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.
"Changes in lifestyles eventually hit the marketplaces, and you are beginning to see more tract homes being designed, generic designs being done by national firms where they are isolating areas for senior members of the family. It is coming, and it's part of what housing will be all about as we move to the next century."
Howard Saslow, HBAM president and owner of Encore Homes Inc., also has noticed an increase in the demand for custom homes that cater to adults and their aging parents.
"It's very prevalent. It's something that we are beginning to see," Saslow said. "I just got done working with a couple -- it's not going to go anywhere because the father-in-law was too conservative and couldn't make a decision -- but in their case we were going to build a house and they were going to build a separate in-law suite. And I'm working with another buyer right now who is building about a 4,000-square-foot home in Carroll County, and on the same property he's going to build a small rancher for his in-laws."
Ackerman said that over the years he has done several custom homes that architecturally blend the two lifestyles.
"Our main function," he said, "is to take the dreams of the people involved and design and build a house in their budget and with their wish list, and have an end result where their dream house has not become just a dream house but a total living lifestyle. A total way of life, and every one of these that we've done, we've created that.
"We try to develop the architecture of the roof lines so that the whole thing looks like one house; we don't want it to look like an add-on, because it is not an add-on. We achieve it by not having monotonous-looking architecture.
Whether the architecture is country, whether it is Colonial, whether it is contemporary, we are able to blend the whole house together."
Building the dream
Nina Watts, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn-ERA, met the Cassards during an open house in Ruxton, and soon she was showing them other homes.
But it quickly became apparent that the best avenue for the Cassards to take was to start fresh and build rather than attempt to retrofit an existing home, because the cost and the aggravation would probably run too high. So they began talking with builders.
"The flow wasn't right. Some of the things I wanted from the [builders] that we talked to is that we get a good floor plan, a good flow, good windows and not just two rectangles stuck together."
It wasn't until Sandra Cassard visited an Ashley model home in the Valley Hi development off Greenspring Avenue that she knew that Ackerman was the architect she wanted.
"Other builders thought it was an interesting concept and were trying to work with us. They just didn't manage to come up with anything that was as well-designed as [what] Alan did," she said.
"Alan seemed to listen the best to what we needed and wanted. His first round of drawings were just spectacular to us. His was so superior to what the other builders had.
"Mainly the other builders were trying to take something that they had already built and maybe add a chunk on to it to create the in-law side of it, and none of them had an in-house architect as good as Alan."
The two-story design that Ackerman sketched connected the home through a first-floor vestibule, as well as a two-car garage for Sandra and Wim and a one-car garage for the in-laws, and also through the basement and second story.
Overall, the in-law area features a first-floor bedroom, bath, kitchen and living area with two more bedrooms on the second level.
The main house has four bedrooms on the second level, an office and three bathrooms.
The backyard deck is designed at a right angle so that it provides separation for each family, yet offers similar views of the lawn. The house sits on 2.3 acres and has separate front-door entrances, neither of which is visible from the other.
The home has separate heating and air-conditioning units, but one utility bill.
"Even though the garages are attached in some way, I will put one garage facing one way and put the other garage facing another angle. I try to create the house, instead of a trailer, rectangular way, make it an L-shape, or a Y-shape or something where it creates a different feeling of facades," Ackerman said, adding that to build a home such as the Cassards would cost about $400,000 to $500,000.
"It would be a main house that is $250,000 and an in-law [living area] of about $150,000."
Ackerman knew that what he was designing clearly would raise the county's eyebrows. Was this a single-family home or was it a duplex, which would violate the zoning for the area?
"We are going to connect the house the way the local municipal building codes are going to make us, that dictates what we can do, because we are stepping real close to what is a duplex and what's not. You have to be real careful.
"We can't change the zoning [or] create a smoke screen of what's going on and how this house is going to be utilized," Ackerman said.
So it was up to the Cassards, their real estate agent and Ackerman to convince the architectural review board of the neighborhood and officials at a special Baltimore County zoning hearing to gain the understanding and approval of what was to be built.
The clincher came when the Cassards offered to write into the deed and covenants that the in-law portion of the home would never be used as a rental unit, that only family members would live there.
That seemed to satisfy the county as well as the Cassards' prospective neighbors. At the special zoning hearing, none of the Cassards' neighbors showed up to voice objections.
Alice Cassard died in May 1997, seven months after she and Edwin moved into the new home. Nevertheless, it was a move that Sandra Cassard says was worth the effort. Wim's brother and family moved into his parents' Chevy Chase home, and Sandra said Edwin is enjoying a "much more active and interesting social life."
As for Ackerman, he sees what the Cassards have done and believes that this type of custom home is bound to become more in demand.
"You can probably find this baby in California, Arizona or in Florida. It's not that they are more sophisticated or ahead of us, but where the weather is better, in general, people have developed [retirement] lifestyles of variations that we have never thought about. We've taken the things that they've done from California and the Southwest and learned from them and it has migrated East," he said.
But the explanation for success came from Sandra Cassard:
"It took every player to make this happen. It wasn't like Wim and I were providing a home for his parents, it was like they [the architect and builders] were providing a home for all of us. They were creating the possibility for all of us doing this together."
Pub Date: 6/14/98