Multigenerational homes: A new style of living

Malcolm Scott, the KBSA corporate chair, believes that, with the growing popularity of multigenerational households, KBB retailers would do well to make the most of this lucrative area for sales.

Swift commercial director Malcolm Scott

Multigenerational living is on the increase in the UK. A survey from Aviva, the pensions and insurance provider, recently estimated that a third of homes now have more than one adult generation living in them. 

The survey covered 4,000 participants across the UK. As only 4% of these reported any change caused by lockdown, any trends identified appear to be long-term. The change is largely driven by young adults living with parents, but an estimated 14% of multigenerational homes have grandparents living with the family. The Aviva survey estimates that a quarter of recently developed ‘granny flats’ are actually designed
for grown-up children and a further 20% are being developed with the idea of attracting lodgers. 

The survey points out that one-in-five London homes already have, or are planning to have, an annexe or ‘granny flat’. If these figures are extrapolated to the whole population, there are potentially more than nine million homes with different adult generations. 

A sizeable proportion of young adults living at home are in education – about 11% – and approximately a further 11% are recently graduated students who are just starting out in new careers, this number is quite stable. However, there has been a jump in older relatives living with their children from 9% to 14% over the past five years. These older relatives living with their children now make up around 1.28 million households. 

While these figures are just estimates, it is clear there is a trend towards more multigenerational living, which must surely have considerable implications for home design and for household disposable income. 

While those with young adults at home will doubtless echo my own experience of this being a drain on household income, this is often not the case when older members of the family move in with their children. Elderly relatives often have a property to sell, or rent out, yielding funds that can be spent improving or adapting parts of the multigenerational home.

The most obvious case of elderly relatives moving in with their children often involves the complete rebuilding of part of the home, with the installation of a separate kitchen, bedroom and bathroom – often referred to as a ‘granny flat’. While each of these new rooms will often be smaller than a traditional family room, and the annexe will often have a student accommodation type set-up, complete with single-person cooking and food storage, they will often include high-specification furniture
and appliances. 

Granny flats and student studios

Multigenerational living has huge attractions, as it reduces the need for more homes and overcomes some of the problems in securing funding for ever-more expensive UK housing, plus it reduces the pressure on local government to provide care for the elderly.

Alongside the growth of multigenerational living, there has been a huge increase in student accommodation, with the number of young adults entering higher education currently topping 50.9% and growing. There is also strong overseas demand for UK further education, further fueling demand. 

The specification for studios within student accommodation has increased dramatically in recent years and is now very similar to the specification often used in ‘granny flats’, with slimline dishwashers and combined microwave ovens plus induction hobs and refrigeration. Investment in UK student accommodation was around £10 billion in 2020. Six out of 10 overseas students are more likely to live in halls of residence, with demand from Chinese students wishing to study in the UK growing at around 24% a year. 

The growth in ‘granny flats’ and  student accommodation is leading to a rise in demand for smaller, single-occupancy kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms. This is running alongside the growth in demand generated by those households where the creation of a separate annexe is not feasible and the existing house is gradually being adapted.

For the ‘self-contained’ annexe, compact combi appliances, with small sinks are ideal – as are items like waste disposal units, condensing washer-dryers, and shower rooms. Built-in bedroom furniture is essential to optimise space. For adapted homes to house more than one generation, larger fridges, large-capacity laundry and bigger breakfast bar-type areas become more appropriate.

These ongoing changes to home styles accross the UK must surely provide opportunity for retailers who target these specific sectors.

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