How to create a home fit for a multigenerational family

Whether for adult children or elderly relatives, multigenerational living is a growing trend that can be improved in practice by good design.

By Hugh Metcalf | 23 April 2020

Whether you need space for for adult children or elderly relatives, adapting your home means that several generations can live together happily under one roof.

basement conversion for multi-generational living from granit arhitecture + design - grand designs

Image: Granit designed the rear extension and basement of this south London house to create a three-generation home. The grandmother lives on the lower level, which can be reached from inside the house, but also has its own street entrance. Photo: Andrew Beasley 

With some young adults unable to afford their own property and an increasing number of older people requiring support in later life, family homes with multiple generations living under one roof are a reality for many. In fact, a 2017 report by the house-building research body NHBC Foundation revealed that 1.8 million UK households include two or more generations of adults. If you relate to this situation, there are several ways to reconfigure or add to your home.

Conversions for extra room

Converting your loft, basement or an attached garage are options for gaining extra rooms, making use of existing volume in your home without having to extend. But any such alterations will be determined by the requirements of the people who will live there. An attic or basement conversion may not be an ideal space for somebody with limited mobility, for example.

There are alterations that can be made to your home under permitted development rights, without the need to apply for formal planning permission. These depend on the extent of the changes you want to make to the exterior of your property. But there are circumstances when PDR doesn’t apply, such as if your home is listed or in a conservation area.

Selling up and commissioning an architect-designed self-build is another route to consider, as your current and future needs can be incorporated from the outset.

Self-contained spaces

weatherboard annexe to countryside family home - grand designs

Image: Featuring a weatherboard finish, this annexe was designed by Border Oak as part of a larger self-build. It’s home to the owner’s parents and is separated from the main house by an office and garages. 

A self-contained annexe can be a great solution, but building a separate structure in the garden is not always viable due to insufficient outdoor space or strict planning limitations. When constructing an annexe in your garden, you’ll also need to check whether your local authority has any specific regulations relating to this kind of development. Some councils may have policies to support annexe builds, but they will also have criteria and guidelines that you must follow. Also, check for regulations regarding a new-build being used as a separate address.

For more advice, take a look at this guide to building a home in your garden.

Inclusive design

Once you have a detailed picture of each person’s specific needs and wishes, review Part M of the building regulations. This covers ease of access and the use of buildings, including facilities for people with disabilities. Part M will give you a good understanding of the basics rather than best practice, but it’s an excellent place to start.

Practical considerations may include wider corridors and doors for wheelchair or mobility aid users, an accessible wet room, grab rails, and hoists and tracks for more severe mobility restrictions. Step-free spaces with level thresholds between inside and out are also helpful.

Contrasting colours will help people with visual impairments to navigate spaces, so you might paint doors a different colour to the walls or add contrasting strips to the edges of steps. This can also apply to door handles, handrails on stairs and light switches.

For more complex needs, such as for people living with dementia, there is growing research on how to design spaces for easy navigation. By introducing niches with personalised mementoes such as family photos, it might be easier for those with short-term memory issues to find their way around the space and live safely.

Future-proofing a home or annexe doesn’t mean merely filling it with clunky and sometimes unattractive mobility aids and safety features. Good design can overcome many of the challenges associated with old age. Thankfully there are also now lots of suppliers of well-designed mobility aids.