connecting a multi-unit home to facilitate community living

Finding a house big enough for an intentional community can be tricky. San Francisco is lucky to have several old Victorian homes and religious buildings that have 20-bedrooms and easily houses a sizable community. But the number of groups looking to live in community outnumber the available homes in the city.

Because of this, some groups choose to buy multiple units of a duplex or triplex and live as a community spread across the units. Though this setup can supply the number of bedrooms a community wants, it makes the housing search significantly easier, it has the chance of splintering the group. If each unit is fully equipped with a kitchen, living room, and washing machine, people can lose motivation to travel to other floors and hang out with housemates in other units.

At The Village, we live across three vertically-stacked units and we've set ourselves up such that many of us feel similarly connected to people across all units. There are several decisions we've made as a house and as individuals -- some intentional, and some unintentional but enlightening -- that have helped us stick together.

Making it easy to move between floors

One of the biggest barriers to visiting another floor is the effort it takes to travel there. Climbing stairs, being exposed to the elements, and unlocking a door can all make it feel less "worth it" to travel. 

The friction of walking up or down stairs can get in the way of impromptu hangs. Several features of our house make moving between floors easier. Some were choices we made, but some are aspects of the house’s architecture that are difficult to add if not already present in a home. When looking for a multi-unit home to use for community living, look out for these:

Making the middle floor the heart of the house

With so much space in the house, and some friction to move between floors, it was important for us to set up a single central common area where most of us would regularly visit and run into each other. We decided to gather around the middle floor, since it had the largest living room and kitchen, and is also the easiest floor to enter from the street. One pattern that’s helpful to know about community homes is that socializing often doesn’t happen because people seek it out, but because they move around the house for practical reasons and happen upon others. There are several decisions we made that have incentivized almost everyone to visit the middle floor several times a day, and this results in lots of great spontaneous conversations: