What does multi-generational living mean? By definition, it refers to several generations of a family living in or on the same property while sharing responsibilities such as cooking, bills, tending to children, and other household responsibilities.
As someone who comes from a very small family (ahem, only child here), I’ve always romanticized being surrounded by a large family and often envied families who have a strong family dynamic. Our next-door neighbors being one of them. After years of friendship and a giant multi-household water fight one summer that included everyone running through each other’s homes, ducking and dodging water balloons, we’ve formed a beautiful bond and a beautiful mess. Some of you have probably seen our neighbor’s children on my Instagram feed because they have become our extended family and it’s been a joy to watch them grow from the babies they were when we first met them. Our neighbors immigrated from Ethiopia with their children (now adults) and now also include their grandchildren (first generation). Their household consists of Mom and Dad (or aka Grandma and Grandpa), their daughter, whom we’ll call “H” here, her husband and their two children, H’s sister, as well as their Aunt and Uncle with their children).
After the pandemic, I was so ready to get out of my own four walls and work on a creative project but one that felt sentimental to me too. That’s when my neighbor “H” and I were chatting about their own home and how SHE was ready for a change. Simultaneously, Slumberland Furniture also reached out to me to work together and the timing couldn’t have been more aligned! I’ve worked with Slumberland Furniture before on a couple of projects, I love that they’re a family-owned business, and thought to myself this would be a perfect collaboration since this project is all about family.
“H” was ready, like so many of us, to freshen up their home after over a year of isolation and was looking ways to modernize their living space. My challenge? How to create a comfortable and beautiful space for everyone while also remaining functional for their large family needs and also not just tossing out Mom and Dad’s existing pieces.
Here’s what the space looked like before we got started:
Even sans a 13-year-old birthday party filled with balloons, the space felt crowded and the large rolled arm furniture didn’t allow for the best furniture placement and flow. So I began by putting together a mood board to envision how we could make the most of this shared space.
When I spoke with “H”, she shared her main priority was to figure out a better seating arrangement. After measuring, together we selected a sectional sofa for its comfortability for Dad (aka Grandpa) and also for large family gatherings and lounging. It instantly brightened the space and created a solid dimension and flow. We also selected a rug because their previous rug was really tiny and “H” felt it was important to bring in a fresh color. Oftentimes, family or the kids are playing on the floor so we really wanted the rug to feel comfortable as well. I really love how it added some blues and terracotta colors to this room. Designing a space with multiple people and generations in mind as the primary focus also meant that Mom (aka Grandma) needed to feel like it was still their home and not just a space we flipped upside down on her. Bringing in her love of warm wood tones helped create their aesthetic balance and when Mom first saw the pieces coming together she fell in love so my heart was truly full.
Sectional | Rug | Coffee Table
Coffee Table | Lamp | Rug
Side note: This coffee table was also selected for easy maneuverability when larger floor space is needed, as you’ll see later.
Media Cabinet | Sectional | Diffuser | Ceramic Candle | Gold Candle
Having a large-scale TV in the space was also important but to keep it from feeling like it was the focus on this wall and floating aimlessly, we selected this media cabinet that would pull double duty – it provides surface space, anchors the TV from “floating away”, conceals tech and kids toys/games while also keeping the warm wood tones that Mom loves so much. This media cabinet worked great since the TV above it was so large, the length was the right proportion and its modern scale also didn’t take up too much real estate. Previously the only light source in this room was the canned lighting in the ceiling so popping in a brass floor lamp just felt right for not only some visual height in the corner but also some nice reading light in the evening. The curtains were custom made in Ethiopia and they are GORGEOUS, previously hung a little too low on the window (a common design mistake but one that is easy to fix) “H” installed a track on the ceiling as a great way to raise them right up to the ceiling.
Bookcase | Ceramic Bowls | Mojave Candle
For styling, I kept pieces more minimal here but I have no doubt this shelf will hold many lovely botanicals in the future. I also love that it added a focal point to this wall (where there wasn’t any previously). It also adds functionality and a display space for H’s growing plants and artisan-made home goods from Ethiopia like this woven basket.
