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Living with Others, Part 2

by Sofia Tuovinen

Living with Others | Design*Sponge

The other week I ran into my old roommate, whom I hadn’t seen or talked to in three years (time really does fly). We made plans to meet up the following week, and I ended up spending a wonderful evening with her and her friends, talking about life, adventures, relationships, hopes and dreams and what living together was like. Just like friends that you’ve had from childhood, you can have this unexplainable connection with someone you’ve lived with. You might not see each other for years but when you do, there’s a special sort of mutual appreciation that only exists when you’ve shared something meaningful — even though it might have felt mundane and ordinary at the time.

In Living with Others, Part 1 we spoke to some truly inspiring people about their most significant takeaways from living together — as a couple, as mother and daughter, and as a family with kids. Today I’m excited to share with you Living with Others, Part 2, where we hear honest thoughts on the same subject from another couple, Cindy and Mo, roommates Tyler and Alita, and Jessica, who shares with us what life is like when three generations live under the same roof. Hearing these stories and reconnecting with my old roommate has made me think back on everyone I have lived with and the joyful (and let’s face it — not so joyful) memories we’ve shared. Whether we live with others out of necessity or by choice — or both — there’s always more room to listen, learn and consider each other, and appreciate those moments that later on are the ones we long to return to. — Sofia


 

Jessica & family 

Jessica Bruno and her husband, son, two step-daughters, and parents share a multigenerational home in Massachusettes.

“Our multi-gen living arrangement started almost 11 years ago as a temporary thing while my husband and I were looking for a new home closer to his work. We moved into my childhood home that my parents owned and we never left! Shortly after, my grandparents moved in as they were getting older, and needed help. We lived together for almost eight years as four generations under one roof until my gram passed away in November 2017. My grandfather suffers from dementia and Alzheimers and has since been placed in a nursing home nearby. We are back to being three generations under one roof and have since bought a new home.” — Jessica

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Jessica Bruno with her husband, son, two step-daughters, and parents.


D*S: What are some of the things that multigenerational living has taught you?

Jessica: It’s taught me that family is literally, everything. I can’t even imagine living any other way. It’s also taught me a lot about my parents. I mean, we have always been close but I see them in a different way as an adult. It’s different when you live with your parents as a kid and then when you live with them later on in life. I see them as friends. I have a greater appreciation for my family and making memories. It’s been a great experienceand I feel very lucky.

It’s taught me that family is literally, everything. I can’t even imagine living any other way.
– Jessica


What is the best part about living together as a multigenerational family?

Jessica: There is always someone home! My husband works a lot of hours per week and when my son was small, it was so nice having my parents and grandparents around. Not to mention built-in babysitters. My step-daughters come on weekends so weekend meals are always a big thing. My son gets to see his grandparents 24/7 and he has such a great relationship with them. They each have their own things they do together and daily routines. It’s been a blessing for him to grow up and watch everyone pitch in to help care for my grandparents (his great-grandparents) when they were living with us. Now that he is older, he gets to help out around the house when my parents need his help. I can’t even imagine living any other way.


Are there any changes you have made to your home to make it work for your family’s daily needs?

Jessica: We added a refrigerator to the garage and have created multiple TV rooms. We are in the process (because we just moved) of finishing the basement for a TV/movie room. When my grandparents were living with us, we added two handicap accessible bathrooms and a chair lift so they could access the second floor.


Has multigenerational living changed the way you decorate?

Jessica: In our old house, it was kind of like walking through a time warp. We all had our own spaces (TV room etc. and two kitchens). My gram’s decorating style was very old fashioned and dated. My mom was very traditional and I preferred more of a modern rustic (farmhouse kind of) style. Our new house is Mediterranean style and very open with high ceilings. My mom and I take the lead on decorating and we both have agreed to create a modern rustic home that is cozy and sophisticated. Our new home needs some cosmetic updating as it’s more of an old world Italian style right now. We have already started on our great room with some changes as well as the dining space.

 

It’s actually fun creating private spaces under one roof while still feeling like it’s a house full of people.
– Jessica


What do you appreciate most about your home?

Jessica: I love that we have the ability to all live together in one space. It’s actually fun creating private spaces under one roof while still feeling like it’s a house full of people. Privacy is the key to our success and I think we are doing a pretty good job (so far) of creating that.


What’s your best advice for people considering multigenerational living?

