Renovate for a Growing Family

Renovate for a Growing Family


When you consider renovating for a growing family, there are many factors to look at before embarking on such a task. Melanie Smaill explores what you need to keep in mind.

A home for a family with young children can have very different specifications from that of a family with teenagers, though it is possible to design a house that caters for the different stages of life. With careful planning and foresight, a home can be designed so it grows with the family’s needs and requirements and will stand the test of time.

Over recent years, the typical Australian home has evolved from having three bedrooms, one bathroom and a separate living area into a more open-plan home, including a fourth bedroom and ensuite facilities. Popular extras, such as rumpus rooms, walk-in wardrobes, walk-in pantries and the like have added to the overall size of modern homes and achieving the right flow of these extra rooms is integral to the success of the overall design.

When thinking about the flow, converting areas into family-friendly zones should be a priority. It’s important to have the buzz and connection of family life but at the same time there needs to be an area where individuals in the family can have their own spaces — unfortunately, the prevalence of open-plan living in new homes has made “quiet areas” more difficult to achieve.

If space allows, two living areas will cater for a growing family. Matthew Gribben, principal of Matthew Gribben Architecture, says, “People with young babies often take a short-term view of what they need. The constant supervision that is required of toddlers eventually diminishes and that needs to be taken into account when designing a family home. When toddlers grow into little people, they will want to do different things. Families need their time together but they also need their space and a house that can have more than one living area will facilitate this.”

Graham Nottle, project architect from Arkhefield, says, “Flexibility is important. Look for opportunities to create open space now that can be ‘closed down’ for privacy later.” This can be achieved by having glazed doors between zones so rooms are not closed in and light is not restricted.

Shaun Carter, principal of Carterwilliamson Architects, says, “When we think of flexibility we draw on inspiration from traditional Japanese architecture. We see control and changing space by sliding doors and walls. This way, bedrooms can share space, big rooms can become smaller rooms and vice versa. Noisy spaces can be shut down and closed off.”

Different activities can happen simultaneously if a kids’ zone or teenagers’ retreat is included in an extension or renovation. “The importance of a kids’ zone will depend on individual families and how they live — the best design will suit a lifestyle rather than dictate it. A kids’ zone should be visually connected to other rooms such as the kitchen, living room or home office and connection to the outdoor space is also valuable,” says Graham.

Storage is critical for growing families and should be designed specifically for activities such as painting and reading. Consider cabinetry built into the walls, window seats that can double as storage and don’t forget about under the stairs.

The kitchen usually becomes the busy zone of the home, so the importance of a light, well-designed kitchen can never be over-valued. Shaun says, “We would see the kitchen as the focal point of life in the home. We call the kitchen the new fireplace, the hearth of the home, and in the kitchen the island bench becomes the social hub. Here, the family congregates, eats, does homework, prepares meals, talks about family matters and browses the internet. The kitchen, in particular the island bench, is the social heart of family life and interaction.”

Zones can come in all shapes and sizes. The guest bedroom can turn into a playroom and study with the installation of a wall-bed (a bed that sits in a wall of cabinetry). Wall-beds are becoming increasingly popular because they’re a functional solution to maximising space in a room. They can be customised and built into wardrobes, storage and/or a home office. “That way, the guest bedroom can become a multi-purpose room and they’re far more comfortable than a fold-out couch,” says Matthew.

Another zone that is becoming popular in homes for families is a parents’ retreat. “Rather than having a parents’ retreat, think about having a master suite for parents,” says Matthew. “A master suite has a slightly larger capacity than a room with an ensuite and dressing room. It will also include a sofa or comfortable chairs for the adults to read, talk and reconnect,” he suggests.

The benefit of creating an outdoor zone should not be forgotten when designing a family home. The most popular renovation is opening up the back of the house to allow an indoor-outdoor living space, and a growing trend for families is to have a separate outdoor room that can either be a structure such as a poolside pavilion with a built-in barbecue, lighting and sound system or a converted granny flat.

“The benefit of having an outdoor structure at the back of the garden means teenagers can socialise under your supervision,” says Matthew Gribben. “If a separate structure is not possible, the garden can be landscaped in such a way that you can have some solitude or time out from the family,” he adds.

Matthew Cantwell, director of Secret Gardens of Sydney, suggests, “If the kids are young, try to design a garden that encourages them to spend time outdoors and appeals to all the senses. In even small gardens, we have incorporated sandpits and a simple, stylish swing hung from the branch of a tree. It’s important to create rooms within a garden, especially as kids get older.

We designed a garden in Bronte in which the parents wanted an area for the kids to play with their friends. This was sectioned off with planting and a fun outdoor shower was installed under a large beam. The parents wanted a distinctively separate area for them to entertain and relax in, so an outdoor dining area was created. The new trend is to create outdoor living areas with lounges as opposed to formal dining spaces and this is particularly suitable if you have older children.”

There are many clever ways to convert space to make a home more family-focused and one area often overlooked is the roof/attic space. According to Matthew Gribben, “When converting attic space, think carefully about where the staircase will go. A pull-down ladder is sufficient if utilising the attic for storage only, but not if the room is going to be used on a regular basis. The thermal environment also needs to be considered and in order for it to be a “habitable” room, there has to be a minimum ceiling height that needs to comply with the building code of Australia.”

Working from home has become a reality for many and converting space to create a home office is a high priority for many families. Often, the spare bedroom is converted into a home office, but for parents who want to supervise internet usage, a study nook near the kitchen or living area is becoming a more popular option. Having it in a family area means parents can supervise their children in an informal way. Matthew Gribben says, “A cupboard in the living area is a great way to convert space for a study nook. The cupboard needs to be large enough to keep a chair inside so it can be shut off when it’s not being used.”

The laundry is probably the most undervalued room in the home but, given it’s one of the high-usage areas, it’s vital to get it right. A separate room for the laundry, near the kitchen, is ideal, but in today’s world a laundry can be in a cupboard or in the kitchen scullery to save space. The laundry can also go into the downstairs bathroom with the washing machine and dryer built into a wall cupboard.

Finally, when expanding your living space, focusing on the basics of architecture such as space, light and quality materials is paramount to the success of the family home.

Key Family Zones

Living — play area should flow from kitchen or lounge
- Study — ideal as a nearby nook to allow parent supervision
Bedrooms — for privacy and for parent retreats
Outdoors — can also be zoned for different activities
Guest — a flexible room or flat is ideal for guest accommodation or for a bit of solitude for teenagers