HOW DO AMERICAN FAMILIES REALLY live in their houses? That was the question our Reality House 2006 endeavors to answer.

To find out, BUILDER commissioned San Diego–based Marketscape Research and Consulting to investigate. Researchers Barbara Nagle and Doris Payne spent hours in family homes, not only asking questions but also observing how the families actually lived in their houses (see “The Real Deal,” November, page 63).

They quickly learned that today's households increasingly are multigenerational. The families they interviewed, located in Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Southern California, range in size from three to six people. Ages ranged from 85 years to 6 months.

While three families fit the conventional notion of a son or daughter taking in an aging parent or grandparent in declining health, several others highlighted the diverse reasons that lead to the creation of multigenerational households, such as the need for affordable child care or the need to combine incomes to afford a home.

Combining parents, children, and grandchildren—and sometimes other far-flung family members—means rethinking everything from privacy to the number of stair steps from the front door to the lawn.

BUILDER selected Memphis, Tenn., architectural firm Looney Ricks Kiss to design its Reality House 2006 to accommodate several generations. Issa Homes is the builder of the 5,394-square-foot house in Celebration, Fla., which will debut to builders at the 2006 International Builders' Show Jan. 11–14 in nearby Orlando.

DIFFERENT DESIGN Among the housing issues the families face are safety and accessibility for older members. One of the homeowners mentioned that even a single step without a handrail kept his mother from going outside when she was at home by herself. Plus, the older family members want to feel that they are contributing something to the household, often by providing child care or cooking and cleaning. One homeowner's 85-year-old grandfather helps out by walking his great-granddaughter to school every day.

Not surprisingly, privacy is a major concern. While the families spend a lot of time together in the kitchen and living areas, each member feels a significant need for a place he or she can be alone. As one grandmother who has her own suite put it, “I've been living alone for four years. I wanted privacy; they're here when and if I need it. That part was very important.”

The partners on the project took that to heart. The Reality House pays careful attention to the unique dynamics of a multi-generational household that wants to spend time together yet needs quiet spaces for all of its members.

The Reality House features both indoor and outdoor retreats, including a “Second Generation Suite” that comprises sleeping, dressing, and sitting areas. With a coffee and snack bar, it allows for a great deal of privacy and flexibility without shutting the person off from the daily socialization of preparing and eating meals together as a family. That space adjoins a ground-level lawn terrace that provides older parents with a private, outdoors getaway.