Only 20 percent of American households fit the nuclear family mold, while nearly a third are single people living alone. A new exhibit at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., presents design solutions for this growing share of non-traditional households.

Making Room: Housing for a Changing America’s informative displays point to the disparity between perceived and actual housing needs, and shed light on obstacles to meeting housing demand, such as stringent zoning regulations. Its central feature is The Open House, a 1,000-square-foot, full-scale home designed by Italian architect Pierluigi Colombo for three increasingly common household types whose needs are not currently being fully met by the housing industry: roommates, extended families, and empty nesters.

In the first phase of the 10-month-long exhibit, The Open House will be configured for a roommate arrangement, maximizing space and privacy for a couple and two single adults. From March to late May 2018, the house will be reconfigured to support a multi-generational household, and from June to the close of the exhibit in September 2018, the space will become two independent homes for empty nesters and a live-in caregiver or adult child. The evolving installation features movable walls and multifunctional furniture.

“Households in the United States are changing, but housing supply and policy is not changing at the same pace,” says Chase W. Rynd, National Building Museum president and executive director. “Making Room offers the opportunity to explore innovative design solutions to meet evolving lifestyle needs in today’s society, both through case studies and with the full-scale Open House.”

Visitors can walk through The Open House’s eat-in kitchen, two full bathrooms, and three living areas which double as private bedrooms with space-saving wall beds and built-in storage. The home includes a walk-in closet, walk-in laundry room, automated moveable walls, and an integrated smart home system.

On the premise that 22 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65 in 2050, The Open House is fully equipped with ADA-compliant features to enable aging in place. For example, a wheelchair-accessible kitchen counter lowers at the push of a button, while electric-assist drawers and a dishwasher that opens to a knock are ideal for residents with a limited range of motion.

After walking through The Open House, gallery visitors will find case studies of housing typologies that meet the housing needs of the present, such as micro-units, shared housing experiments, accessory dwelling units, tiny homes, and even roommate matching services.

The takeaway from Making Room: Housing for a Changing America is that innovative solutions to many of today’s housing challenges are within reach. As Lisa Blecker from Resource Furniture explains, “it’s about good design and long-term thinking.” The exhibit invites national dialogue that will bring the nation’s housing industry one step closer to accommodating today’s households.

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