Divorced parents design duplex featuring kids' bedrooms in 'neutral' hallway between mom and dad's homes
Hall and door system let kids stay in one place
From left, Monica McGrath, 10-year-old son Sean, eight-year-old daughter Audrey, and Kent Kirkland in front of the home the former married couple designed and built together after their divorce.
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON -- They call it the transporter.
It “beams” the kids from one home to another in the blink of an eye.
The technology is pretty mundane, to be honest. The fuel source? Ah, that is as magical as anything imaginable.
The designer and builder of the transporter are, respectively, Monica McGrath and Kent Kirkland. Monica is the business manager at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton. Kent is the owner of Kirkland Homes Master Builder.
The two met in 1995 in Yellowknife, when Kent was hired to do some training in Monica’s workplace. A year later, they were married. They moved to Edmonton in 2000. Then came Sean, now 10, and Audrey, eight.
Not quite four years ago, the marriage ended. Kent left the family home and found another a few blocks away.
Kent and Monica are nice people. Why the marriage failed is really none of our business. But Monica explains that it was largely stress. She and Kent were living in a new town. Working and raising two young kids.
“You’re tired all the time,” she says.
It’s a common story. Put a married couple under enough stress, for enough time, and things break down. So their marriage ended. The two were forced into a new and awkward routine, familiar to thousands of single parents in Edmonton. The kids would spend one week at Kent’s, the next week at Monica’s.
The children’s social, recreational and educational apparatus was ferried back and forth with them. Often, something critical was forgotten and another trip was required.
Monica thought there had to be a better way. So she did a rough design and took it to Kent. Long story short, that design became the home they live in today — a duplex linked by a transporter.
One of the neat things about the McGrath/Kirkland home (or homes) is that it hides its duplex-ness from the street. Monica’s door faces the front, while Kent’s is offset and facing one side. Both front doors share a front veranda, but from the street you’d think it was one large home. City planners needed to be convinced of this, by the way. The design did not meet civic guidelines.
The insides of the attached homes are Mars-and-Venus different. Kent’s place is minimalist in decor and neutral in colour — almost stark and masculine in tone and tenor. Monica’s place is much lighter, brighter and adorned with keepsakes, kitchenware and art. Monica’s side has a fireplace and walk-in closet. Kent’s does not. Monica’s place features chic pendulum lighting; Kent’s lights are more pedestrian. Monica’s side is 1,830 square feet; Kent’s is 1,777. Kent’s granite countertop colour is Black Pearl; Monica’s, Bianco Argento. Monica’s cabinets are light; Kent’s dark. What the two have in common is the transporter.
So imagine this: Monica and Kent each have three bedrooms on the second floor. But depending on the week, that number can rise to four or drop to two.
The kids’ bedrooms are located in a hallway accessible to both homes. At each end of the hallway are locking fire doors.
If it’s Kent’s week with the kids, Monica closes and locks the door on her end of the hallway. If it’s Monica’s week, Kent locks his hall door. The kids know not to knock on or try to enter through the locked doors. If they need the other parent, they can use the phone or the front doors.
The beauty of the arrangement is that the kids have permanent bedrooms. No need to ferry stuff around. Monica and Kent need not drive and pick up kids. And parental loneliness is abated by knowing the kids are just next door.
What about dating? Both say they are past worrying about their ex-spouse being romantic with someone else. They concede there are still feelings — not all of them warm and loving — toward each other. They do some things as a family still, including a trip to Disneyland not long ago.
“It’s not like we hang out together, without the kids,” says Kent. But Monica adds: “I would say we are friends.”
From the beginning of their troubles, they always put the children first. The transporter home allows them to live that priority 24/7.
It also allows for more flexible lives. If it’s Kent’s week with the kids and he has a sudden commitment, mom is right next door.
“It was a lot of work to get here,” says Monica with a smile. “There were hard feelings. But now I think we look out for each other. I don’t think we feel like single parents.”
Most divorced parents will say that telling the kids is the toughest thing of all. Kids want to live with their mom and dad. As Monica says, it was Sean and Audrey referring afterwards to “mom’s house” and “dad’s house” that led her to the idea of what they call a “progressive” home. A home the children could call theirs.
Monica tells of how they were touring the home a few weeks before the possession date. Audrey was wearing sparkling, red shoes like Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz.
“She was clicking her heels together, repeating ‘Take me home, take me home’,” says Monica. “When nothing happened, she said: ‘Do you know why it’s not working? It’s because I’m already home.’ ”
Scott can be reached at Scott@ScottMcKeen.ca for comments or suggestions for future features on unique or beautiful homes in the Edmonton region.
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