How Multigenerational Families Live Under One Roof
Three Families on Three Different Floors
During trips to Hadley, Massachusetts, to visit their daughter, Elizabeth, then enrolled at Hampshire College, Bob and Annie Grilli fell in love with the town. In 2007 they bought a three-story 13-room farmhouse in Hadley with Bob's longtime friend, Chuck Verrill, 58. First Elizabeth and her fiance moved into the second floor with their newborn, Isabella. Then Chuck, a divorced dad of three grown children, took up residence on the third floor with his dog, Pojd. Finally, Bob quit his job as a systems analyst in suburban Westchester County, New York, and he and Annie -- a singer whose group, Annie and the Natural Wonder Band, specializes in "environmentally conscious entertainment" -- moved into the first floor. "Everybody has their own floor, and everybody has kitchen privileges," says Bob. "And we all get to share a house with people we love."
If that sounds a tad sappy, Bob makes no apologies. Frustrated by high taxes, expensive housing, and job insecurity in Westchester, he and Annie longed to move to a college town with lower costs and plenty of cultural diversions. The untimely deaths of friends, and Elizabeth's surprise pregnancy, led them to conclude there was no point in waiting. "We moved in last summer, then had the worst winter ever," says Bob. "But the giggle of a grandchild makes up for a lot."
"I feel so lucky to be around for the little milestones," agrees Annie, known as Nana to Isabella, now 2.
After a year the Grilli-Verrill household is still in a state of flux. Elizabeth, 23, who amicably separated from Isabella's dad, graduated with a degree in dance but is now in graduate school studying to be a nurse midwife. Bob and Annie concentrate on their music (Bob is a songwriter and guitarist for Annie's band). And Chuck, a literary agent, commutes once a week to his office in New York City. A dry-erase board in the kitchen keeps track of phone messages and a running grocery list. Annie and Elizabeth insist that everyone recycle and compost, and all four adults tend a communal vegetable garden. Still, there are challenges. "Isabella's right above our room, so we keep the TV volume low," says Annie. "And my 'mother radar' is still on, so if Elizabeth is out, I wait up."
The nature of their work means that Bob and Annie are home a lot. "There's always someone around, and that's great 85 percent of the time," says Bob. "But about 15 percent of the time I'd like some solitude." Chuck, a loner by nature, has the opposite view. "It's good to have company thrust upon me," he admits. "It's a big house. We can spend the whole day not seeing one another, but more often than not we eat dinner together." The toughest part of his living arrangement, he says, is forcing himself to make the weekly six-hour drive to New York City and back.
Elizabeth is surprised to find herself part of the "boomerang adult" phenomenon. "I never thought of myself that way, but so much is expected of my generation," she says. "Almost everyone goes beyond a bachelor's degree. As a single mom I could never afford to be in graduate school if I weren't living with my parents." Indeed, for her, free and safe childcare is by far the biggest perk. "Just having someone I trust to watch Isabella for 20 minutes is wonderful."
Elizabeth cherishes the tranquility she finds in the 3,100-square-foot century-old farmhouse, with its long, drafty hallways, big eat-in kitchen, and sunny porch where everyone gathers at day's end to reconnect and unwind. "I hope it's in the family forever," she says.
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