The Multigenerational House

A mom and her young family needed more space. Her parents needed less. So they built two right-size homes under one roof.

The remodeled dwelling (right) includes a 2,712-square-foot main residence and a 749-square-foot apartment. J.W. Smith Photography

Complicating matters was an Arlington County zoning rule that the ground-level apartment (aka “accessory dwelling unit”) could not exceed 750 square feet. Though the owners appealed to gain more space, the finished apartment ended up at precisely 749.5 square feet. Bowers chose to err on the safe side.

A generous front porch with rocking chairs now presents a welcome facade, with a double front door that’s nostalgically similar to the one from Smith and Winter’s brownstone in New York. Inside that red door, a small vestibule branches off with separate entries into each of the two homes. (Per code, the official exterior door to the parents’ apartment is around back, but this clever design maneuver provides a more elegant point of entry from the front.)

The Hunters’ living room retains the home’s original fireplace mantel. J.W. Smith Photography

“We wanted it to feel like two homes coming together,” says Lori Shaffer, Bowers’ senior project designer. That meant considering the functions of each residence, the separate and shared living spaces, and the personalities of all four owners—apart, but connected.

The floor plan includes a number of creative design solutions that serve the structure’s dual purpose. For instance, a shared full bath caters to guests of either party, and is situated in a hallway that can be closed off for privacy.

Smith and Winter’s apartment has a full-size kitchen with seating for two. J.W. Smith Photography

Though the extended family often enjoys meals together, the apartment has its own spacious kitchen, affording its elder occupants “freedom,” Winter says. He and his wife like to take their morning coffee on their sunny deck, which looks out at the woods.

The apartment also has an en-suite master bathroom with a low-threshold shower and granite shower bench (fashioned from the rambler’s original kitchen countertop) and slip-resistant vinyl floor tiles. The space is designed to accommodate people with physical disabilities, if needed—a safeguard that will allow Smith and Winter to remain there as they grow older.

Master bathroom finishes include slip-resistent flooring, a built-in granite shower seat and other features that will allow the couple to remain there safely as they age.

And then there’s the library/office/guest room that Bowers designed to accommodate bookcases from the couple’s old high-ceilinged brownstone. (Standing more than 8½ feet high, the units were too tall for the rambler and had been stored in pieces in the basement for years until the renovation afforded the chance to resurrect them.) Now, thanks to 9-foot ceilings, academic titles mingle with Legos on those shelves, Winter says.

At 2,712 square feet, the Hunters’ side of the house is both elegant and designed with kid-friendly conveniences. In the boys’ bathroom, sinks are positioned on opposite walls, ensuring “no fighting,” Samantha says. The master bedroom’s walk-in closet hides a chute (outfitted with a childproof lock) that sends dirty clothes straight to the laundry room in the basement.

In the main living area, Samantha’s grandmother’s antique chairs happily share space with toys and a divan. Per the family’s request to salvage as much of the old house as possible, Bowers painstakingly disassembled, then reassembled the room’s original fireplace mantel to fit between new windows. (She also repurposed the old kitchen cabinets as laundry room storage.)

The apartment’s cozy living room features a low-maintenance gas fireplace. J.W. Smith Photography

A large dining room table extends, and can be turned perpendicular, for parties and holidays, and a pocket door to the kitchen can be closed to conceal chaos. Large windows and French doors channel in natural light year-round, and the kitchen opens onto a shared patio—a well-traveled shortcut between the two residences.

The renovation was completed in April 2017, but there’s more room to expand, if needed, in the basement and over the garage. There are no specific plans in the works, but all four adults say they have designs on Phase 2.

Jennifer Shapira writes about home and design in Northern Virginia.


The basement’s shared rec room and storage areas are accessible from both sides of the house. Armstrong’s “Rural Reclaimed” vinyl planks add the warmth of wood, but are easier to maintain.

The Owners:

Samantha Hunter, former vice president of development and now a part-time consultant for the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, D.C.; previously worked for the National Council on Aging

Benjamin Hunter, vice president of sales for the Utah-based consulting firm Caveon Test Security

Joan M. Smith, a former nurse-psychotherapist for Arlington County Behavioral Healthcare and Georgetown University; now volunteers with Arlington Neighborhood Village

Frederick Winter, a classical archaeologist and consultant/lecturer with Smithsonian Associates

Related stories: 

Designing the Empty Nest

My Downsized Life

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