It’s not mobile internet but a home that can bring families together, three generations in one property. The USA recorded 41 million such families in 2008, representing 16% of households, a rapidly growing movement. Britain has around one million households with children, one or both parents and grandparents living in what is now described as 3G households. It begs the question whether this is progress, a society under pressure or the embracing of a new kind of sociability, or a return to traditional living patterns.
Outbuildings provide creative opportunities for 3G living
A Home for the Heart by Angela Neustatter shows us how households of the future might look. With terms such as ‘boomerang’, (returning kids) ’sandwich’ (young kids, grandparents) or ‘friendship’ or elective families, now known as ‘framilies’ there is a sense of many possible ways to live.
Neustatter describes the way her marriage was able to survive through changed living arrangements, she and her husband living in separate spaces of their tall terraced house and also sharing it with her son and his family. It’s a good thought that buildings can keep together and nuture family lives, that they have a lifelike capacity - and that designers can help make this happen.
Some people consider cohabiting with our parents or grown up kids as a sign of failure, but the extended families of the past can be seen as perfect for current times. With high house prices and mortgages hard to get, surely it is better to be together in a familiar environment, albeit in slightly less expansive conditions? It’s better than renting tiny rooms in buildings where we have little control of immediate surroundings, often without access to a garden and where we can’t control noise and one’s immediate neighbours’ behaviour, mostly for the sake of independence.
Becca, my wife, and I are lucky enough to have a home with enough garden to accommodate outbuildings (including the studio in which I am writing this). We have four kids, three grown up. What better than to adapt the property, if and when there is the chance to live as a 3G family? As we are about to become grandparents for the first time it is suddenly a real prospect. All the kids were brought up in this house and have a deep attachment to the place. In the writer Will Self’s words, ‘the gradual accretion of memories, that perfuse mere bricks and mortar and possessions, end up, quite inevitably creating a genuine sense of home’. Experiencing this concept of home as a sphere of safety, pleasure and love gives tremendous confidence to growing children.
Why ditch all this unless there is a good reason? Living longer in your home and altering it to accommodate other generations requires compromises on space and décor but offers emotional glue, psycho-geographical support when needed. When not, the familiarity of their walls breeds a relaxed ambience, financial safety and three generational well-being.
I thoroughly recommend, particularly for my American readers, Together Again, a creative guide to successful multigenerational living, by Sharon G Niederhaus and John L Graham. It’s a mini-compendium of practical and personal advice and also covers sociological, philosophical and psychological aspects for those interested in living together as 3G families. She also refers, in one chapter to how possessive women can be about their own kitchens, the pitfalls and joys of sharing. Kitchen designers note!