It could be a story too conventional to write.

The parents may soon age out of their home but still want to be independent. So the children carve an in-law apartment out of their home, or buy a new home large enough to provide one.

But what if the children live elsewhere and spend only a few weeks in the area, making a house out of the question?

Suzy Nam and John Brown faced that problem and came up with an unusual solution: a combined in-law apartment for Brown’s parents and a pied-à-terre for them.

For Nam and Brown, American expatriates who have lived in Bangkok for 15 years, the three-bedroom condo in the Beaver Hill development in Jenkintown was the starting point.

“We picked a unit desperately in need of renovation because we liked the services and amenities available — elevator, doorman, shuttle to the supermarkets, SEPTA station across the street,” says Nam, a contributing editor at Forbes magazine.

Fixtures in the master bathroom are positioned to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
Fixtures in the master bathroom are positioned to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
The barrier-free master bedroom and bath are open spaces to accommodate a wheelchair, if necessary.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The barrier-free master bedroom and bath are open spaces to accommodate a wheelchair, if necessary.

“We put a lot of time and energy into designing a space that was accessible for octogenarians," she said, "but also modern and beautiful for us when we are visiting, and safe and comfortable for our small children,” who are 8-year-old twins.

“Luckily, we found an amazing architect who understood what we wanted to do,” Nam said, including Scandinavian and Japanese influences in the design, a bow to the travel the couple does.

The architect, Chris Greenawalt of Bunker Workshop in Northern Liberties, had experience designing for clients with mobility issues, but “this was unique, for sure,” he says.

“The biggest challenge was designing for a lot of different people, for Suzy and John, and his parents, and the kids,” he says. “When you don’t have a single client with a set personality, that can lead to an uninspiring design.”

The kitchen features universal drawers that are waist level and deep for visible plates, bowls, pots and pans.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The kitchen features universal drawers that are waist level and deep for visible plates, bowls, pots and pans.

“But Suzy and John brought some interesting ideas to the table,” he says, particularly with their emphasis on natural materials, including limestone and wood.

The renovation started in the summer of 2018 and took six months.

It included:

  • An all-drawer kitchen with no lower shelves, an oven at counter height, and a microwave hidden inside a cabinet.
  • A barrier-free master bathroom with a removable swinging door. Both bathrooms have wall-mounted sinks and can be entered by someone with a walker or wheelchair.
  • Both bathrooms have towel racks and toilet paper racks reinforced so they also can serve as grab bars.
  • All doors have levers instead of knobs.
  • Smart lighting that can be activated by simple buttons or voice control.
The kitchen is designed for ease of accessibility.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The kitchen is designed for ease of accessibility.

Brown, a Glenside native who is CEO of Agoda, a part of Booking Holdings, had expected to eventually have his parents move into the apartment, but his mother died unexpectedly in April.

His father remains in the house where he has lived for more than 50 years, but it has two stories, no first-floor bathroom, rickety stairs leading to a basement washer and dryer, and a quasi-antique kitchen. So Brown sees him moving into the apartment at some point.

“Thinking of things that can happen when you’re not there is alarming,” he says.

Brown visits the United States about a half-dozen times a year for brief stays, but Nam, who grew up in Boston, plans to spend much of the summers at the new apartment so the children can visit relatives. “It’s important for them to be grounded in American culture,” she says.

As an added benefit, Nam says, the building, once primarily a seniors colony, has been getting an influx of young people “and is turning into a warm and caring mixed community, which is great for everyone.”

Is your house a Haven? Nominate your home by email (and send some digital photographs) at properties@inquirer.com

The shower is set up for users with a variety of physical abilities.
TYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer
The shower is set up for users with a variety of physical abilities.