Take a moment to imagine a typical American household: two parents, two kids, right? Wrong. The most common living situation in the U.S. right now is a single adult living alone.

Other configurations are also increasingly common: empty nesters, multigenerational households, single mothers and communal living among unrelated folks. And yet, most houses and apartments are still being built with that nuclear family in mind, says National Building Museum curator Chrysanthe Broikos. She hopes her exhibit, “Making Room: Housing for a Changing America,” will inspire people to build and buy homes designed with a greater variety of living situations in mind.

“There’s a mismatch, a fundamental mismatch, between how we are living today and the very homogenous housing stock that we have,” she says. “But there are new options out there, and we want people to know about them.”

The exhibit, which opens Saturday, will show photographs and videos of innovative housing projects around the world, including Carmel Place, a 55-unit micro-studio mid-rise in New York City. The centerpiece of the exhibit is The Open House, a 1,000-square-foot model home built into one of the Building Museum’s exhibit halls.

“People are going to be very surprised when they walk through and feel how much comfort and function there is packed into this footprint,” says Lisa Blecker, director of marketing for Resource Furniture, one of the exhibit partners that furnished The Open House.

At different points in the exhibit’s 10-month run, The Open House will be configured in three ways: for a (hypothetical) single mother, grandmother and child; for two adult roommates; and for an older couple with occasional guests and a full-time renter. Visitors can walk through the house and sit on the furniture, and museum staff will show off cool gadgets like motorized walls and convertible beds — all of which are commercially available.

“This is not a house of the future,” Blecker says. “The whole goal of building this house is to show how, with good design and a really far-thinking approach, you can design a space that can serve many different households really well.”

The 1,000-square-foot Open House can be arranged differently depending on the needs of the people living there. The below configuration, which will go on display in June, is designed to accommodate an older couple who can close off one of its rooms and turn it into a self-contained micro-unit to rent out, while still having space for visiting grandchildren. (Not pictured: one of the kitchens and both bathrooms.)


(Renderings created by Neoscape, developed with Resource Furniture and Clei, courtesy National Building Museum.)

1. These bunk beds can close up into a flat wall when the grandparents don’t have guests over.
2. A motorized wall hidden here can close off the dining room and turn it into a guest bedroom in the evening.
3. This table can expand to seat up to 10 people.
4. A large bed comes out of the wall and rests over the couch, transforming the living room into the master bedroom.


5. The 300-square-foot rentable micro-unit is completely closed off from the main residence with soundproof walls.
6. The wall bed folds up during the day, exposing the couch beneath.


7. This table or desk can fold up to create more floor space in the micro-unit.
8. This fully functioning kitchen looks like a cabinet when it’s closed. It includes a two-burner induction cooktop, a small fridge and freezer, a dishwasher and a microwave that can also operate as a convection oven.