Monday, January 11, 2010
Consider future when remodeling (not-so) empty nest
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
One of our clients recently referred to his remodeling project as transforming his "home for raising kids" into "a place for gathering."
"We are entering a new phase in our family," he said. "Our five kids are young adults now. We already have a fairly large extended family nearby, but soon we will be the grandparents. We needed a home for gathering."
People with teenagers imagine themselves wandering around their large, empty home after the children have left. This may be true for a few years, but it won't be long until your house will feel smaller than ever. The truth is that while your children leave your home as individuals, they tend to come back in herds. The addition of sons- and daughters-in-law leads to the fabulous addition of grandchildren, and soon those Sunday dinners begin to feel more like what used to happen only on Thanksgiving.
Actually, although it may seem like you need a bigger house, the need is often not for more square footage, but for a different distribution of the space you already have. You no longer need all five bedrooms, but the dining room that seats eight is now totally inadequate.
This client reconfigured the interior design upstairs and down to create more gathering space for their changing family. Downstairs they created a game room/family room as a space for the younger teenage kids to bring their friends. "The basement didn't function as much of anything before the remodel," our client said. "Now, the kids are scheduling when they can bring their friends to hang out in the basement."
On the main level of their rambler, they reconfigured the kitchen, living and dining rooms to create a large great room. "One son just left on an LDS mission this summer, and we had over 100 people at the house," he said. "Between the great room, the basement family room and the new deck out back, we were comfortable with that many people in our house. That is what we were hoping for."
Even though the game room and some bedrooms are downstairs, the heart of the living space is on the main level. This client said he wanted a home in which he and his wife could grow old, and keeping the master suite on the main floor will help them reach that goal. The idea behind the "main-floor living" concept is to have everything you need for daily life — bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry — all accessible on one level. This concept will help you stay in your home even if stairs are not practical anymore.
Other simple changes that can make a big difference in the future function of your home include providing slightly wider halls (a minimum of 3 feet) and using at least 2-feet-by-8-inch wide doors everywhere. In the event someone in your family ever needs a wheelchair — temporarily or permanently — this will provide access throughout your home. Making sure you have at least one entry door into your home that can be reached without using steps is another important issue to consider in the planning stages of your project.
This family represents many of us who move from raising children to housing teenagers to hosting the family as the grandparents all in the same home. Children definitely tie families to neighborhoods while they are in school, but many families choose to remodel rather than move even when faced with an empty nest. Parents, too, find that they are invested in the community and neighborhood, and it feels too drastic to start over when your family needs different space. In addition, you need to consider the revolt you may have on your hands when you inform the family that you are moving from the home they grew up in.
Ultimately, each family needs to decide what is best for all involved. When you are planning your remodel, it is essential to look at where you are in life at the time, and to also do your best to anticipate where you are going to be in years to come. Understanding your current situation and anticipating your future will help you and your architect create a design that will age well with you and your changing family. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.