According to Pew Research, around 60 million American households are considered “multi-generational” — generally defined as a family in which three or more generations live together.

Here in the Aloha State, strong family values and the high cost of both caregiving and real estate have resulted in Hawaii’s top ranking as the state with the most multigenerational families sharing a home, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Multigenerational living works beautifully when every family member has adequate personal space and easy access to common living areas,” says Evan Fujimoto, president of Honolulu design/build firm Graham Builders. “A designer with experience in multigenerational residences can help anticipate issues with noise, privacy, and accessibility, and create a home that is comfortable for everybody in the family.”

Making it work

In Hawaii, options for increasing living space include accessory dwelling units (ADUs), ohana units, and additions. “Many people are still confused about which is which, and there are some significant differences between them,” says Fujimoto.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs): Attempting to alleviate Oahu’s housing shortage, former mayor Kirk Caldwell signed the ADU Ordinance into law almost eight years ago.

“An ADU is a second dwelling unit that includes its own kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom, and utility meter,” says Fujimoto. “It can be attached or detached from the primary residence. Depending on the size of the property, it’s limited to dimensions of 400-800 square feet.”

Ohana units: Unique to the islands, Hawaii’s ohana dwellings are similar to ADUs. Like ADUs, ohana units may have their own kitchens, and both ADUs and ohanas require solar hot water tanks, off-street parking, and conformation with city ordinances.

“With an ohana, the property owner must live in one dwelling, and a relative in the other,” explains Fujimoto. “With ADUs, the owner must live in one residence — but anybody else, related or unrelated, may live in the other.”

Additions: If an ohana or ADU doesn’t work for your property, consider building a simple addition. Additions cannot have a kitchen, laundry, or meter, but a wet bar – a refrigerator and compact bar sink – might be adequate for your family’s needs.

Two design challenges are common in many multigenerational homes: adequate storage space, and shared kitchens.

“Smart storage management is critical,” says Fujimoto. “We try to include individual closets for each family member, and drop zones in laundry rooms, garages and mudrooms.”

Then there’s the kitchen — the center of daily life for most families. When several generations are working to prepare meals in a single space, harmony can turn into discord.

Graham Builders’ team offers a brilliant solution: the ohana kitchen. “It’s larger, with multiple prep stations, sinks and appliances that allow multiple family members to prep, cook and eat separately, yet simultaneously,” Fujimoto explains