When Robin Wagoner’s larger-than-life father was diagnosed with cancer at 76, a shell game of living arrangements began. Within three months of his diagnosis, her father, the rock of the family, would pass—and everything her family knew to be true about home would forever change.
After her husband’s passing in 2017, Robin’s mother Susan didn’t want to continue residing in the family home her husband had built in the 70s. She had been wanting to build a new home for years, but the absence of her husband there brought on an unbearable yearning to reinvent her space. In addition, his rapid decline opened the family’s eyes to just how important proximity is when a crisis occurs. Despite the fact that Robin’s childhood home was only a seven minute drive through Floyds Knobs from her Starlight, Indiana residence, it was just too far.
So, right at one year, the period advised for contemplation by Susan’s grief counselor, Robin’s sister found a patio home in the build process in her neighborhood. Susan, without hesitation, moved right in…and immediately hated it.
“My mother was in deep grief and living in a new patio home made her feel lonely. There was nothing there that spoke of my dad,” Robin explains. “So, I talked to my husband to see if he would be OK with moving my mother onto our property as long as she had her own space. He thought it was a great idea, so I called my mom to see what she thought. All she said was, ‘Can we put this house on the market this weekend?’”
And that was that. Susan sold her new patio home before the end of her first year there and moved in with Robin’s family while her Granny-Flat-Pool-House was being built in 2019. Robin, an interior designer by trade, started the initial blueprints of her mother’s dwelling, a private home attached to Robin’s house by a breezeway. Even though the build began amidst the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, the timing was almost divine: Robin’s youngest child left for college that same year and her empty-nest longing was assuaged by the presence of her mother.
Within a year, Susan had her own private, 868-square-foot space, complete with a front porch overlooking the pool. “Two things were really important to me in the design of this property,” Robin says. “My mother is an outdoorsy gal, so I wanted her to have a space to be outside. She lives on that front porch, reading every morning there. And I wanted the space to look like it had always been there–I didn’t want it to look like an add-on.”
Robin worked to echo the design features of her original home’s exterior and to plan for a safe space to age for her mother. “My father didn’t suffer long, but the last two weeks of his life were so challenging. I couldn’t imagine if that process was prolonged — I knew we wouldn’t be able to care for my mother like that, and we all want to avoid assisted living. Now, she is right with us, just through the breezeway.”
By Megan Seckman | Photos submitted