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Rethinking the Mother-In-Law Suite

April 30 2010

Committing a space in your home for your mother (-in-law?) or an elderly family member is a big commitment and will require a lot of work, but the emotional payoff is well worth the monetary investment.

According to Generations United, many families are adjusting to economic circumstances to accommodate their elderly parents or other relatives, particularly the “sandwich” generation otherwise known as baby boomers. 

Many circumstances are factors – the rising costs of senior care, unemployment, the death of a parent’s spouse, yet many families are rethinking their core beliefs, that having a multigenerational home is a richer environment for everyone.

The trick is creating an environment that will allow your senior family member to be the most comfortable in the space available. 

What is a Mother-In-Law Room?

The mother-in-law room, commonly referred to as MIL in multiple listing service homes for sale, is usually a private suite with a bedroom, kitchenette and bathroom that is separate from the rest of the home, and may include a private entrance. The addition of a kitchenette to the bedroom and bath offers your senior a little autonomy and the ability to make a cup of coffee or a snack without feeling as if they’re in the way.

Depending on your home’s floor plan, an MIL suite may be easier said than done, but for homes with spaces that can be converted, like a garage, workshop or sun room, preparing your floor plan can be simple. Just take the square footage to a kitchen designer or interior designer and he or she will design a practical and attractive floor plan that maximizes storage and living space.

If you don’t have space available, you can consider contacting an architect or contractor who can create a room addition that will not only complement your home, but also incorporate universal design features such as wheelchair access doorways.

When you decide add on or build a new structure on your property, remember to check with your city clerk or other municipal authority to see what zoning laws apply to your home or area before you begin construction. For instance, designbasics.com warns that some municipalities prohibit a single-family home from having two full kitchens or a suite having a separate entrance from the main entry, while others will permit these so long as you can prove a family member lives there.

Meeting Your Senior Family Member’s Needs

Remembering the senior’s needs will assist everyone in adjusting to having one more member in the household. Place your senior’s suite on the first floor, away from children’s bedrooms or playrooms, in a tranquil and private part of the home.

Using a few basic tenets of universal design will improve quality of life and make life in the suite more comfortable for your older family member. To begin with, you’ll want to implement wider doors and through ways that are open and easy to navigate visually. Also be sure that doors have lever handles as opposed to knobs to prevent hand cramping or arthritic inflammation.

Lighting is also very important for your MIL. Light switches should be larger than normal and flat, which is also easier on aching joints, and make them easier to see with plates that contrast the paint or wallpaper color. Adding bright lights that help in seeing will make your elderly family member comfortable, especially if they have adequate lighting for tasks and hobbies. Large windows that let in light are great, especially if they provide a relaxing view of the backyard.

Treasure your time with your loved one, and remember that the time and expense it took to create your MIL suite isn’t wasted, even if it’s only used a few short years. Enjoy the closeness you’ll have with your older loved one. The space will never go to waste, it can always be repurposed down the road as a family room, second home office, or recreation room. Or keep it ready for that graduating senior as he or she looks for a job!