Living with ageing parents (or in-laws) can be a genuinely good thing: It allows your folks to maintain independence while getting the support they need, creates an opportunity to forge closer connections and potentially saves money by pooling resources and avoiding the high cost of assisted living.
But the reality of sharing space in a multigenerational household can be tricky, especially when you or your parents are used to a certain level of privacy and autonomy. If you’re considering inviting your parents to move in, this guide is a good place to begin thinking through the possibilities.
1. Build an In-Law Unit
If you have the space on your property, it could be worth looking into adding an in-law cottage (officially known as an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU). A small, fully functioning home complete with kitchen, bath and private entrance, this is an appealing option for ageing parents who wish to maintain as much independence as possible while being close to family. An architect or designer can help you navigate local codes and regulations, obtain necessary permits and design a space that works for your family now and in the future.
Is an in-law unit right for you? If privacy and autonomy are important to you (and your parents) and local zoning ordinances and regulations allow it, adding an in-law cottage can be a great choice. The physical separation can make setting boundaries easier — plus, adding an ADU is likely to add value to your property. In fact, if you’re planning ahead, you could potentially rent out your ADU until your parents are ready to move in.
Just keep in mind that the cost per square foot for an in-law cottage is relatively high, because all of the main features of a full-size home (kitchen, bath and living space) are packed into a smaller footprint, so make sure funding is feasible before you commit.
With its bright, open living space, full kitchen, laundry, bathroom and separate bedroom, this in-law cottage from Inspired Independence is a good example of how an accessory dwelling unit can balance style and accessibility in a small footprint.
2. Transform a Duplex or Triplex
If you’d like to encourage more togetherness while maintaining independence and privacy, transforming a duplex or triplex into a semishared space might offer the best of both worlds. In the space shown here from Studio MMA Architecture, a triplex that included a main-floor-plus-basement home and two upstairs apartments was transformed into a single-family home with a separate flat for Grandma.
Is this right for you? One benefit of starting with a multiunit space is that you probably don’t have to worry about zoning as much as you do when planning an accessory dwelling. And with the framework for a kitchen and bath already in place, the overall cost can potentially be a bit lower. However, any large-scale renovation project like this will take time — the space shown here, for example, took a year from start to finish.
3. Upgrade a Guest Room
If your parents will be moving into a bedroom in your house, adding a few features can go a long way toward boosting privacy and autonomy. An in-room kitchenette — or at least a mini fridge, sink and coffee maker — means your parents can relax in their own space and avoid the main kitchen during busy mornings. Including extra space for a table and chairs or a small sofa and TV can also make the room feel more like their own apartment.
To make your guest room really work well for your parents, you may also need to add or remodel an adjacent bathroom. Adding features like a curbless shower, bathroom bench and grab bars will make the space safer for your parents now and in the future.
Is a guest-room-turned-studio right for you? If your home is large enough to accommodate your parents, is accessible and you all feel comfortable sharing space, upgrading a guest room can be a smart way to go.
4. Install Privacy Doors
If you opt to share your home with your parents, there are bound to be times when someone in the house needs a little more separation. Installing sliding doors between a few main living spaces (barn or pocket doors can work well) lets you slide the doors shut and effectively divide the house into sections as needed. This can come in handy when you’re entertaining and your parents need to get to bed early, if you work from home and need privacy, or if you want to block out TV noise.
5. Create a Master Bedroom Retreat
When you’re sharing close quarters, it’s important that you and your partner have enough room to call your own. This could be a good time to think about upgrading or expanding your master bedroom and bath to give yourself a spot to unwind. Consider including a seating area and TV, a desk or simply some open floor space where you can roll out a yoga mat.
Is a master bedroom retreat right for you? Since spending money on a master bedroom isn’t directly adding to your parents’ space, it might feel hard to justify the expense. But if it’s in the budget, upgrading your personal space can be priceless when it comes to improving your daily life and offering a place to decompress.
In this space from Jeanne Campana Design, a pair of comfy armchairs faces a wall-mounted TV at the foot of the bed, while a corner window seat and fireplace offer a quiet spot to read.
6. Spread Out With a Backyard Bonus Room
If you need to give up a room in the main house to accommodate your folks, adding a backyard shed can be a great way to reclaim the space you need. You can use the shed as a private home office, art studio, kids’ playroom or simply a place separate from the main house where you can go to unwind.