The answer to the above riddle is… a well-designed house with a flexible floor plan that meets the needs of the current and future residents. Change, flexibility, affordability, and convenience together spell a thriving, resilient, and sustainable future! The job before us is nothing short of a reinvention of the America Dream. Here’s some ideas to consider as you’re designing your dream living space and neighborhood. Enjoy!
A Sustainable Floor Plan in a Sustainable Neighborhood
Ed and Bill are two young professionals, old college roommates and best friends who are searching for an affordable home where they can launch their careers and start building equity. They find the answer in buying a home together to save money and to keep their college rituals alive. The home that makes it all work has a flexible floor plan, and with a tenants-in-common joint ownership agreement, they move in.
Ed is a self-employed free-lance writer and sets up his office in the downstairs owner’s studio. Bill is a new attorney who is anxious to jump into the courtroom and he decides to set his office up in the media room and live in the front bedroom (Master Suite 2). Ed takes the master bedroom and they share the kitchen and living room. To help make their mortgage payments, they decide to rent out the downstairs storefront to a local clothing store. This way they‘ll have a quiet renter and supplemental income. The middle room downstairs (work 2), behind the store, is completely dedicated to the ping-pong table and music, for playing ping-pong and music with friends are Ed and Bills’s stress-relieving ceremonies from their college days and Bill refuses to give them up.
After five years, Ed gets married, and he and his new wife Jill take over the upstairs, she sets up her studio in the front bedroom (Master 2). The clothing store decided it was time to move to a bigger location anyway, so Bill is able to move his living quarters into the owner’s studio downstairs and expand his growing law practice into the ping-pong/music room and the storefront. By now the Friday night music gathering has gotten to be a major tradition in the neighborhood and Jill and Ed decide to host it in the upstairs media room. Friends gather in the media room on Friday nights to play music or watch a movie on the big screen and a good time is had by all.
As you can see, the flexible floor plans support our current lives, where 3 to 5 career changes are becoming the norm. Affordable entertainment, lowering our need for a second car by eliminating the commute to work, along with live/work opportunities in the household, lowers expenses and brings in income to support the startup entrepreneur.
A few years later, Bill’s law practice has outgrown the space, so he decides to sell his half of the live/work home to Ed and Jill. Ed and Jill now have two children, Hunter and Bernard, and start a small childcare center downstairs (storefront). Mom (Jill) still works upstairs, and the situation is very convenient and helps to bring in a little more income.
Juggling careers and raising a family is a huge challenge. In mixed-use neighborhoods, child-friendly safe streets happen with ”Eyes on the Streets” security. Neighbors are walking to work, services, shopping or recreation and are naturally looking out for each other. Kids are free to go bicycling to their friend’s house or exploring the neighborhood, and parents have peace of mind, knowing neighborhood is keeping an eye on them.
Around this time, Jill’s elderly father, Jack, moves into the downstairs owner’s studio, as Jill refuses to let him move into a retirement home. It works out well, as Grandpa Jack gets to spend his last years independent and involved with his grandchildren. Ed moves his office into the sunroom, which works out as well. The sunroom, it turns out, has a great view of the neighborhood, and being able to watch people in their everyday lives give Ed the inspiration he has been longing for to finish his novel.
Aging in place is another big challenges of our times. 80% of Americans over 50 want to age in place (AARP). 1/3-1/2 of the Baby Boomers currently have no retirement savings. Having an affordable lifestyle and a home that creatively accommodates aging in place are more that just good ideas; they are essential elements for a more sustainable life.
The daycare center decides to move to a bigger location, Grandpa Jack passes on, Ed and Jill divorce, their teen son, Bernard, takes his grandfather’s inheritance and develops a gambling addiction.
Ed, now 55, marries his secretary, Phyllis who’s 33 and has a 3-year-old daughter. Ed and Phyllis open a wine bar downstairs (the zoning allows it) and live above. Through all this, every Friday night friends and neighbors gather in the media room to play music while their kids eat popcorn and watch a movie in the living room, or play ping-pong in the downstairs day care center/now backroom of the wine bar (Work 2).
At 75, Ed’s second wife (Phyllis) leaves him, and Ed moves into the space (owners’ studio), rents out the above space to a young couple and leases out the storefront to two health practioners who open up an acupuncture/massage office suite. Ed has income and enjoys the end of his life with a neighborhood of friends within walking distance. He passes the home on to his daughter Hunter and son Bernard.
As you recall, Bernard who once had a gambling addiction, has spent years in 12 step programs and is now a successful counselor, lives downstairs in the owners studio, and sees clients in one of the shared front offices. Hunter and her two teen sons, Jack Junior, and Alex, live upstairs. and life goes on….
This story is a continuum. Over generations and across lifestyle choices, the flexibility of the multipurpose floor plan gives families, friends, children, and store owners a place they can live their lives supported by an affordable home.
A mixed-use zoned neighborhood, which includes flexible live/work homes, community parks, and commercial shops creates an alive, more affordable, supportive lifestyle, with more connection and pedestrian-friendly, safer streets. It’s time to face the challenges of our times and redevelop our suburban, single use neighborhoods. We can have an abundant, empowering, deeply fulfilling life and at the same time live lighter on the planet.