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updated: 6/10/2011 7:50 AM

Builders offer more guest suites as family dynamics change

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  • Creekside at Inverness Ridge by Meritus Homes offers two designs with standard guest suites.

    Creekside at Inverness Ridge by Meritus Homes offers two designs with standard guest suites.

  • At Courthouse Square in Wheaton, owner have the option to turn the upper level into a one- or two-bedroom suite with a bath, sitting area and kitchette. Optional elevators make this a good option for aged parents, but also works for boomerang children.

    At Courthouse Square in Wheaton, owner have the option to turn the upper level into a one- or two-bedroom suite with a bath, sitting area and kitchette. Optional elevators make this a good option for aged parents, but also works for boomerang children.

By Jean Murphy

For many people in their 50s and 60s, the nest is anything but empty these days.

Some delayed having their families until later in life and still have teens or younger children living with them. Others have children who have graduated from college or have even gotten married and now have moved back in with Mom and Dad because of economic distress or other issues. Finally, there are the baby boomers who are caring for elderly parents who live with them.

For all of these people, as well as for those who just enjoy hosting occasional out-of-town guests, the presence of a guest room or suite in their home is imperative. So builders are now incorporating them into the houses, townhouses, duplexes and condominiums that they are building.

"Our buyers are absolutely interested in spaces like this -- for a variety of reasons. So we are offering plans to accommodate them virtually everywhere we are building," said Court Airhart, president of Airhart Construction in West Chicago (

"For instance, a month ago we introduced a new 2,500-square-foot, two-story single-family home plan that gives people the option of giving up their living room and transforming a powder room into a full bath so that they can have a first-floor guest suite," he said.

"Everyone is telling us to give up the living rooms anyway, since people prefer a large family room," Airhart continued. "So this plan allows people to turn that formal living room and powder room into a bedroom and full bath. This plan can be built anywhere, but was specifically designed for our zero-lot line Fisher Farm community in Winfield."

That community also features several ranch plans, all of which offer two separate bedroom suites that are on either side of the home for additional privacy. Many buyers have chosen these plans to accommodate their aged parents, in particular, according to Airhart.

Last year he also built a custom home in Wheaton that included a separate 500-square-foot apartment with kitchenette, sitting area, bedroom and bathroom for the owner of the home originally on the property. The main part of the house is now devoted to his daughter, her husband and their young family.

Finally, at Courthouse Square in Wheaton, the plans offer an optional upper level that can be used as a loft or can be transformed into one or two bedrooms with a bath, sitting area and kitchenette. Since elevators can be added to these units, this arrangement is perfect for aged parents and also works well for boomerang children.

"One of our residents even uses it to accommodate missionaries on furlough for a month or two," he explained.

Helen Weiss, vice president of Weiss Development Corp. of Lincolnshire (, has found that 10 to 20 percent of prospective buyers at their Lincolnshire Place condominium community in Lincolnshire are looking for a guest suite to be part of their new home. Consequently, three of their six floor plans include this amenity.

"People want the nexus of the family to still be with Mom and Dad. They want their children to still feel that they have a place at home, so they often keep their big house longer than they really want it so that their children feel they have some place to visit," Weiss explained.

They also want to be able to host their grandchildren and friends and family from out of town, especially since families today are often living far from one another.

Weiss Development has designed its guest suites to have their own separate wing from the rest of the condominium. They also offer four penthouses at Lincolnshire Place, all of which offer the option of a "studio apartment-style" guest suite on an upper level. Those include one bedroom, a bath, a work space and a rooftop deck.

"The residential marketplace has evolved," said Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Homes ( of Northbrook. "There is a lot more multigenerational living today, thanks to the tough economy and people wanting more contact with their family members."

Out of its five plans at Creekside at Inverness Ridge, Brunhofer said that two come standard with second-floor guest suites, including walk-in closets (with lots of room to store belongings for an extended period of time) and a connected bath.

"Our guest suites are located upstairs with the other bedrooms which makes guests feel like they are part of the household, yet they offer the important privacy of an attached bath," he explained. But one of those plans also offers the option of converting a first-floor den and powder room to a first-floor bedroom with full bath if mobility on the stairs is a consideration for your guests.

Baby boomers are very receptive to this idea, according to Brunhofer, depending on the dynamics of their personal families. Since they are seeing their purchase as a long-term investment, they can see that there may be a need to such a space in the future.

John Wozniak, president of J. Lawrence Homes of Wheaton (, has seen a growing need for guest suites among buyers in recent years thanks to family consolidation. People now realize the need to be flexible in case their older family members or young adults need help or if they want to invite friends or other family members to stay.

"We are definitely seeing our plans that offer this type of space selling better than those that do not offer this option," he admitted.

J. Lawrence offers guest suite options in five of its floor plans at Remington Landings in North Aurora, Midlane Country Club in Wadsworth and Ambry Estates in Lynwood.

As an extra perk at Midlane Country Club, guests have access to the community's on-site amenities like an 18-hole golf course, driving range, fitness center, swimming pool, sun deck and clubhouse.

"With the comfortable accommodations and club-style amenities, guests feel like they're at a resort," Wozniak said.

KZF Development in Northbrook ( has also seen a need for guest suites among its prospective buyers, according to Joe Giampa, sales manager for Meadow Ridge in Northbrook.

"As many as 30 percent of the people who come here to look want to have a nice guest suite available in case someone comes for an extended stay -- a child, parent or friend."

For quite some time KZF has offered an upstairs hall bath in its townhouses and duplexes that is shared by several bedrooms. But now they are also offering the option to change the floor plan so that the bathroom is accessible directly from one of the bedrooms, as well as from the hallway.