British families are changing shape, and facing new domestic challenges. Young people remain in the family house for longer (58% of men and 39% of women aged 20-24 in England are still at home with their parents, according to the Office of National Statistics), stepfamilies thicken and thin as children come and go, and grandparents often choose to live with their offspring rather than moving to retirement accommodation.
This elastic form of living is becoming more popular, according to Peter Edwards from Knight Frank’s country-house department. So what should buyers look for in a house to meet the different needs of
members of an extended family? Having plenty of space is key. Eyford House, the winner of Country Life and Savills’ England’s Favourite House competition, certainly fits the bill: this six-bedroom country house has been arranged to comfortably accommodate a whole family in one property, with a floor in the main house devoted to the owners’ children and a cottage in the grounds for the grandmother’s use.
Another equally versatile property is Booth House in the Welsh village of Llys-y-Fran, near Haverfordwest. This stone farmhouse is the home of Lindsay Heydon and Jon Stangroome, who live there with their daughter, Grace, Miss Heydon’s parents, Myra and Tom, and her centenarian grandmother, Edith. The property has separate wings for the two couples and a large annexe for Miss Heydon’s grandmother. This allows the family to reap the benefits of shared living, with none of the associated problems. ‘Grace gains a lot from having several generations around her, I get free childcare, Jon and I granny-sit when my mum and dad want a weekend away, and we take turns to cook,’ explains Miss Heydon, who believes that separate living spaces and kitchens for both couples are essential.
Carol Peett of County Homesearch, who helped the family find Booth House, believes other pluses are thick stone walls that help reduce noise, separate doors to both wings to maintain privacy, and, much like at Eyford, ‘enough outdoor space to enable members of the family to sit outside and not see or hear anyone else’. Ensuring that there are well proportioned reception rooms for everyone is critical to make shared living work, according to Tessa Roper-Caldbeck from Fox Grant. She’s selling Great Gables in Bosbury, Herefordshire for £1.325 million, which currently houses two families.
‘Two sisters and their husbands share the house, which benefits from doors that shut between the two sections. Each half has a drawing room, dining room and kitchen, as well as either a sun room or conservatory.’ However, Miss Roper-Caldbeck warns that owners should always try to preserve a property’s original features when splitting it up. Her advice is to make sure a jointly run house flows as one dwelling once the doors are opened, to attract the largest possible number of potential buyers if the time comes to sell.
As an alternative to splitting a house, Knight Frank’s Mr Edwards suggests that extended families hunt for properties that come with useful outbuildings. ‘A coach house is ideal for grandparents or stepchildren, and a self-contained flat with its own kitchen inside the house, or set above a garage, is a real gem, too.’ House finder Hugo Thistle-thwayte from Prime Purchase says owners could also consider building something in the grounds. ‘This will keep the generations together without forcing different lifestyles on varying age groups.’
Making it work
* Ensure that there’s enough space for everyone-if things get heated, there will always be somewhere to escape to
* Have separate kitchens, giving grown-up children more independence
* If the playroom is used by children who can only visit at weekends, keep it as they left it between visits, so it becomes their territory
* Don’t let your own views dominate, but make sure everyone knows that this is your home, too
Henry Adams Estate Agents
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