It’s no secret: Affordable housing is in short stock, and people across the United States are in search of viable solutions. Cue the ADU, also known as an accessory dwelling unit—a small outbuilding that can function as anything from an entire guest apartment to a yoga studio, an extra bedroom to a home office.
But what exactly is an ADU? An accessory dwelling unit is typically described as a self-contained structure on the same property as a single-family home. The square footage of the average ADU can range from 600 square feet to up to 1,200 square feet, depending on the state and municipality, and it will most often have its own kitchen or kitchenette, living area, and a separate entrance, making it ideal for extended family, guests, or additional income when used as a rental property.
States including California and Vermont have begun to see the many benefits of ADUs: their efficient use of residential areas, contribution to the affordable housing pool, and provisions for additional income for property owners. And in a city like Los Angeles, these factors have coalesced to the passing of legislation in recent years that permits ADUs on properties that are zoned for single-family homes.
And so, increasingly, homeowners are taking their backyard sheds and garages and converting them into additional livable square footage. In the Highland Park neighborhood of L.A., for example, homeowners and designers Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki wanted to convert the old 850-square-foot garage and office in their backyard into a two-bedroom, 1.5-bath detached residence to accompany their 1,100 square-foot bungalow—and for a total cost of about $200,000.
For designers like Bo and Hisako, the pair behind the practice of Bunch Design, a main goal of working in these types of projects is to make the small spaces feel expansive and exciting. To do so, the couple took advantage of the former garage’s gabled roof to create tall ceilings that allow natural light to stream in through carefully placed skylights and architectural details like transom windows in areas.
The interior also features a stepped ceiling, which provides visual interest and a sculptural dimension to the spaces without overpowering the small scale of the building. Throughout the ADU, touches of bold color pop against the bright white walls, with red trim around doors or a feature wall painted marigold yellow. When the sun shines in from the skylights above, these colors are reflected and diffused throughout the space, giving rooms a sun-kissed golden or pink hue, but still ensuring that the intimate space doesn’t feel overwhelmed by color.
Opponents of ADUs are often concerned about their adverse effects on the neighborhood and their negative visual impacts. For the exterior design of its converted garage, the Bunch Design duo looked to their neighborhood for inspiration, whose existing homes were older, more traditional in design, and typically clad in stucco. Bo and Hisako selected stucco for its rough texture, giving the exterior an almost rustic quality, and they said the windows were set back “so that the wall felt thick, like it was made of masonry,” and exuded a more permanent, European sensibility.
Despite its small size, the structure fits a full kitchen and living area, and thanks to their careful design decisions, the ADU is both a boon to the neighborhood and proof that bigger doesn’t always mean better.