Home & Garden

Baby Boomers are re-engineering their homes for multigenerational living


When Joan and Reed Nelson built their house 22 years ago, it was a great fit for a young family with three active boys. The Nelsons installed a pool in their big backyard and a full kitchen on the walkout lower level where they hosted their sons’ soccer-team parties. “It served us well, raising three kids,” said Joan of their west Bloomington, Minn., two-story.

Over the years, the Nelson family changed. Joan’s father died, and her widowed mother needed more day-to-day help. Their three sons were now young adults with independent lives.

But the house didn’t change with them. It lacked some of today’s amenities that the couple craved, including a master suite and a more open layout on the main floor. “We wanted better entertaining space,” said Joan. “We host big gatherings, and the kitchen was cramped.”

They considered building a new house from scratch and looked at several lots. But nothing was as appealing as the location they already had, with its pool, a big yard for their dog, and a nearby nature center with wooded views and lots of wildlife.

“We’re close to freeways, the airport and Reed’s work,” Joan said. “If we moved, we’d be farther out.” So they decided to reinvent their existing home.

The couple began brainstorming ways to reconfigure the spaces they had. Their two-story family room and foyer wasted a lot of space. If they lowered the vaulted ceilings, they could create second-floor space for a master suite with a new bath and a big closet.

If they reworked the layout on the first floor they could get a roomier, more workable kitchen and mudroom. And if they remodeled their lower-level family room and kitchen, they could create an inviting apartment for Joan’s mother.

To carry out the ambitious whole-house transformation, they turned to Amek Custom Builders of Bloomington. Many of Amek’s recent projects have involved converting traditional single-family houses into multigenerational homes, said owner Matt Schmidt.

“For sure it’s a trend,” he said. “When the economy crashed, people started moving in together to avoid nursing homes.” The economy has improved, but the trend continues, in part, he said, because the baby boomers are getting older.

While most multigenerational projects require adding space, the Nelsons just needed to make better use of the square footage they already had.

Reworking the upstairs was a bit more complicated. To create the new master suite, Amek built a new master bath in what used to be one of the boys’ bedrooms.

On the main floor, a small addition added 100 square feet, creating space for a bigger mudroom and a dog wash, complete with floor drain, for Billy, their large goldendoodle.

“It’s a small area, but it makes a big difference, Schmidt said.

New style

Originally, the Nelsons wanted a modern look for their “new” and improved home. “We started out wanting really contemporary, then we switched gears,” said Joan, who did the interior design. “I’d call it rustic contemporary.”

Rustic touches include ceiling beams in the family room made of Douglas fir from their lake place. Reed’s home office, once separated from the family room by a wall, now opens into the room with barn-style vintage auditorium doors that they found at Architectural Antiques. “If he’s doing work in there, we can still feel together,” Joan said.

During the project, the Nelsons reused and repurposed what materials they could. A Silestone countertop from upstairs now tops a bank of cabinets in Joan’s mother’s apartment. They also moved their washer and dryer downstairs, to create her laundry room. Doors and flooring were reused as much as possible; those that couldn’t be repurposed were posted on Craigslist or given away.

The Nelsons had hoped to replace the maple floors on their main level with acacia wood, the flooring they chose for their new master bedroom. “It’s dog-proof,” Joan said. But the budget wouldn’t allow it, so instead they stained the existing maple dark ebony with a matte finish for an updated look.

The basement apartment was remodeled first, then the Nelsons moved downstairs while the upper floors were being transformed, a process that took another six months.

“It was challenging,” said Joan. At one point, she escaped construction by retreating to the lake while Reed stayed behind, sleeping on a bed encircled by plastic sheeting.

But now that the project is complete, the reworked house was worth the wait.

“The kitchen is so nice and functional,” said Joan. “We entertain every week, sometimes twice a week.” When guests gather around the center island, there’s still plenty of room to maneuver. “We had 75 people here for a party for Reed’s dad’s 80th birthday,” she said.