Stepbrother In The Basement? Modern Houses For Modern Families

As divorce and blended families are becoming mainstream --think of the Brady Bunch as pioneers in the field-- the homes where they live have to adapt to the new family dynamic. Architects and real estate agencies are eager to jump on the bandwagon.

A modern touch in Tokyo (Marion Girault-Rime)
A modern touch in Tokyo (Marion Girault-Rime)
Caroline Stevan

GENEVA- "House, nine rooms, 210 square meter, in a quiet neighborhood. Double house; ideal for stepfamily." "Your new life commands a new living environment. Stepfamilies need a separate space for each of their members." "Home plan suitable for a blended family. Two sleeping areas plus a large central room."

When Ms. X falls in love with Mr. Y, and they decide to move in together along with their children from previous marriages, the situation can be complicated. The new "nest" needs to have spacious and multi-purpose rooms. In France, real estate agents and promoters are starting to target blended families specifically in their classified ads.

"More and more people are getting divorced, especially in Paris and its suburbs. We have many customers in this situation. We try to interest them in a certain type of home," admits Alexandre Colleu, a real estate agent working in suburbia. In France, one out of five children live in a blended family. In Switzerland, more than 22,000 divorces were granted in 2010; the figure has been increasing steadily for the past few years. "Separations are increasing, but so is the speed at which couples find new partners. They are not a market yet, but they're a target population," confirms Yankel Fijalkow, author of The Sociology of Housing. "Real estate agents have now found a way of selling homes that would be too expensive for a single family," he notes. At the National Architecture School in Paris, where Fijalkow teaches, masters-builders and architects are working on the issue: "They are studying the housing models of countries from countries where people live with their extended family rather than within nuclear families," Professor Fijalkow explains.

Not every family is the Brady Bunch

Each blended family is different. Some homes are organized so that each generation has their own space– whereas in other houses, people are separated according to family groups. Let's go back to the aforementioned "nine-room house". The estate agent describes it: "It is made of two detached houses linked by a footbridge. The couple who wants to preserve their newly-found intimacy can live in one house, and the children in the other. Also, children of blended families are often teenagers who appreciate the idea of having their own private space," he adds.

Sibrine Durnez, an architect in the Belgian city of Liège, has designed a house with two very separate levels. "The parents did not want to live in a sad, empty house on the weeks when they don't have custody of their children. So from their floor, they can't see the kids' rooms. They also wanted all the children's bedrooms to be exactly the same size, to avoid jealousy," she explains, adding that her firm mostly designs small houses for single-parent families.

Other families chose to allocate a part of the house to each "clan," where they share some rooms but sometimes have two different front doors. The most radical version of this is a perfectly symmetrical house, with a double kitchen and a double living room, which can be separated or joined according to the mood of the day. "It's important to be able to spend time with each other, but it's also important to be able to ‘avoid" each other," Yankel Fijalkow explains.

Different homes for different scenarios

When your new partner moves into your home with his or her children, there are also different scenarios. When the budget is tighter, stepsiblings have to share bedrooms, a difficult situation for teenagers. Makeshift wall/shelves have been invented to make the best out of small rooms. Bigger budgets might choose to extend their residence. In France, Camif Habitat, a home furniture and design company, offers wooden house extensions custom-made to "fit the dimensions of a new family."

In Switzerland, classified ads are still low-key about the topic. "We rent out apartments as they exist, and then the tenants organize the place the way they want it to be," says Bernard Nicod, of Nicod real estate. At Domicim's, people are saying the same thing: there is no specific market here.

At CGi Immobilier, a third real estate company, on the contrary, agents are working on the future. "The first thing is flexibility. To meet this demand, we will offer ‘mixed-integration housing" that can adapt to the family's evolving needs, so that there is no need to move house as the family reshapes," deputy administrator Charles Spierer told us. "We have three- to five-room standard apartments, with a smaller room on the side, a kind of studio. The two units are independent. They have their own entrance and are separated by a double-door, like in hotels." Spierer lists the things that can be done with the added room: a study if one of the parents works from home, a bedroom for the au pair, a private space for a teen, a new room for the children of a stepfamily or an ageing grandmother, or even a separate rented accommodation.

Jeanne Della Casa, an architect in Lausanne, Switzerland, worked on this type of project with her students at the Technical University (EPFL) – specifically, on a "removable bedroom". "The important thing is to be able to do and undo the spaces. The things that a family goes through – as couple, separated, blended… – only last for a few years. These different cycles change quickly, compared with the lifespan of a building. It seems risky to me to plan a house on a single one of these cycles," the architect says. Some may deem it risky, but others would call that being optimistic.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo – Marion Girault-Rime

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The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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