While onsite installing/styling and shooting their home, Auntie “Z” offered us their traditional coffee, and let’s just say this was not out of a Keurig. Later informed by “H” that it is customary to offer coffee, tea, fruit, or homemade bread to guests in their home. Ethiopia is also known for its spectacular coffees and Auntie “Z” was ready to share with us the traditional way of making Ethiopian coffee.
You start with roasting the beans on the stove over a flame, which creates a little bit of smoke. Once fully roasted or close to being done she will walk around the room to the guests or people sitting around the room waiting for the coffee and splash just a little bit of water in the pan to create a lot more smoke. This is done so that people can enjoy the aroma of the coffee, she will even waft it towards guests to really get a good experience and it shows appreciation for the person making the coffee. The beans are roasted at different levels which can really dictate the taste.
The beans are then ground and put with water into a coffee pot known as a Jebena and boiled over a low flame.
Once settled, the pourer (there is only one) will start prepping people’s coffee, milk, sugar, and sometimes a fresh Rue (herb) as a garnish in the coffee.
Only one person pours and you do not touch or pour that person’s coffee.
What I loved most about this tradition is not just the experience they shared but that this is used as a form of what is referred to now as “self-care”. A moment to relax and continue to become a community or a tighter family unit. Family and community are very important in the Ethiopian culture and although everyday lives are busy, ensuring this tradition of connecting remains a top priority on the weekend. I loved that. Maybe that’s what we all need in our lives, prioritizing building family and community bonds. There’s a lot to be said about this in today’s world and much to be learned, I think.
So how do you design a living room for multi-generational living? I truly don’t have a definitive answer to that question because every family structure is unique. The best answer I can give is to prioritize shared space that each family member can enjoy individually and together. Thinking back on my own family and the financial struggles and stresses of balancing work with babies/children I would have LOVED having the support of a multi-generational household. There are so many positives to this family dynamic that I am surprised it hasn’t become more of the norm here in America. (I see you, rising costs and inflation). Maybe it should be? Unintentionally, I’ve been communicating (fine, maybe drilling into their heads) this sentiment to my own two children, now young adults (23 and 24), and how I don’t ever want them to leave. I want them to bring their families to live here in our home and allow me to help raise children should they choose to have any. Anyone who knows me knows I’m in no hurry whatsoever to be an “empty nester”. In fact to me, that sounds quite depressing. What is the point of having a beautiful home with no one to share it with or to enjoy and live in it? To create those beautiful messes that (speaking from my 40-something-year-old self) disappear in the blink of an eye.
I cannot thank “H” and family enough for allowing us into their home and sharing such a beautiful tradition with us. And also a huge thank you to Slumberland Furniture for helping us create a beautiful living room fit for multi-generational living and for supporting our story.
*Design by Lea Johnson of Creekwood Hill
**Photos by Sage E Imagery
I am so happy and inspired to see African design culture represented authentically and celebrated !! 🙂 Such a gorgeous story. You did a great job with the room—loving the balance of function, tradition, and style. The coffee service is just so special, and it is awesome to see those gorgeous pieces in action. I can smell the beans now…
Re-reading this post just refueled my love tank all over. I feel like I’m experiencing this all over again. It was wonderful and thank you so VERY much for reading and your beautiful note.
Oh I love all this so much. The family, the coffee ritual, and the design.
I was raised in a family that prioritized accomplishments and productivity, but not relationships. As an adult now I have to deprogram a lot, and learn from examples like this.
Thank you Lea for sharing!
I am right there learning with you and learning not to feel guilty about it either. Thank you for reading and enjoying this post as much as I did.
Beautiful room and a beautiful family! I also envy multi-generational families. Raising our kids without my parents, who passed away, is so hard. My parent’s generation did have that. As the kids became adults, they married young and everyone lived together for a time. When my husband and I got married we already both owned homes and had jobs more than 2 hours from my parents, so when my mom said, there’s a house for sale next door to us, it struck me as crazy! Now though what I would not give to live next door to them. And of course I also pray I’ll be here for my kids to help them always.
