Larry Webb, CEO of The New Home Co., has been building houses for almost 30 years. But recently he and his team noticed some distinct trends amongst their clientele. They had kids in their 20s who were coming home. They had elderly parents in various stages of health. They had siblings and extended family whom they wanted nearby so they could all raise their kids together. “The question became, how could we create housing to meet those demands? As a home builder,” says Webb, “I realized that I had never offered our buyers solutions to these kinds of issues.”
Enter Lambert Ranch, a master planned community of 169 homes with three distinct product lines, aimed smack at multigenerational households. Webb is quick to point out that multigen living isn’t exactly a new idea; many immigrant families are used to living together. But the concept, he observes, is “just as powerful” with families that have been on these shores a while.
Situated on a ranch started by the Lambert family back in 1915 (the heirs, sisters now both in their 90s, opted to stay on the property after the sale), Lambert Ranch answers multigenerational needs in several ways. All living spaces are connected to the main house, but most have separate entrances, ensuring both togetherness and autonomy. All first-floor bedrooms have full bathrooms, enabling that space to become a separate apartment. Dual master bedrooms are set on separate floors.
One plan features a freestanding 800- square-foot casita in back; the first buyers were a couple with extended family who visit often. They’re also on opposite schedules—one works a day job and the other is an ER doctor who gets home at 3 a.m. and needs to decompress. Another was a couple from Venezuela who will be living in the house with their five kids. The couple’s older parents—still vital and healthy—will take the casita.
Lambert Ranch’s most spacious option is two houses that face each other, comprising a family compound with a central courtyard between them. Here the initial buyers were a couple with two adult sons: parents in one home, sons in the other. “They’re a family who lives together not because they can’t afford it, but because that’s what they’re used to,” says Webb. “The house we showed them was just what they were looking for.”
With young professionals and creatives being shut out of New York’s pricey real estate market, architect Barry Berkus wondered about providing those sectors with retreats away from the hurly-burly of the city—shared getaways that would work for extended families or groups of friends that might go in on a house to spend time together surrounded by nature. Growing House is a lakeside community in Bethel, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains, and is part of a master plan that will eventually feature some 450 family-style retreats on lots of about 5 acres each. The home shown is Log Cabin 2.0—open plan and contemporary. There’s a main house with pods that can be built around it for, say, a master suite or an at-home office. One add-on option features a bunk room where visiting grandchildren can stay, as well as two bedrooms and a common space where family can gather. There are places for peace and quiet, and for gatherings of various sizes.
It’s a home in the country that’s capable of expanding or contracting with the life changes that families undergo. Adding a pod actually involves relatively little disruption: cutting a new doorway and connecting the pod to the main home with a hallway.
Like Larry Webb, Berkus is quick to point out that multigen households have existed for a long time in much of the world, notably in Latin, Asian, and Mediterranean countries. With several generations housed under one roof, he notes that there’s “a certain care that’s built in with the expectation that you’ll be living with members of the older generation.” Berkus fears that in losing this style of life, we’re losing the wisdom of elders. “The stories have gone away,” he observes. “Children no longer learn from their grandparents.” Berkus admits that having family in proximity isn’t always easy; he knows that tolerance is required when it comes to sharing space. “You’re living in a place that might not be quite as much your own,” he concedes. “But you’re also living near someone who cares and who listens.”
Set in a Yaqui Indian and Latino community near Phoenix, Guadalupe House was a community effort, spearheaded by Arizona State University’s Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family. It has energy smarts, but Guadalupe House is also a model example of affordable housing that can suit several generations at once.
Guadalupe House’s owners participated actively in the design of the home, along with other members of the community. In a board game–type setup, participants moved various rooms around to design the home as they’d like. They agreed on several things: Shared outdoor space—for everything from family cookouts to watching soccer games—was key. A garage (which would serve to collect junk) was not. Instead, that square footage became a carport that could flex into outdoor space adjacent to the central courtyard. Separate entrances for different generations were key to family harmony, and a rear casita that was attached in the original design is now definitely detached. For many, this was novel, but welcomed. “‘We’re on the same property, we’ve been living on top of each other all our lives, so let’s try something different,’ is what one of them said,” recalls architect Ernesto Fonseca. The exterior stair and flat roof allow for a rooftop terrace, making it possible in the future to stack another apartment on top for other family members. Finally, the homeowners agreed that the grandparents needed to be in front. As guardians of the house, they needed clear sightlines to the rear.
The house is built with Navajo Flexcrete, lightweight concrete blocks made in the Navajo Nation that contains waste fly ash from local electric plants. Flexcrete is aerated and therefore self-insulating. It needs no drywall or paint—just sealing with color-impregnated plaster inside and out. The self-insulating blocks work in tandem with proper solar orientation, deep overhangs, and clerestory windows on a thermostat to allow hot air to escape in the summer months. There’s also a 2.4 kW solar array on the roof and a rainwater catchment system—any water used outside the house is graywater.
Guadalupe House may be specific to its location, but the lessons it teaches are universal when it comes to the architecture that’s essential in helping any multigenerational household thrive. Dispersal of bedrooms and multiple entries are key, says architect Mike Pyatok, an affordable housing expert who served as project advisor. “Grown-ups need to come and go without feeling like kids,” he adds, “and grandparents need to live on the first floor without feeling like wardens.”