Building houses designed for blended families

Architects, real estate agents, and builders are adjusting to selling more homes to blended families:

“More and more people are getting divorced, especially in Paris and its suburbs. We have many customers in this situation. We try to interest them in a certain type of home,” admits Alexandre Colleu, a real estate agent working in suburbia. In France, one out of five children live in a blended family. In Switzerland, more than 22,000 divorces were granted in 2010; the figure has been increasing steadily for the past few years. “Separations are increasing, but so is the speed at which couples find new partners. They are not a market yet, but they’re a target population,” confirms Yankel Fijalkow, author of The Sociology of Housing. “Real estate agents have now found a way of selling homes that would be too expensive for a single family,” he notes. At the National Architecture School in Paris, where Fijalkow teaches, masters-builders and architects are working on the issue: “They are studying the housing models of countries from countries where people live with their extended family rather than within nuclear families,” Professor Fijalkow explains.

Each blended family is different. Some homes are organized so that each generation has their own space– whereas in other houses, people are separated according to family groups. Let’s go back to the aforementioned “nine-room house”. The estate agent describes it: “It is made of two detached houses linked by a footbridge. The couple who wants to preserve their newly-found intimacy can live in one house, and the children in the other. Also, children of blended families are often teenagers who appreciate the idea of having their own private space,” he adds.

Sibrine Durnez, an architect in the Belgian city of Liège, has designed a house with two very separate levels. “The parents did not want to live in a sad, empty house on the weeks when they don’t have custody of their children. So from their floor, they can’t see the kids’ rooms. They also wanted all the children’s bedrooms to be exactly the same size, to avoid jealousy,” she explains, adding that her firm mostly designs small houses for single-parent families.

Other families chose to allocate a part of the house to each “clan,” where they share some rooms but sometimes have two different front doors. The most radical version of this is a perfectly symmetrical house, with a double kitchen and a double living room, which can be separated or joined according to the mood of the day. “It’s important to be able to spend time with each other, but it’s also important to be able to ‘avoid’ each other,” Yankel Fijalkow explains.

This sounds like an interesting adaptation to the Going Solo world: even in families where adults have decided to live together, the emphasis in these homes is on private space where each individual can adjust to the changing family circumstances.

It would be really interesting to hear from families that live in these homes. Does the design help promote family togetherness? In other words, is it more important to simply have the different family members living in the same dwelling than interacting on a regular basis within the dwelling? What happens if families grow closer together and want more common space – do they have to move?

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