Categorized | Family Care

Two generations share roof, but live separate


By Mark Urban


Don’t call it a duplex. It’s not. Don’t question wanting to live under the same roof as your in-laws.

Bob Siegle actually likes it. Bob and Marsha Siegle have yet to pass the one-year anniversary of living under the same roof as Marsha’s parents, Stewart and Rita. But everyone likes the arrangements.

“It’s worked beautifully,” Stewart said while sitting in a comfortable recliner.


“It’s not two families living together,” Siegle said. “It is ‘blood’ family living together, no different than if your daughter stayed with you until she was 28 and got married and lived in the basement with her new husband.”

There are other things that are shared in the home. There’s one two car attached garage, one front door and a shared foyer.

There’s also a single heating element. “One furnace with two zones for each side,” Bob Siegle said. “That’s a wonderful thing. A high-efficiency furnace so they can keep the temperature what they want on their side and what we want on our side.”

The controls aren’t the only things that are separate. Each couple has their own place to live with their own front door.

“It’s really independent,” Bob Siegle said. “But when you want it to be one, you just open the doors and do your thing.”

“It’s not perfect,” Siegle said. “You’re going to hear the banging doors once in a while or the TV is too loud or one family goes to bed earlier. But the family works all that out.”

The reason behind joining the two couples, and two generations,  in one house was simple — caregiving or share giving. The results are a little more complex.

“It’s providing — under one roof — security, privacy to some degree, convenience. And, I don’t know how else to say it, a better quality of life for both parties,” Bob Siegle said.

Rita echoed her son-in-law’s perspective. “It also gives us security, I think,” she said.

Stewart and Rita were living on Old Mission Peninsula in a cottage they’d owned for years before moving into a condominium still on the peninsula, but closer to Traverse City.

“We just weren’t very secure there in that we were all alone,” Stewart said. “We had a couple of incidents: I fell and broke my hip.”

So the idea of adults caring for their older parents was explored. Bob Siegle said the concept should expand as Americans live longer.

The first thought was to have Rita and Stewart move into Marsha and Bob’s current home but zoning rules about additions were too restrictive.

The next possibility was to adapt an existing structure.

“In our case, it was just more desirable for privacy and just quietness … living side-by-side is much better.”

Not finding the right solution anywhere else and relying on Bob Siegle’s expertise left another solution: build it.

Of course, the decision starts with the obvious question of where.

“The zoning has to be in place to not impede such development,” Siegle said. “And the design and floor plans have to be such that they don’t look that way, like a duplex, multiple-housing or an old nursing home. It should look like a single-family common house … and it is, basically.”

Siegle said the structure he designed isn’t mammoth.

“It has to be smaller and very efficient, but it has all the amenities and things that the family and Mom and Dad liked and were used to,” he said. “The savings is in a smaller home for both, but it’s all together.”

As people begin living longer, Siegle said he could picture more of these developments.

“The housing and design community, the zoning and builders and the Realtors have to start thinking about this type of thing quickly as a wonderful solution for a lot of housing problems for millions of families,” he said.

The key is to plan for it rather than react.

“Nobody wants to sit down and talk about getting old or getting sick,” Bob Siegle said.

“More and more people are having to do this, having one or more parents come live with them,” Marsha Siegle said.

“It’s just a great, great thing to do.”

At some point — however it happens — the relationship of two families living under one roof will come to an end.

Now what?

Again, there are options.

“If it’s convertible to just opening it up a little bit when mom and dad are not using that or you can sell it to the next people …” Bob Siegle said. “And there will be people standing in line to buy stuff like this because they’re not available — they really aren’t — at least not readily and in good locations.”

And in the meantime, you got what you needed out of it.

“If you do this and it works for a day, a year or 15 to 20 years, it’s still the right decision,” Bob Siegle said. — AP

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