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The Seattle Times | Pacific Northwest

Cover story
By Rebecca Teagarden

Together At Last

In three houses on one block, a family unites

Meet Benny Griggs. Lucky kid. He gets to grow up surrounded by his grandmas and grandpas. One set lives next door; another six houses away. He can't remember a time when they didn't live nearby.

"It's very cool, because I get to play with them a lot," he says before running off to a big Lego construction job.

Benny, 7, can thank his parents for his grand playmates. Doris and Steve Griggs were determined to have their parents live close by in Bryant, not in Florida and Oregon. With professors for fathers, there were times when the Griggses didn't even live on the same continent as their folks.

Now, holidays are a tossup. But no matter who hosts, going to Grandma's for Thanksgiving means carrying the casserole no farther than the end of the block.

"We're lucky, because we not only love our parents, we like them," Doris says. "They're interesting people."

Steve calls his wife and himself "university brats." Jobs often took the families far away. But in 1993 they were all getting closer. The Griggses moved to Seattle, and Doris' parents, Jenny and Marcos Kogan, were in Corvallis, Ore. Doris and Steve had brothers in Portland and San Francisco. Steve's parents, Anne and Doug Griggs, however, had retired to Florida.

"For the first time, we were just about all on the same coast, and Doris said, 'That's not enough — the same street,' " Steve says.

In 1998 their next-door neighbor gave Doris and Steve first dibs on her tiny house, and Steve's parents moved up to Seattle and in. But for health reasons they couldn't remodel.

"My dad said, 'We like your house. We'll swap, and you build your dream house,' " Steve says. "At first we thought, we can't do that. This is crazy. We had a 3-year-old."

They did it anyway, finishing in 2003. Then they convinced the Kogans to build their retirement home just down the street, which they did in 2004.

Turns out it was a smart idea for a smart family. Eric Stelter built both houses. Landscaper Eric Wood reshaped all three yards. They also shared the same cabinet maker, electrician and mechanical specialist.

Now the Kogans, who like life pared down and up-to-date, live six houses from their daughter in an ultra-modern cube. Steve and Doris have a Contemporary with a Tuscan touch. Anne and Doug Griggs, antique collectors, live next door in a 1920s Colonial. The landscaper turned the two Griggs families' backyards into one big lawn lined with fruit trees. Garages for each house were moved to the outer edge of each property and built to match.

"I love some of the reactions we've gotten," Doris says. "Some people say, 'Oh, you're so lucky!' But I think they're talking in terms of having a built-in baby-sitter.

"We know that both parents were willing to make huge moves and sacrifices. We just all value bringing our little family together."

Doris is her mother's daughter.

"Family is a very important thing," says Jenny Kogan. "Maybe that's a Brazil thing." She and Marcos, both 72, are from Rio de Janeiro.

"I tell you, these kids are unusual. When I go to exercise class, there are much younger women there. I tell them our story, and they just look at me. They say, 'Whoever heard of children wanting all of their parents right there?' "

Rebecca Teagarden is assistant editor of Pacific Northwest magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.