I am so sorry for the loss of your parents, I lost my dad a year ago and it’s been tough to process past traumas and grieve at the same time. Parenting is HARD, right? Ha. I also love that for you that this post resonated with you too and your family dynamic. Thank you for reading and sharing a bit of your story with us.
Our culture is so individual centered, which is why we don’t see multi generational family living, but for us, we are learning to raise our family as a team. A team works together to use their gifts for each other. Our relationships with a each other come above our individual needs and desires. If something isn’t good for the team it’s not right for the individual, I.e. job moved, extra curricular activities, and yes, I know how counter cultural this is. But we personally desire to go against the self centeredness of our culture and we believe this is one way to do that. We believe each of our children was needed for our family and every person brings something that our team lacked, which instills the value in every family member. We hope that this will help our children to grow up and have healthy, long lasting relationships with us and each other, while learning to serve others above themselves. As someone who comes from a crazy dysfunctional family of origin, the idea of multi generational living repulsed me, until I began to see how a healthy family can function and bless each other. My goal as a parent… Read more »
Oh Lacy, this is beautiful! A “team”! yassss!!!! I mean, that is exactly what a household/family is/should be. I love this and the consciousness of recognizing and supporting everyone’s individuality and strengths and that not everyone is nor should be the same. LOVE this for you! Thank you for reading and sharing your story with us here.
Well said Lacy.
Individualism to the extreme may well be the cause of democratic collapse.
Beautiful sentiments and home. I hope my daughter always wants to stay close to me.
Thank you very much and with your feelings here I have no doubt your daughter will be.
Possibly my favorite post ever! I love the idea of multi-generational living. And the coffee ritual was so beautiful. Thanks so much for doing this for this beautiful family and for sharing with us!
Thank you VERY much for reading this, a lot went on in my head about sharing this post that I almost didn’t because respecting and representing this family and their culture is so important to me. Thank you.
I love this. Not just the design but how you’ve subtly shown what American culture is missing. Large, extended family support, living together harmoniously under one roof, and having that mental and emotional support for each other.
Thank you. I think community bonds were children are raised and supported by many truly helps all of us. It takes a village…as the saying goes.
Beautifully done. The mango wood coffee table is an African design, from Cameroon. Thought people might want to know what you did there, well done!
Well spied! Thank you very much for reading, I am re-loving this whole experience all over again here.
During the pandemic my friend and her extended family bought a mansion and now they have 3 grandparents, a married couple, a single mom and 5 kids from all living under one roof. They formed an LLC to pay the bills and manage the house so that everyone is protected. They each have different duties and shared responsibilities. One of the grandparents has dementia so he always has people surrounding him, caring for him. The single mom has MS so she too has people around to help. And the house and grounds are large enough to give everyone space. Love that you depicted multi generational living in this article and another culture. The room is pretty too
This is amazing and to even take it a step further and form an LLC is so VERY well thought out and ensures everyone is sharing and represented. What a beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing and for reading mine here.
Yay I love this! First of all, beautiful. Second, I love that you helped them achieve what they wanted design-wise while making sure the whole family (g’ma especially) was still comfortable with it. Also love that you just moved around things they already had rather than a total fresh slate. And that sofa looks great!
It is always easier to wipe the slate clean and start with all new, isn’t it? I knew and valued this is not what this family would value especially from a sustainability standpoint and I would’ve felt I completely missed the mark with Grandma had I done that. It was so important to me to truly respect their culture and living but help them achieve a more functional fit. Thank you for noticing and thank you for reading.
Nice example of how to freshen up a space without breaking the bank or throwing out all the stuff! Looks like a comfy place to hang out!
Thank you! Yes, Grandpa LOVES the new sofa and the kids (grandchildren) all love to hang out and watch their favorite shows together.