Jessica: Set ground rules before moving in together. Decide who is going to pay what for bills. That’s a big one! We do a 50/50 split right down the middle. We also do our own grocery shopping (I do my family and my mom does her and my dad’s shopping) and we prepare our own family meals. A couple times a week we do a potluck where I will make the meat and my mom will make the veggies, etc. (and vice versa) but we all eat at different times due to work and school sports, etc. We kind of pretend like we don’t live together, but we do. I do all my own cleanup for my family and my parents handle their own cleanup. It’s important to be considerate of each other’s space and respectful of privacy. I would also suggest multiple refrigerators and multiple TV rooms.

 


 

Tyler and Alita 

Writer Tyler Seecof and singer Alita Moses are roommates living together in New York City.

“We met in college during orientation and have been friends since. After school, we both moved to New York, but neither of us lived together. She wanted to move to Brooklyn and I had a room open up, so it was kind of fate. We love living in our little shoebox with our black cat, Basil.”

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Roommates Tyler and Alita 


D*S: What is the best part about living together with friends?

Tyler: It’s family style. We don’t feel shacked up with strangers who we have to learn to navigate around. It just feels like home. We cook, clean, watch TV together. I’ll go out to see her performances. We’ll get dinner, go furniture shopping together. It’s really sweet how there’s always someone there for you. We also run in totally different circles. She has a lot of musician friends and is constantly out late-nights, due to the nature of her work. I am friends with a lot of visual artists, so it’s nice that we still have our own lives, but that they complement each other. It’s always nice bringing your roommate around your friends, especially if everyone vibes. It’s great. With this closeness and trust, the term “roommate” takes on a partnership connotation… platonic of course. I’m gay and she’s taken.


What do you appreciate most about your home?

Tyler: It’s coziness. That’s marketing talk for “small.” We’d obviously love more space, but it’s nice to feel each other’s presence, even if we’re not necessarily hanging out. We also have an awesome rooftop view of the New York skyline. […] It’s a cheap apartment. We always drink and dance on the roof, especially at sunset. It’s our time to really let it sink in that we’re living a lot of people’s dreams of living in the big apple. It’s humbling. Also, I almost fell off the roof once while drunk dancing in the night, and that really brought us closer together.

With this closeness and trust, the term ‘roommate’ takes on a partnership connotation… platonic of course. I’m gay and she’s taken.
– Tyler

 

What’s your best advice to people who are considering moving in with friends or housemates?

Tyler: Don’t. Just kidding! You just have to really think about it. We advise you to honestly ask yourself these questions:

“Do you run in the same friend circle, or do you have a community you can call your own?”

“How do your schedules match up? Are they exactly the same that you’ll be home all the time together?
Or will there be times that you have the space to yourself?”

You know you are already personality matches, otherwise you wouldn’t be friends, but how do your living habits stack up with one another? Is your friend messy? Clean? Are they on time with rent and bills? Are you the same type of weird? That’s important, especially at, like, 3 am when you just want to choreograph a dance using cool Chinese fans with someone… not that we’ve ever done that or anything. Make a pro’s and con’s list. It’s not about their personality, you already know you two match up.

 


Mo and Cindy 

Mo and Cindy live together in New York City.

“We’re both artists and business owners who are always on the go. We are four and a half years into our relationship and this is our second apartment together. New York is our home base but we do a lot of traveling as well.”

Living with Others | Design*Sponge
Image above: Mo, Cindy and the view over New York City from their new apartment.


D*S: What have you learned about living under the same roof with your partner?

Mo: I’ve lived with a partner twice and character really does matter. You learn a lot about people’s characters when you move in with them obviously, however, with Cindy it was a seamless process at first. It was a good sign when we knew we could live in a fairly small apartment and still be comfortable, however, there will always be little things that people do differently. There is a learning curve to living with anyone, and compromise and understanding are always essential. But I must say, some partners are easier than others.

Cindy: We all go through the honeymoon stage, which leads couples to eventually move in together — but you don’t actually know them until you’ve lived with them. That’s when the relationship really begins. It’s easy to go through the ups and downs of life and then go home to separate beds and wake up refreshed and ready to do it again the next day. The challenge is going through those up and downs and sharing your bed with someone else who has had their own experiences that day. It’s easy to never be on the same page, but we’ve learned when we need space and when we need the other person to be an ear or a shoulder to lean on.

There is a learning curve to living with anyone, and compromise and understanding are always essential.
– Mo


Are there any adjustments needed to make your home work for both of you?

