A house for 2 households Solution: A family worried about aging grandparents builds the very house to diminish such worries.

June 14, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Sandra Cassard fancies herself as a take-charge woman, a self-admitted "control freak." But now she was facing decisions that she couldn't just make by herself. These were situations that eventually confront most adults with aging parents. In Sandra's case, it was her husband's father and ailing mother.

Her husband, Willem, had seen his parents live in the same Chevy Chase house for the past 25 years. But now their family -- the entire family -- was at a crossroads.

Sandra and Willem, known to the family as Wim, decided to sell their Baltimore home and move to the county to take advantage of the elementary public schools for their three girls. Meanwhile, Willem's mother, Alice, was suffering from a neurological disease that was diminishing her motor skills. It was time for a dramatic change. The questions were difficult. But then a solution came in a flash to Sandra Cassard, the answer seemed so simple, yet so complex.

"It sort of came to me," she said, recalling that time in the spring of 1995. "We would try to do something jointly and have them next door or on the same property at least. We would be able to care for Alice and participate in her care and relieve some of the burden on [Wim's] dad."

Now she wasn't talking about a simple in-law apartment or rigged living space in the basement of whatever home they bought. She was thinking about a well-conceived home where the two families could live together, yet maintain their own space and independence.

And what she, Wim and her in-laws ended up with became a grand 4,800-square-foot residence along the upscale Falls Road corridor of Baltimore County that is actually two homes in one. It's what the home's architect -- Allan Ackerman of Ashley Custom Homes in Pikesville -- likes to label as the "Total Family Living" house.

"It's a lifestyle for two families," Ackerman said. "We have a main house with all the amenities of a main house, living room, dining room, a main foyer, a stairway, their own kitchen, breakfast area two-car garage. And, as part of the architecture attached to the main house, is the in-law house.

"The reason it's not considered duplex living is because the houses are attached to each other in the basement, and the first floor and the garages are open to each other."

But before this home became a reality, there were many issues for the Cassards to address and overcome:

* How do you persuade independent, aging parents to come and live with their children?

* How do you persuade county officials and your neighbors that what you plan to build won't be used one day as a rental?

* How do you find an architect and builder who can interpret

your desires and design a home that will fulfill your needs as well as your in-laws'?.

It wasn't easy for the Cassards. But it wasn't impossible.

Bringing an older generation into the house wasn't something unique to the Cassards. Wim's grandmother had lived with her son and wife for years in Ruxton. Therefore, some of the groundwork had been laid.

"We asked for his father to come up [from Chevy Chase] and meet us for lunch at our house so that we could pitch the idea to him," Sandra said. "Our strategy was to basically ask 'what do you think about this idea.'

" 'What are your plans for retirement. Do you plan to stay in your home? Do you plan to retrofit it for Alice's needs? Do you plan to go to a retirement community? Do you plan to come back to Baltimore? This is an option that we want you to think about.' "

Sandra said her father-in-law, Edwin, 74, took in the idea quietly, thanked them for the consideration and left. He wasn't totally persuaded, but neither did he dismiss the idea that such a home could work. Alice's health was declining, and Sandra and Wim knew that the burden was growing on Edwin. "We knew that if some- thing were to happen to him and she were to survive him that we did not want her to be in a nursing home," Sandra Cassard said.

"And, if she went before him, we didn't want him alone, banging around in a house by himself in Chevy Chase."

Another month passed, and finally they had another discussion.

"I remember Wim's mom saying, 'I guess if one of us goes, it won't be so lonely.' We could see them seriously considering this, and finally they gave us their blessing and said, 'What's the next step?' "

One roof, two homes

Designing homes with the intent of reuniting parent and child seems to be gaining more popularity in the marketplace as assisted living and nursing homes loom on the horizon for the baby boom generation.

"You are beginning to see the 'Granny unit' or the 'in-laws unit' cropping up in a lot of homes where the fourth bedroom is being moved away," said Mel Herzberger, president of the Apartment Builder and Owners Council, who coordinated a senior housing seminar for the Home Builders Association of Maryland last year.

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