The family then opted for a large, upscale kitchen in the main house where both families cook and dine together daily.

“When doing an in-law suite, whether for cohabitation or extended stays, it’s important to have accessibility,” Lind said. “Homeowners have to ask themselves to what degree do they want it to be accessible? Fully accessible with a roll-in shower, wide doors, lower sinks and counters, or some sort of a hybrid?”

NARI remodelers can help homeowners rework their existing floor plans to accommodate life’s changes. Log on to to find a remodeler in your area. For green remodeling information, please visit


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