We’ve all been in our homes for the past two months, and as stay-at-home practices continue, our homes are serving more functions than ever. Now, houses are expected to function as workplaces, schools and three-meals-a-day restaurants. 

There may be no end in sight for COVID-19 restrictions, and many wonder if there will be long-lasting changes to how we view and use our homes in the future. 

If the future means fewer workers headed to downtown offices on public transit and fewer children leaving the nest to live in college dorms, what will the ideal home space look like?

In the older housing stock of the western suburbs, one way to gain more square footage without a time-consuming addition is to seek out a house with flexible living space already built-in. 

Coach houses, often built a century ago for a chauffeur or live-in servant, offer much-needed bonus space. Some local realtors with listings with coach houses see the extra space as adding real value in uncertain times.

Laura Maychruk of River Forest’s Gullo & Associates is listing 1511 Franklin Ave. in River Forest for $739,999. The 1927 brick home comes with a coach house in back. 

While the village does not allow coach houses to be full-time living spaces at this time, Maychruk says that House Bill 4869, introduced in the Illinois General Assembly in February, would make livable coach houses legal throughout the state. Since River Forest is a non-home rule community, passage of the bill would permit livable coach house space in River Forest.

Maychruk says the coach house at 1511 Franklin Ave. has a permitted half bath that could easily be converted to a full bath if the laws are changed, and the space is also separately metered for gas and electric, which would make it easier to rent out in the future.

Her clients on Franklin Avenue converted their coach house to be a work-from-home office for one of the owners, who worked as an attorney. She points out that there are some tax advantages to working from home, because owners can write off some expenses related to the upkeep of the space. 

Regardless of how long pandemic restrictions stay in place, Maychruk says of working from home, “I think this is a trend that is going to stick around after this is over. We will see a lot more people working from home.”

During the pandemic, Maychruk has received several calls from people looking to rent a home to quarantine in. While this house is not a candidate, she says that having your own coach house could be a great solution for families who have a family member who is sick or needing to quarantine.

When Frank Altmayer and his wife, Sue, bought 223 Bloomingbank Road in Riverside a few years ago, they did not foresee the current pandemic, but the spacious coach house was a huge selling point, because they planned to have three generations of family living on one piece of property. 

The 1910 Romanesque main house came with a sizeable space above the garage that was built for the original owner’s chauffeur. The Altmayers bought the property with the intention that their daughter, her husband and their children could live in the main house, while Frank and Sue would live in the coach house. 

Frank Altmayer says they needed to renovate what had been a rental unit before they moved in. They created a large, modern kitchen with an island and higher ceilings, and also removed a staircase to enlarge one of the two bedrooms to create a master-sized bedroom. 

A second, smaller bedroom would make a good child’s room or office. The downstairs level has a sitting room with a fireplace and access to a separate patio. Altmayer says he and his wife loved having their grandchildren be able to run across the yard for snacks or a playdate.

“I would recommend this to anyone,” he said of their arrangement. “It was a real pleasure. It was almost a daily occurrence to see the grandkids. We ate together, played games together.

“If someone is staying in your home, it always feels like an inconvenience after a few days. But to have your own kitchen and bathroom and a separate space makes it so much more pleasant. I can’t think of a more ideal space.”

Altmayer’s son-in-law got transferred, so the couple have listed the house for sale with Rory Dominick of Keller Williams for $1.2 million. 

Dominick says the main house with its distinctive stone exterior is a local historic landmark that is nicely updated for family living with four full floors of living space, including a third-floor pool room with a fireplace.

She thinks the spacious coach house across the yard is not only a selling point for people like the Altmayers, who want to live with extended family. She thinks that this bonus space could be very appealing for any family spending more time at home together due to the new normal of the pandemic. She also would not be surprised to see the pandemic changing the way people approach home buying in general.

“People living in the city now who were thinking about moving in a year or two? This crisis may make that happen sooner rather than later,” Dominick said, remarking that people will be looking for green space and clean air. 

With the city closing the lakefront and parks, suburbs like Riverside which have outdoor space and are pedestrian-friendly look more appealing. She notes too, that a single-family home automatically provides more room and a buffer from neighbors. Right now, people might not want to be in a high-rise with crowded elevators.

Changing work habits might push more people to look for a truly separate work-from-home space. 

“People who work for large corporations may be looking at rolling re-entry,” Dominick said. “The work-from-home lifestyle might continue for a long time. The first floor of the coach house makes a great office.”

It’s also possible that people will be changing what they value about houses. Dominick thinks there may be a turn away from open concept living plans with the needs for adults to work and kids to learn in homes. 

More time together could mean placing a higher value on separate spaces for living and working together.

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