Lovely room & evenly lovelier family & story. I agree that we are seeing a return to multigenerational living with the high cost of housing and the demands of caring for a family. Thanks for the inspiration!
Thank you. I sure hope so, I cannot imagine starting out in life nowadays (that sounds so old, I know) but the cost of living and housing are just mind-blowing. I feel for my own two who want to become independent and live on their own but their income coupled with student loans just doesn’t make any sense.
I am here on behalf of the people who pay for the Insiders community. We are a dedicated group of active members who love the community, but the magic that keeps us subscribing is not the interaction with staff, because frankly that’s not the current practice. Instead we subscribe to meet new people and hear their new design ideas. Unfortunately we do not have a good way of communicating initially with new members as the “say hello” to someone new is malfunctioning on the app. The “What do you need help with?” post is where most new people start with the community. They make a comment there, thinking that Caitlin who initially made the post in the summer of 2020 might reply. However, let’s be honest – the staff doesn’t reply to this thread because the staff is not present in the community. So it’s a bad way to start – sending a message into the abyss as it were. It would be much more helpful to have a welcome post pinned to the top of the featured section that instructs people how to make a new post to introduce themselves, and gives them some basic tips on using the… Read more »
Thanks for posting, Julie! I agree that we have a great community, but there seems to be no way to offer feedback or improve our experience, because the EHD team doesn’t seem to participate. I think many of us would be happy to take more of a moderator type role, but we don’t have the power to do that.
First, Lea-beautiful room and LOVE the peek into their lives and the view point on multigenerational living. Thanks Amber for that suggestion! I wonder as Key (happily!) gets more busy in the design world-if she has back up or another person to stand in her position. Thank you Julie P for starting this conversation. I would like to echo this sentiment. Julie P has been kindly running interference for all the new posts new “insiders” are excitedly writing to Caitlin. Last I checked there were over EIGHT HUNDRED comments on that one post that frequently pops up. I can only imagine if you’re an infrequent user of the app (which is clunky) you would be disappointed about paying $120 dollars a year simply to write a comment no one replies to. Thankfully there is a strong, interesting, design enthusiastic, kind group of regulars to which this app is appreciated (and we’ve figured out how to best use it). However, the initial promise of this extra mode of communication and engagement sadly falls short. I do think it could be re-branded and re-focused, but we do need EHD engagement. Otherwise I fear that many more people will start canceling their subscriptions,… Read more »
Fwiw, I was an initial member of the Insiders Community. I stayed for a few months and really enjoyed my interactions with other members. I even made a few friends that I still keep up with, and it was great to talk to so many people who were passionate and knowledgable about design as well as just really kind and supportive. But it felt like the little the staff engaged (and it sounds like they did it more then than they do now) was almost under duress, like they treated as a barely tolerable obligation and that made me feel really unwelcome. If we had been asked to contribute to help support design content during the most uncertain time in the pandemic, that would have been one thing, but it really felt like a bait and switch. I left after several committed members appealed to EHD staff to engage more and there was no response, not even a cursory “we hear you and we’re busy but here’s what we are going to try to do…” Just crickets. It saddens me to see that this dynamic is still at play. And yet, I am also heartened that the Insiders keep helping… Read more »
Thank you Julie, this is a really special piece for me and I’m just so happy they’re happy.
This was so beautiful: the design, the story, the family, the sentiment. We close Friday on a condo in our neighborhood for my mom so she can be closer and take care of our son, but still have her own place. It’s a short walk around a beautiful private lake to get there!
That is wonderful and congratulations!!! There is something so special about the bond between grandparents and grandchildren especially when allowed to be active and present. So happy for you all.
What a beautiful story and gorgeous design. Thank you for highlighting multi-generational living. It’s a topic so rarely talked about that so many people navigate. Lea did such an incredible job respecting the needs and tastes of everyone while making the space more functional. And learning about Ethiopian culture was an extra treat! ☕️😊
Thank you Mara, I used to think multi-generational living had a negative connotation to it and I couldn’t have been more wrong about it. It’s an absolute beautiful dynamic.
