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Designing the perfect in-law suite

Toronto Interior Stylist Lisa Canning is busy renovating her family’s bungalow and redesigning her basement to include an in-law suite. She is one of many who belong to the “sandwich generation” (those who are raising young children as well as caring for aging parents), and believes housing the entire family under one roof will make life easier on everyone.

Design trend expert, Frank Turco, says in-law suites are growing in popularity not only to house aging parents but live-in nannies as well. And dual-working parent households under severe time constraints are seeking to minimize their movements between home and daycare or elderly parents’ residences. Whether housing aging parents, a nanny or frequent guests, there are several ways to make your in-law suite feel like home.

Find space

Assess your home to determine the best possible space for the in-law suite. A garage or a porch area that can be enclosed, or two bedrooms that can be combined and transformed into a living space, are possibilities. One of the benefits of a main floor, in-law suite is avoiding the accessibility concerns that come with elderly parents having to go up and down steps. However, Turco says space restrictions in the home’s main living area often make the basement the most attractive place for an in-law suite. A self-contained unit should be large enough to include a kitchenette with a sink, small fridge and cooking station, a separate bathroom, an area for sleep and a resting zone (a sofa or lounge chair for reading or watching TV away from the hustle bustle of the rest of the home).

Address privacy concerns

Moving into an in-law suite is often a difficult transition for everyone. Not only do you want to maintain your privacy, you likely don’t want to know everything about your parents’ lives either. Designing a space that ensures respect of privacy for everyone living under one roof will ensure success. A separate entrance will make the space feel private even though it’s contained in the same dwelling. “A separate entrance keeps kids from entering. It keeps cats and dogs from entering and keeps out noise [from other parts of the house],” says Turco. In addition to installing a separate entrance to her basement in-law suite, Canning is insolating the walls and ceiling to diminish the sound of her four children upstairs.

Make it accessible

Making the space accessible ensures elderly parents can have their independence. Canning is keeping accessibility top-of-mind when designing her in-law suite by making sure the shelving height is low, the doors and drawer hardware are easy to open, and the doorways are wide enough to accommodate a walker or wheelchair should they be required.

Let there be light

Because her in-law suite is located in the basement, Canning is concerned about lighting. “We’re being strategic in how many windows we’re able to place to allow as much natural light in as possible,” she says. Installing multiple light sources, including ambient lighting (a main light switch typically for an overhead light), task lighting (for reading) and accent lighting (highlighting a gallery wall or a favourite piece of art) can help to create a warm and welcoming space.

Make it personal

Incorporating personal touches from a parent’s original home, whether a piece of furniture or a beloved painting, can make the space feel more comfortable. Keep décor in tune with parents’ design tastes to give them more ownership over the space. “It’s important to make sure they feel that their personal taste is being taken into account,” says Canning. In her designs, Canning likes to incorporate a lot of family photos. A gallery wall of favourite photos is a great way to make the space feel more personal. Turco recommends incorporating as much storage as possible into the design to accommodate items parents may want to bring from their previous home. “You don’t want them to feel like they have to purge everything [when moving into a smaller space],” he says. Maximizing space under a bed, installing closet organizing systems and purchasing dual-purpose furniture such as storage ottomans are great ways to maximize storage in a small space.