Milwaukee/NARI Suggests Remodeling Tips for Multi-Generational Spaces

Aug. 6, 2010

“In-law suite” is a phrase commonly used for a living space within a home that is set apart for the grandparents to live with the family. Similarly, more people today, after getting married and having children, find themselves moving back in with their parents. AARP reports that the number of households nationwide with more than two generations expanded from 5 million in 2000 to 6.2 million in 2008. Members of the Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council, Inc., the area’s leading home improvement and remodeling industry resource for more than 49 years, say that home remodels can help families accommodate these changing living situations.

Whether it’s the children and grandchildren moving in with the grandparents, or the grandparents moving into an in-law suite, multi-generational projects are now common according to Jim Pitzen, ALA, CR, owner of Pitzen Design, Ltd. in Brookfield.

“I’ve done several designs for this type of living,” he said. He also had firsthand experience. “My mom stayed with my family for five months last summer, and we found that you must have a separate area that the ‘guest’ can go and call their own. It allows them to have some downtime away from everyone, and allows the family to have alone time without the ‘guest.’”

Tom Weiher, CR, CKBR, president of Carmel Builders, Inc. in Menomonee Falls, agreed that creating a separate space is key. “Having a separate bathroom and separate space for an aging parent is important – you want connectedness but the ability to have privacy,” he said. “You want separation, not isolation.”

Multi-generational remodels can be a smart investment. Demand is rising for multi-generational housing as buyers scale down and reign in expenses, according to a survey by Coldwell Banker Real Estate in Parsippany, N.J. Of the company’s real estate agents polled in January, 37 percent said that in the past year, buyers were increasingly shopping for homes that fit more than one generation. Almost 70 percent of the 2,360 agents polled said they expect economic conditions will continue to drive demand for this type of housing over the next year. Financial implications are the primary reason multiple generations are moving in together, but health issues and strong family bonds are also factors, the poll showed.

Weiher has done several remodeling projects to create a comfortable environment for multiple generations. In one home, existing space was repurposed. “Using a back entry, laundry room, powder room, and office, we gutted and reconfigured the space into a small mother-in-law suite with a nice-sized bathroom,” he said. “The bathroom was designed to accommodate an aging adult with easy access, a barrier-free shower, and universal wide doors.”

Pitzen provided a few key design details for homeowners to consider for a multi-generational space or in-law suite:

• 24-hour access without disturbing the family – maybe a private hallway away from the kitchen and living area and a separate entrance into the home.

• Space to park their own car so they can maintain their independence.

• If allowed by the municipality and zoning requirements, a separate kitchen space.

• Private outdoor porch or patio for quiet time.

• Private “accessible” bathroom.

The Milwaukee/NARI Home Improvement Council was chartered in July 1961, as a Chapter of the National Home Improvement Council. In May of 1982, the National Home Improvement Council merged with the National Remodelers Association to form NARI – the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. The Council’s goals of encouraging ethical conduct, professionalism, and sound business practices in the remodeling industry have led to the remodeling industry’s growth and made NARI a recognized authority in that industry. With over 900 members, the Milwaukee Chapter is the nation’s largest.

For more information or to receive a free copy of an annual membership roster listing all members alphabetically and by category, and the booklet, “Milwaukee/NARI’s Remodeling Guide,” call (414) 771-4071 or visit the Council’s Web site at

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