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The In-Law Suite: Say Hello to a Home-within-the-Home

The In-Law Suite: Welcome to a Home-Within-the-Home


On an upswing for a number of years, in-law suites have redefined the idea of living together for the modern family. These “homes-within-the-home” are stylish accommodations for in-laws, returning children, or overnight/weekend guests. And, they come in all shapes and sizes - from a garage studio apartment to a first-floor master bedroom, a refinished basement, or a tiny cottage on the grounds of the primary residence.

Contemporary style garage with in-law suite apartment above

Upper-level floor plan of garage with apartment plan #196-1049    

This spacious 1-bedroom garage apartment is an attractive option as a guest house or suite for an adult child or in-laws. It features a full bathroom, kitchen, and living room.  (view this plan # 196-1049)


Together but Separate

Prior to the boom years of the post-War period, it was not uncommon to have at least two generations living in the same house. In the prosperous eras of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, children left the family home to pursue career opportunities. During the ensuing decades, everyone lived in their own homes; and entertained family members for the short overnight visit or the odd holidays.

Today, some families are going back to the Pre-War years and remodeling/redesigning their homes to welcome adult children back or to accommodate their elderly parents or in-laws. An uncertain economy and a desire to help with long-term care issues are reasons for this shift in family living arrangements.

Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the construction of houses with in-law suites. These homes may feature a garage apartment, master suite makeover, and a finished basement with its own private entrance. In other cases, a tiny cottage - with a bedroom, kitchenette/breakfast nook, bathroom, and living area - that fits perfectly in the yard of the main residence - is a very attractive choice.

One-story, three-bedroom home with room for expansion

entry and dining area in this 3-bedroom ranch home

A one-story, three-bedroom home is equipped with plenty of space for expansion. A bonus room or the basement can be redesigned to accommodate returning children, elderly parents, or in-laws.  (view Plan # 109-1086)


A master suite - with its own bathroom and sitting area - on the main level of this two-story home can be converted to an in-law suite. Conveniently located close to the kitchen, dining, living room areas, it is the only bedroom on the first floor and therefore, assures privacy for the residents.  (view plan with in-law suite # 106-1185)


With all these options, families are painting a modern family picture of “together but separate.” Parents, children, and in some cases, grandparents are living in the same complex, with the desired privacy for all to live their lives independently and at the same time, keep close ties – and “shouting distance” with relatives.


Do You Have the Space to Expand?

If you’re seriously considering asking your mother-in-law or your elderly parents to move into your home, the first step is to assess your available space and the best alternatives for them. Can you expand to provide an additional first-floor suite – perhaps remodel or redesign another main level bedroom?

For the elderly, a room on the first floor or a finished basement is the top choice. A garage studio works better for returning children. Whatever accommodations you decide on, make the room spacious, relaxing, and most importantly, accessible to the kitchen, dining and living room areas.

craftsman house plan with covered rear porch 158-1193 

Basement floor plan with family room, additional bedroom and plenty of storage. 

A two-story four-bedroom Craftsman house plan has plenty of unfinished space that can be used for an in-law suite. The basement – with its own entrance – has a good-sized bedroom suite, complete with a full bath and a linen closet. The family room and another bedroom are also in the basement.  (view plan # 158-1193)


Features of In-Law Suites

The ultimate goal of the in-law suite is for families to help each other – whether it be with longer-term care, or a temporary financial setback - and to co-exist under one roof while maintaining their privacy and space.  With that in mind, here are some features to consider when you’re incorporating that in-law suite in your home plan.

This is a computer rendering of this Country Homeplan.

Floor plan layout with mother-inlaw suite. 

A one-story, three-bedroom country house plan features a tailor-made in-law suite – with its own bathroom and living room.  (Plan # 126-1089)


1.  Suite on the main level

A comfortable master suite on the first floor makes it easier for elderly parents or in-laws to move around the house. The suite’s proximity to the “social” spaces – kitchen, living, dining areas – must be an important part of the design plan.


2.  Private bathroom/shower and sitting area

There’s nothing that ensures privacy more than having a suite with its own bathroom/shower and sitting area. Most designers and homeowners opt for a shower rather than a bathtub - if the bathroom is for an elderly person. Bath safety grab bars can be installed to help navigate the bathroom and minimize the risk of slipping or falling.

bathroom with tub and shower plan 126-1289

A master bathroom with tub and shower can be made more elderly-friendly by installing safety grab bars on the walls, sides of the shower, and inside the shower itself.  (view floor plan # 126-1289) You can search for more mother-in-law suites house plans here.


3.  Separate entrance

A basement apartment or a first-floor bedroom with a separate entrance gives occupants the freedom to follow their own schedule and do things on their own.


4.  Kitchenette/breakfast nook

In some cases, in-laws may like to prepare their own food and dine in the privacy of their “apartment.” A kitchenette unit with a microwave oven and a breakfast nook can be welcome additions to an in-law suite.


It doesn’t matter if your house is a two-story Craftsman, a one-story bungalow, ranch or country home. With careful planning, you can create a cozy “home-within-the-home” for elderly parents, in-laws or adult children.


If you’re ready to move ahead, remember – you may be living under one roof, but privacy and space are crucial in making this work!


Footnote: The homes in the lead blog label are clockwise from left: Plan # 202-1001Plan # 1061315, and Plan # 125-1025.

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