Accessory Dwelling Unit
The Granny Flat is another name for an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), a smaller, independent residential dwelling located on the same property as a single-family home–and these trends in aging-in-place apartments are making a splash across the county. The San Diego-based company Modern Granny Flat specializes in these creative secondary suites that can be found in garage conversions, basements, attics, or new construction in the backyard. Their builds boast minimalist tiny homes that feature rooftop vegetable gardens, modular furniture that can slide in and out of walls to maximize space, and modern design features that blend in with the landscape and elevate the property’s value. In San Diego, these units are extra attractive due to the shortage of rentals throughout the city. Families are erecting these structures for added space, to meet the residential needs of extended family, and as an added rental income opportunity.
Just a look at the design features and you will be awed at the possibilities. I stayed in one of these units on a recent trip to Los Angeles. The 500-square-foot space comfortably slept four people thanks to some innovative multi-use furniture. It had a private entrance that avoided the fish-bowl feel despite sharing the same backyard as the family’s primary residence, and it met all the needs of a vacation rental with some amazing high-end features (fully stocked kitchen and floor-to-ceiling tiled bathroom). Pocket doors and stackable furniture made the tiny space functional and ironically open.
Robin’s Granny Flat is equipped with handicap bars in the bathroom and has no stairs (aside from the two that were necessary to offset the grade of her backyard). Access to the primary home is easy and efficient should there be an emergency. Susan is 74 and vibrant, so the privacy and design features of the home meet her needs for independence. Robin took the dimensions of her mother’s patio-home kitchen and master bedroom and made sure to keep these similar. “I didn’t want it to feel like a mother-in-law suite,” Robin says. In-law suites oftentimes do not feel like a private, complete dwelling space, and Robin wanted to avoid that.
The Ultimate Smart Home
The aging baby boomer population is inspiring much research in the area of aging-in-place residential options. At the University of Southern Indiana, Lisa Fournier’s team is working to develop the ultimate smart home at USI’s innovative Minka Lab, designed in 2018 by nationally-renowned aging expert Dr. Bill Thomas. Minka is a prefabricated housing system to address affordable housing options that meet the needs of people with different ages and abilities. “Minka” stems from a Japanese term meaning “house of the people” and was used to refer to the dwellings of farmers, artists, and merchants.
Lisa, the current project coordinator, is using the home as a testing lab for interdisciplinary approaches to integrative technology. Pulling from her own experience as the primary caregiver for her mother before she died, and from her background in entrepreneurship and technology, Lisa is working to investigate ways that smart technology can create an “ambiance of positivity and light” for the aging population.
Inspired by the LivABLE Environment Conference, Lisa abides by the WELL Building Standard that considers factors such as light, air, water, creativity, and movement to enhance well-being and functionality. In essence, the home is equipped with sensory technology that reads a resident’s movements in order to address their needs. For instance, if a resident walks in the home shuffling their feet, the home might begin playing their favorite uplifting music or broadcast pictures of loved ones on a display screen in order to increase positivity.
“I play the role of Ruth, our role-playing older person,” Lisa explains about the prototyping research she conducts there in tandem with other interdisciplinary departments at USI, such as Occupational Therapy, Social Work, Gerontology, Healthcare Administration, and Nursing.
“My mother responded well to staying busy. She had always liked to draw, so she began creating these portfolios of all her childhood memories. I was always interested in discovering how I could encourage my mom to be her true self and manifest unfulfilled goals,” says Lisa. She kept her mother, who had Alzheimer’s, stimulated by offering her art supplies and encouraging her productivity, and now has a cherished tangible reminder of her mother. “Her portfolios are my favorite possession,” Lisa says.
Robin, like many others across the country, is recreating the residential needs of aging parents and discovering the mutual beneficiality of having the final chapter of life on premise.
“I have had lots of girlfriends with parents in assisted living. I have watched these families work their whole lives to pay for this service — navigating the attorneys, consolidating the funds, evaluating the quality of care — I just didn’t feel this was the best decision for my family. I’ve always been a mommy’s girl…when we dropped my 18-year-old off in Bloomington for college, I had many tearful talks with my mom. All I had to do was walk over to visit, and we would share some tears together about my baby leaving the nest. I am very close to her,” Robin says about creating her mother’s nest just a stone’s throw away.
By Megan Seckman | Photos submitted
P.S. Read more about building a backyard addition for a loved one.
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