Mo: Yes, absolutely! I am someone who lives a fairly hectic life and is always in and out, and definitely require a certain amount of organization and a way of making the home key to my hectic lifestyle. So there are some adjustments that I’ve had to make, for example: where I live is normally a tool to support my work, that has had to change. Also, I am a ‘do it now’ person — I can’t see something that isn’t fixed or done right away. I don’t have a relaxed bone and that can sometimes drive my partner crazy. For example, some people like to move in slowly and get the place ready slowly, I’m the person who wants to do it all in the first day I move in, which is sometimes impossible, but if you can do something now then why wait?

Cindy: Yes! Growing up, my mother always did a great job of making our home a sanctuary. I grew up in a big family that occupied a small house, and even then I felt at peace when I was home. I knew that no matter what happened at school, at the end of the day I was going to be able to go home and unwind. That is something that I took with me when I moved out. I don’t need to have the most elaborately decorated home, I just need it to be peaceful. I need to be able to leave work and stress at the door, which was difficult to do when we first moved in together because Mo always used to work from home. He also can’t be idle so he’s always up to something! We moved into this apartment a few weeks ago, and on day one he wanted to have the place in order and I just wanted to pop open a bottle of wine, sit back surrounded by boxes and just celebrate the fact that we made it happen! We moved! Which in New York, moving is a full-time job/marathon. He didn’t get what he wanted that day and neither did I, but we’ve been slowly unpacking boxes and popping bottles ever since.


Has living together changed the way you decorate?

Mo: Yes, because we are both very opinionated people. There are some aesthetics that I like and she doesn’t and vice versa, but this brings us back to compromise. A good idea was to be more technical with the process and share things with each other [that] we like and vote on them. Two apartments later, I think we’re getting to a better place, although not perfect. One thing that is hard is I need things to work or they drive me crazy. For example — our shower curtain that assists in a flooded bathroom time and time again yet Cindy still seems to love it.

Cindy: A little. He likes nice, decorative things and I don’t want it in the apartment if it’s not practical. I don’t like dust collectors or pieces that I won’t get use of just because it looks nice. We don’t agree on everything, but we have learned to compromise. After countless vetoes and debates, we’ve finally learned what the other person likes and needs which makes it much easier to decorate.

Sincerely, the best part is that it feels right.
– Mo


What’s the best part about living together?

Mo: Lower rent… I am joking. Well, kind of joking, New York is expensive! Sincerely, the best part is that it feels right.

Cindy: Waking up and having someone to say goodbye to, then coming home and having someone to share your day with.


How has home life changed for you since moving in together?

Mo: I’ve always been an on-the-go person and I’ve never really used the home as a place to relax, it’s always been a primary or secondary work spot. We hit a point where she just couldn’t take it anymore and I was forced to appreciate the home as a place to come back to and decompress. I’m certainly not perfect at it but there are definitely more Netflix and chill nights.

Cindy: It’s funny because I used to be the one who needed a cozy home to return to and he needed an extra workspace, now I think the roles have reversed a bit! The last apartment we lived in was so noisy that it made him realize the importance of having a home to go back to instead of a second office… but now I’ve started working from home! So while he’s searching for the perfect shower curtain, I’m on the hunt for the perfect desk. We’re still figuring it out, but we’ll find the balance!

You have to be willing to prioritize your partner’s emotional needs without compromising your own.
– Cindy


What’s your best advice for couple’s moving in together for the first time?

Mo: Don’t force it. It should happen naturally and don’t do it unless you’re truly willing to compromise. It’s also one of the best ways of learning about your partner; don’t be afraid to run if it doesn’t work. Just keeping it 100.

Cindy:  Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. The last thing you should do is move in with someone out of convenience. When you do move in together you [must] always remember to compromise, and this goes beyond picking a coffee table you both agree on. You have to be willing to prioritize your partner’s emotional needs without compromising your own. It sounds silly now, but decorating and making a home is very emotional, so don’t move in until you’re ready. If you still have trouble compromising at first, just assign yourselves a room to decorate — that way you won’t have to debate every piece and you’ll have something that’s yours.

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Comments

  • I love this series! Thank you! It feels like so many people live with room mates, and in multi-generational homes in adulthood, yet that is rarely reflected in media and pop culture. Often it seems like these arrangements are viewed as some how taboo (especially staying with parents as an adult) or transitional, which minimizes all of the logistics and commitment that goes in to building homes like these. It also ignores the reality of how expensive housing has become! It’s great to have a frank, public conversation about everything from how people decide to split bills to how they make decorating compromises.

  • Adore this series!! ! Yes, this is a design blog and I come here for inspiration but creating a home is so much more than picking out a pretty rug and set of chairs and I love how this piece dives into that bit. The Washington Post recently did a piece about a couple and their child that live in a house with other adults (who don’t have children). It was fascinating how they make it work.

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