Smart Tech for Multigenerational Homes Produces a Win-Win
Today, a simple clap or single word can bring electronics to life. It’s helpful for all, but a true luxury for those with kids underfoot, a hectic shedule or disabilities. This type of convenience is a “poster child” for two trends that are upending American housing: smart technology and the multigenerational home.
These two trends are driving interrelated societal change. And they are unlikely to wane soon since they can save time, money and make life easier. In fact, smart technology is taking over our homes—homes that are increasingly multi-generational.
How Smart Technology Is Taking Over Our Homes
Smart-tech products once were mainly for the affluent—or those on the cutting edge. But cheaper sensors are fueling the age of smart everything, notes TechCrunch.com. And as prices drop, homes are being outfitted from the ground up with an array of smart tech products that can handle myriad tasks, from filling a bathtub to programming a thermostat.
Today’s smart tech also gets smarter; a case in point is the refrigerator that learns a family’s habits and orders groceries. It is also a selling point; 94 percent of buyers are so smitten with tech-rich applications they would sacrifice for them 1,000 square feet of living space, notes Realty Times.
The Growing Prevalence Of Multigenerational Living
Ironically, the square footage of our homes is not necessarily growing by leaps and bounds, yet multi-generational households are on the rise. By definition, the term refers to households with two or more adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren, and one-fifth of all families—almost 61 million Americans— have multiple generations living under the same roof, notes a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis of Census data.
Growing racial and ethnic diversity explains some of the rise in multigenerational living, reports Pew, as those groups are more likely than whites to live in multigenerational homes. That means smart tech will come in handier than ever in busy households with multiple needs.
The numbers are spurring builders and developers to meet this need in creative, flexible ways. But to create spaces that let all residents in a home make the most of today—and tomorrow’s—cutting edge smart tech, architects, developers and builders must marry these two trends seamlessly in the spaces they create.
Thanks to our work designing model home interiors, amenities and hospitality spaces nationally, we know which smart-tech products work best for each generation. We are also adept at designing interiors with an optimal balance between private and shared space to help multiple generations live together harmoniously.
Merging Smart Technology and Multigenerational Homes
So, how do design professionals blend these two trends? It’s critical to design homes that will meet each generation’s diverse needs, yet allow them to make maximum use of the latest and greatest the smart tech trend has to offer, as we noted in Builder and Developer magazine. Here are three ways to accomplish these goals:
Create Separate Spaces for Privacy and Sharing
Here’s an increasingly common dilemma as the population ages. It’s tough for older family members to give up independence and live with “kids” because of economics or failing health. And it’s equally hard for millennials in entry-level positions to come home to live in order to reduce educational debt or save money. New options such as builder Lennar’s “Next Gen” homes include an “in-law/boomerang suite” with a flexible space (for living and sleeping), a kitchen and often a separate door to the outside apart from other bedrooms. Spaces for togetherness need to be incorporated throughout shared living, dining and kitchen spaces, interspersed with specific havens for tasks that require quiet time. These spaces can be designated with special arrangements of task-specific furnishings and set off with sliding partitions and through the use of different colors.
Make Flexibility a Long-Term Goal
Personalizing space is all well and good for homeowners, but the best designed spaces can also be changed on a dime without major remodeling when family needs change. If an elderly parent moves to an assisted facility, the space—if designed flexibly–can become a teenager’s highly desired retreat. Toll Brothers, another builder, offers the option in many homes of a second, first-floor master suite. The National Institute of Building Sciences’ “Whole Building Design Guide” refers to this concept as “Flexible Design” since it anticipates change rather than reacts later. The key is also to design spaces so that any smart-tech systems can be changed out easily when the next generation of products emerges.
Here’s another mantra to improve multigenerational living. Rooms need to be designed so family members respect each other’s preferences. If the family doesn’t eat together because of schedules or food habits, the kitchen’s design must accommodate this with an extra-large refrigerator, thoughtfully configured cabinets so each family member gets its own designated storage, multiple places to eat in the space and more. Apps, too, can aid differences. Light manufacturers like Lutron understand dual needs with products that work multiple ways. Along similar lines, Phillips Hue has a kit that lets homeowners to “play” with light colors to match their moods.
There may not yet be an app to predict the future, but having different possibilities in place—from rooms and layouts for multigenerations to multiple levels of smart technology—may be the next best thing.