Top 3 Considerations for Multi-Gen Homes

Things to think about when designing multi gen homes

The demand for multi-gen homes is on the rise, fueled by an increasingly diverse buyer pool. We’ve been watching this trend for a while, but in digging into it a bit more, we found that nearly 1 in 5 Americans currently live in a multi-generational household – that’s approximately 60.6 MILLION people! (Source: Pew Research). Keeping this in mind, KGA’s John Guilliams recently joined Lita Dirks and Chris Lessard in creating a program for the 2017 International Builders’ Show on multi-gen housing. Today we are excited to share some of the key takeaways on what you should look for in a multi-gen home.

1. Thoughtfully Designed Shared Spaces

Areas such as the living room, kitchen and dining room often act as shared spaces for a home’s multi-gen residents, making it important to develop seamless flow and function within these rooms. Look for features like a back kitchen or a beverage bar, which create additional storage and ease of entertainment. A kitchen with two islands provides residents with extra prep and entertainment opportunities.

Kitchen with double islands
Two islands provide extra prep and entertainment opportunities as well as additional storage needs. Photo: Lita Dirks & Co. and Canuso Homes, Glassboro, NJ.

Many 2 story homes offer an optional upstairs ‘bonus’ room. The bonus room can provide much needed additional shared living space, a ‘kids’ living room or game space.

Bonus upstairs room provides additional shared living space. Photo: KGA Studio Architects and Epic Homes.

If there are lots of little ones around, a kids studio which can only be accessed from the main living room is a handy way to keep tabs on everyone. A sliding barn door hides messes when not in use.

This thoughtfully designed kids studio is a great way to keep an eye on the little ones while entertaining in the living room. Photo: KGA Studio Architects and Epic Homes.

2. Flexible Private Spaces

Depending on the home and lot size, there are many options for flexible, private spaces for multi-gen residents. Multi-gen spaces can take many shapes and forms, including:

  • Loft or basement apartment
  • Main floor multi-gen suite
  • Dual master suites
  • Casita
  • Carriage house apartment
  • Lock-off main level suite

No matter what form they take, multi-gen spaces should be designed for both privacy and flexibility, with the ability to accommodate changing homeowner needs and desires.

Some spaces are designed to serve as long-term solutions (think multi-gen suite with living room and kitchenette) while others are designed as short-term living arrangements (a home office with a murphy bed is a great place for the ‘move back’ millennial to crash for a few months while apartment or job hunting).

This home office easily converts to a guest room (see below). Photo: Lita Dirks & Co. and Taylor Morrison, 2017 IBS Show Home.
A murphy bed turns this home office into a great place for that ‘move back’ millennial to crash for a few months while apartment or job hunting. Photo: Lita Dirks & Co. and Taylor Morrison, 2017 IBS Show Home.
This private apartment on the 2nd level of the home is a great example of a long term solution. Although you cannot see it, there is a kitchenette with a small but functional dining space, a living area, and an additional outdoor space. Photo: Lita Dirks & Co. and Beechwood Homes, Arverne, NY.

A great example of a private, flexible space that is starting to be incorporated into more homes is the lock-off apartment. Inspired by lock-off units in resort communities, these spaces serve multiple purposes, including a rental or revenue suite (think Airbnb), multi-gen living space, or caretaker apartment.

Size isn’t everything – at just 24 ft wide and a little over 2,000 sf total, the lower level of this 3-story home functions as a lock-off apartment. Image: KGA Studio Architects, PC and TRIO Environments.

3. What Additional Features Should I Look for?

When living in a multi-gen space, family members may desire features that allow for further privacy and livability. Whenever possible, a separate entrance is ideal. Depending on the size of the home, this may lead directly outside or be accessed from the garage via a shared owner’s entry.

The main floor multi-gen suite in this 3,140 SF home offers the option of a kitchenette and private entrance accessed through the owner’s entry. Photo: KGA Studio Architects, PC and CalAtlantic Homes.

Multi-gen spaces meant for long-term living should have a private living space that is separate from the sleeping area. A kitchenette or kitchen adds increased independence, but options may be limited depending on zoning.

Other features that can increase functionality and livability include a private garage, laundry, or small outdoor space.


As the number and diversity of multi-gen and non-traditional families (think Fuller House on Netflix!) grow, so should the options and design solutions on the market expand and evolve to meet the needs of this market segment. Multi-gen features are no longer reserved for large custom homes – many new homes now offer plans with options such as elevators, multi-gen suites, and dual master suites; even in homes with smaller square footage.

A special thanks to Lita Dirks & Co for providing inspiration and images for this blog!

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