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Everything You Need to Know About Designing an ADU

Everything You Need to Know About Designing an ADU


Christina Roughan, founder of Roughan Interiors in Weston, Connecticut, and New York, says: “A new build is typically the easiest to create as it’s our vision, with our clients’ intent, from start to finish. That being said, renovating an existing pool house to an office/kids’ space can be just as fun and turn into a spectacular functional interior.”

Jim Westover, residential practice leader at William Duff Architects in San Francisco, says his firm engages in both types of ADUs. “In dense urban areas like San Francisco, we are more likely to convert existing space—sometimes in a basement or an area behind a garage that lends itself well to being an ADU. In more suburban areas, it could be a conversion, addition, or independent new construction.”

Similarly, Ian Read of Oakland, California, firm Medium Plenty has experience with both conversions and new builds. “Many of the early projects were conversions, typically garages. Because the existing footprint of these structures were grandfathered in, there was some benefit to using them, although they almost always needed to be fully rebuilt,” he says.

For Wendy Yates, creative director and founder of Abigail-Elise Design Studio, conversions are more common. She cites garages and attics as viable options “that have the potential of adding more usable square footage to your property.” But she adds, “If independent additions are what you’re looking for, there are some great build-it-yourself kits that can be added in a backyard…. Shipping containers are quite easy to move onto a property, and they make ideal tiny units if designed well,” referring to structures similar to Friedman’s ootBox.

A guest shed by Oakland, California–based design and architecture firm Medium Plenty. 

Mariko Reed

What are the benefits of an ADU?

ADUs are employed to carve out areas for work, play, learning, or additional living space such as in-law suites, nanny/caretaker’s dwellings, potential quarantine quarters for at-risk or sick family members, or rental apartment units. David Shove-Brown, partner and principal of //3877, notes, “A popular reasoning behind adding an ADU is many find the value of having family members close by, whether it be allowing aging parents to have their own place or a young graduate needing their own space.”

While creating extra living space is certainly welcome—especially this year when all families have been spending more time at home—Shove-Brown sees the main motivation for creating these ADUs as a money-making stream in the form of a rental unit or by increasing property value. “For some families, an ADU providing additional income can help ease the cost of a mortgage,” he says. Roughan adds, “ADUs increase the value of a home immediately and give the owner the opportunity to have a room outside the home that becomes a second dwelling on the property—a place to rest and enjoy peace and quiet. It can serve as a guest house or place for teenage sleepovers.”



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