Lea….my heart is full!
I grew up in a large family as the youngest of 7 and the togetherness and dynamic is a buzz.
Sure, we squabbled now and then, but it’s something to be treasured.
So glad you can ‘tune into’ and belong together as extended, extended, extended neighbour-family members.
Oh my heart is full YOUR heart is full! And also, I now envy you too with your large family. hahaha….
Our sister-in-law’s son-in-law and grandson built a mother-in-law cottage for her in Yellow Springs attached to their Victorian by a shared deck. Each had a private entrance. An access between the two dwellings had been framed in, in the event it was needed. It was perfect! An entry coat closet, open living/dining/kitchen and private master suite w/ laundry. She was able to live there happily well into her late nineties!
I often think of this or something very similar to this and that sounds lovely and perfect. The perfect balance of respecting everyone’s boundaries while living with or near one another. And to be so blessed to have her in their lives for a full lifetime!
What a heart warming post, thank you. This made my day.
Thank you, all of your comments truly warm my heart.
big fat juicy heart eyes for this.
Yussssss!!!! That is how I felt when I saw how happy this family was and how much they said they felt respected. My heart was full.
This is sooo beautiful! Thank you Lea for always sharing your creativity and amazing designs with all of us!!!
Gladys, thank you so much for reading this. Your kindness and support of me means so VERY much. So happy our paths crossed.
The refresh lifted the room and made it so light and airy even with a big sectional!!
Thank you for including the coffee ritual! It sounds and looks so meditative and such a peaceful way to gather!!
Thank you, I admit I was a bit scared at the size of the sectional but once I saw it in place, it felt so good.
Thanks so much for this beautiful post. Maybe the combination of rising costs and sustainablility will force America to rethink its unique quirk of defining our kids’ success as being able to move out ASAP and have their own place. I’ve seen and heard a fair amount of comedy digs on tv about “guys who still live at home”. I do think that kids can grow up and benefit from having some years on their own, and not everyone can make multigenerational living work due to family dynamics. I don’t think most Americans realize that multigenerational living is commonplace in the rest of the world. The pandemic had a lot of people moving closer to family. I grew up with no extended family within driving distance and unwittingly repeated the cycle with my own kids. I have already talked to my oldest, planting the seed that maybe he will be the one to break that cycle and to consider living with us when he starts a family and also to make sure and stay geographically near his siblings when we pass on. Thanks for this design post that also might bring more awareness to what may be a cultural shift… Read more »
I remember growing up and it was expected in our household to go to work and move out. And I did. And 18 years old. (I was so unprepared). When looking at my own two children I cant image them EVEN being close to ready nor having the resources to have left at 18 like I did. They are 23 and 24 now and I hope they will stay for as long as they wish. Loved reading a bit of YOUR story, thank you for sharing here.
Beautiful! And so happy for that lovely coffee interlude! What a special treat. I am SO here for multigenerational living. Weirdly none of the above generation are interested in my family so we are slogging it out as a two parent household which, in our case, is a VERY difficult experience. So happy to hear your thoughts! Let’s bring it back in this “rugged individualism” country. We all need each other 🥰
I a =m here for it Kara! Sign me up! And thank YOU for your time reading this special post.
Coffee originated in Ethiopia, so it’s wonderful to see this! I always wonder if countries would war over coffee, that’s how important it is to almost everyone in this country, including me. I also like “update” posts on how to make do with what we have–the rug is the perfect blender piece for wood tones. (I’m not complaining about the new remodel posts–love those, too.)
Wow! Never have I identified with a EHD post as much as I do with this one…at least identifying with how I grew up which was sharing a room with my aunt, and house with 2 uncles, grandparents, brother and parents. It was chaotic and loud but now that I’m older, although I would be lying if I said I missed all of it but I do wish my children and their families will be nearby to mimic that large family feeling again.