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posted: 8/3/2014 12:01 AM

Many families are housing multiple generations

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  • This small kitchen is designed with windows positioned high in order to lower the counters and cabinetry.

    This small kitchen is designed with windows positioned high in order to lower the counters and cabinetry.
    Courtesy of Scavolini

By Christine Brun

Many baby boomers find themselves sandwiched between aging parents and boomerang kids who come home to live again. A larger percentage of college-educated progeny have returned home to live or rely on a parental safety net than ever before.

One in five people in their 20s and 30s live at home with a parent. Some 60 percent of young people in that age group reportedly receive financial support from a parent.

It should be no surprise then that families are doubling up and consolidating homes in order to create one flexible abode that can service several generations. I know several families that sold both a mother/grandmother's home and their own in order to buy a property that allows for a guesthouse or traditional granny flat.

Depending on the health status and mobility of the oldest family members, those options might offer the most privacy to them. However, if constant monitoring is necessary, it might be the younger members who claim the separate living quarters.

Technology helps out because these days even blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rates might be remotely watched.

If you are preparing a flexible adjunct building, think in terms of aging for the outer limits of planning. You will want to avoid anything that might cause tripping and falling. One of my dear friends just took a horrific spill down a harsh flight of stone stairs in his own house, with disastrous results. A concussion, broken neck vertebrae and severe bleeding resulted.

So, obviously, one level is best for a senior member of the family or allocating rooms on the ground level instead of upstairs.

Next, plan the bathrooms and food preparation areas with flexibility built in. Roll in showers are popular these days and require a central room drain. Look at cabinetry that can adjust to wheelchair height and upper cabinets that can be lowered for easier access.

Remember that both men and women "shrink" as they age. If you have a choice, position at least one oven or a convection oven within easy reach.

Try to remember that as we age, our eyes require more light. While you might be perfectly fine with one light over a vanity in the bathroom, realize that the aging eye needs much more wattage in order to accomplish tasks like plucking eyebrows, shaving or applying medicine. If a younger family member uses the same space for a time, they won't mind the extra lights.

In this photograph, a small kitchen is designed with windows positioned quite high in order to allow for more functional cabinetry.

Invest in dual use furniture. Think of a bunk bed with a double bed below and a single above. Research the most comfortable sleeper sofas on the market today that offer a blowup bladder covered in super comfortable mattress materials.

Get rid of the deep and bulky recliner and replace it with a shallower lounge chair with sturdy arms. As we age, it is very difficult to get in and out of deep, low upholstered pieces of furniture.

In order to conserve space, research tables with adjustable heights that might be used for both dining and cocktail purposes. Make sure ottomans open up for storage and that closets are made as functional as possible with over-the-door storage devices.

While a young family member might be comfortable getting down on hands and knees to store extra clothing under a bed, a senior member will not appreciate being forced to do the same. Think convenience for the older family members and safety.

Remember that privacy is important for every age. Locks on bedroom and bathroom doors are useful. Rules about privacy are just as important to discuss at a family meeting. No matter how much Grandma loves her grandchildren, she will not appreciate having her personal articles disturbed.

The same respect should be allocated to a returning child who may have lived on their own for years before coming back home. Thoughtfulness, durability, attractiveness and comfort are important for all ages.

• Christine Brun is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by email at

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