Design & Home

This Luxe In-Law Suite Has an Elevator That Works Like a Bank-Deposit Tube

Instead of making room for Grandma and Grandpa in the basement, this Forest Hills family built them a modern attic apartment.

The suite’s pneumatic elevator brings its residents directly up from the house’s front entrance.

An attic apartment, up all those steps, might seem a poor choice for an elderly resident. But with the addition of a clever elevator, Jonas Carnemark, owner of Carnemark Design & Build in Bethesda, created what his clients dubbed the “Peninsula Suite” in their 1920s Tudor in Forest Hills.

The shower has a built-in bench and no threshold so it’s easy to use.

“The homeowners asked me if they could do something with their attic, but the steep staircase was an issue,” says Carnemark. The solution: a three-foot-diameter pneumatic elevator installed in a corner by the foyer, with a stop on the second-floor landing and another in the attic suite. “The pneumatic system works just like a bank-deposit tube, riding on a cushion of air,” Carnemark says. Though the style isn’t big enough for a wheelchair, it can fit up to two people at a time.

ELEVATORS AND THE BOTTOM LINE
$20,000–$35,000
One of the least expensive options: a platform, such as the Stiltz lift, that lifts people up one level.

$30,000–$60,000
A small pneumatic elevator fits two people but can’t accommodate a wheelchair.

$100,000+
Expect to pay six figures for a larger elevator that reaches four floors and requires remodeling on each level.

The configuration works well for the family, not only because the elevator will come in handy if the in-laws develop mobility issues down the road but also because it gives them a direct route from the front door up to their suite. In other words, it allows them to avoid intruding on the rest of the house.

Their suite includes a living area with a coffee bar, a bedroom, and a spa-like bathroom­ whose shower doesn’t have a threshold—“for any future accessibility needs,” explains Carnemark.

AVOIDING IN-LAW INSANITY
Builders’ tips for maintaining home value—and helping everyone get along.

Don’t skip on soundproofing
Your in-laws may love their grandchildren, but they probably don’t love being woken up by them in the middle of the night.

Do accessibility right
Future buyers—and current elderly parents—don’t want a space that looks institutional or built for disabilities.

Create enough private space
Without a sitting area and at least a spot to make coffee, an in-law suite is just a guest room.

Build an outdoor space
Even better than a sitting area: a private deck or patio.

Or go all out
A private backyard guesthouse may someday also add value as a rental unit.

This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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Michele Lerner

Michele Lerner ([email protected]) covers real estate, interior design, and personal finance.