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657-Square-Foot Backyard Cottage Packed With Clever Ideas

Houzz October 3, 2020


657-Square-Foot Backyard Cottage Packed With Clever Ideas
Faced with rising housing prices in the San Francisco Bay Area, which were making it difficult for their adult children to settle nearby, homeowners Tara and Michael Wolf looked at their Oakland, California, backyard and saw an opportunity. Their vision was to add a hardworking accessory dwelling unit (ADU) that could serve as a home now for Nick Wolf, their son, who runs his own photography business. In the future, the space could transition into an aging-in-place cottage for the couple; and their son, if his own family grows, could have the option of moving into the main house.
ADU at a Glance

Who lives here: Nick Wolf lives in the ADU; his parents, Tara and Michael Wolf, live in the main house, where they raised their family.
Location: Oakland, California
Size: 657 square feet (61 square meters); one bedroom, one small office (which can also be used as a bedroom), and one bath on a 4,200- square-foot (390-square-meter) lot, which includes the main house, backyard and ADU
Architect: Inspired ADUs
Contractor: McDunn ADUs
Landscape designer: Royo StudioThe homeowners turned to Inspired ADUs and McDunn ADUs, seasoned accessory dwelling unit designers and builders, to help make their dream a reality. Working with pros who specialize in this area of construction was important to the homeowners, as the team would know exactly how to design and build the new ADU to comply with Oakland city codes.


The designers at Inspired ADUs worked with the parents and their son during the concept design phase to come up with a space that would suit the whole family. Nick wanted plenty of natural, ambient light — both for his photography and to keep the small space from feeling too confined. Tara and Michael wanted to design the cottage with an aging-in-place plan in mind, with details such as easy access, no steps, a zero-threshold shower and a recessed threshold for the glass doors opening to the patio. On top of those wishes, the designers also included plenty of elements that would make the space feel as open and inviting as possible.


McDunn ADUs



You reach the new ADU by walking down the side yard of the main house and through a gated private entrance to the backyard. The ADU’s main entrance is through large glass bifold doors, which open to the main living area. The structure is configured in an L shape around a central courtyard garden with a fountain. One wing houses the living space, dining nook and kitchen, while the bedroom, office and bathroom sit on the other side.


McDunn ADUs


Kitchen and Dining Nook

The kitchen feels airy and bright, thanks to the bifold glass doors and large corner windows, which borrow views from the courtyard garden. For the dining nook, the design team had a bench seat with built-in storage custom-made. Nick and Michael made the dining table with a concrete top and powder-coated-steel base.

McDunn ADUs

The home’s kitchen received special attention, as Michael is a retired chef and an avid home cook. It’s outfitted with a tall but narrow (24-inch-wide) European-style fridge, 30-inch gas range, dishwasher, ample cabinets and plenty of counter space.

Deep cabinets on both ends of the kitchen island add valuable storage space. Recessed LED strip lights along one wall add bonus lighting in the evening. Undercounter LED lights illuminate kitchen work surfaces.

McDunn ADUs
Simple design moves — like choosing a glass door rather than a solid one and using white cabinetry — help make the kitchen as light as possible.
McDunn ADUs

The kitchen has a mix of covered and open shelving. Upper cabinets with doors provide valuable storage, while open wood shelves can be used to showcase favorite china.

For the backsplash, the design team used locally produced tile from Fireclay Tile. “The kitchen tile has an elegant pattern with very subtle color variations to give it depth,” says Carrie Shores Diller, principal architect and cofounder of Inspired ADUs.

McDunn ADUs
Overall, the design team stuck to a simple muted color palette of white, soft grays, pale wood and pastels. “The changes in color help to break up the space,” Diller says. For example, the living space’s gray-washed oak cabinet, which functions as a reading nook, visually stands out from the mostly white kitchen, helping to make the living area read as a different room.
McDunn ADUs


Open Living Area

In the living area, just off the kitchen, a sofa provides a spot for relaxing. The built-in reading nook separates the kitchen from the bar area, which also features shelves for Nick’s record collection.

McDunn ADUs
In another space-saving move, the television is designed to pop up from a slot in the kitchen island (via remote control) and to disappear back into it when not in use.
McDunn ADUs

During the daytime, the bifold doors are usually left open to adopt the patio as an extension of the living room. Curtains can be drawn in the evening for privacy.

The floors throughout the home are the concrete slab that serves as the foundation for the ADU. Inside, the team had the surface buffed and sealed to bring out the rich warm gray color.

While the buffing and sealing took some extra effort, it ended up saving quite a bit of the project budget. “Not having a finished floor expense freed up roughly $15,000, relative to other flooring alternatives,” says Dan McDunn, whose firm, McDunn ADUs, handled the construction. That savings allowed for higher-end finishes throughout the home, such as the tile and the flush baseboards with Fry Reglet details.

McDunn ADUs


Main Bedroom

The bedroom was designed to be large enough to accommodate a king-size bed, as the homeowners requested. A clerestory window above the bed brings in light without compromising privacy. Although not seen from this angle, there’s also a good-size built-in closet in the wall separating the living room and bedroom.

McDunn ADUs
The design team dropped the ceiling height in the wing of the ADU with the bedroom, bathroom and office. (You can see the height change from this exterior view.) Architect Diller says they could have made the ceilings 14 feet high, according to local building codes, but that doing so doesn’t necessarily makes sense for smaller rooms. “We find that with the smaller-footprint [rooms], the space doesn’t always feel good if [the ceiling is that high],” Diller says. “It can feel like a canyon.” Instead, a slightly lower ceiling feels more proportional and cozier for a small room.
Inspired ADUs



The bathroom features a curbless shower as well as a floating vanity and toilet — decisions made for accessibility and easy cleaning. The shower is clad in more tile from Fireclay Tile — this time in a fun fish-scale shape. Adjacent to the bathroom, there’s a stacked washer and dryer in a closet accessed from the hall.

McDunn ADUs


Second Bedroom-Home Office

The second, smaller, bedroom is currently used by Nick as a home office. The desk and built-in shelves have been arranged to take advantage of the large window looking out to a tree fern and a second patio. The dimensions and layout of the room were designed to be able to fit a sleeper sofa for future use. “Since there wasn’t a lot of space, there are nooks on either side of the [future bed space] to act as bedside tables,” Diller says. Now, these indentations are used as mini display nooks.

McDunn ADUs

The courtyard garden is simple and low-maintenance, with an emphasis on maximizing outdoor living space. A handsome recirculating fountain, which is uplit at night, acts as the focal point and fills the space with the sound of trickling water. Poured-in-place concrete slabs form steppingstones that snake around the house, with vine-decked screens adding privacy.

Work with a landscape designer in your area

McDunn ADUs
The exterior of the ADU is clad in a combination of stucco and HardiePlank fiber cement siding. Powder-coated-steel fins above the windows add a custom, high-end look. “The custom steel awnings were a really powerful architectural statement and weren’t too expensive,” Diller says.

Inspired ADUs

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This plan shows the L-shaped configuration of the ADU and the interior layout. You can also see how the large windows and doors open to the central courtyard.

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