Surrounded by rows of cabernet grapevines, olive trees, a centenary oak, and bright blue sky, this cedar-clad prefab looks as if it has always stood on its cinematic site in Healdsburg, California. But the 540-square-foot Dwell House landed on the lot only a few months ago—just in time for Thanksgiving, which was homeowner Leslie Scharf’s plan.
After living on the property at the start of the pandemic with her adult daughters, Sophie and Sarah, and their families, Leslie decided she could use more square footage. "I needed flex space so that we could comfortably spend time together here," she says.
It turns out that Sophie was feeling slightly squeezed as well. "It was really tight, and we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last," she says. She started researching accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and she was drawn to the materials and detailing of the Dwell House. "My mom and I love design, and the Dwell House is beautiful compared to a lot of other ADUs," Sophie adds.
Designed by Norm Architects, the backyard house is as artful as it is efficient. "Natural materials bring texture and depth, and we always strive for richness in our detailing," says Norm partner Sofie Thorning. "The different scales of the cedar cladding align, creating a thoughtful rhythm that gives the house a calm appearance. The presentation is never flat, but it blends in wherever it goes."
"The interior’s muted palette is calming anddoesn’t overpower the home’s relationship to nature.When you’re inside, you note what’s outside."
—Sofie Thorning, architect
Strategically placed glazing—including a 12-foot-wide folding glass wall that opens the living area to the deck—frames the bucolic setting. "I love the home’s relationship to the outdoors," says Thorning. "No matter where you are, you catch a view of the landscape, which enlarges the feeling of the small house."
Leslie and Sophie were taken with the design, but they also loved that home-builder Abodu would oversee construction and transport the ADU to their property in a seamless process. "After the Dwell House is fully constructed in-factory, it’s loaded onto a flatbed truck for transport to the homeowner and arrives as a complete, ready-to-move-in unit," says Abodu cofounder Eric McInerney. "Prior to arrival, we handle all on-site construction work—from building the foundation to preparing plumbing and electrical."
According to McInerney, prefabricating the unit off-site limits the on-site construction time to about six weeks. "This allows for greater control and oversight of the construction process and materials, which decreases the timeline to completion and lets Abodu deliver the Dwell House in as little as six months," he says.
On delivery day, Leslie, Sophie, and Sophie’s four-year-old son, Luca, watched Abodu crane the Dwell House over the grapevines in only a couple of minutes and then situate it between a massive oak tree and the main house on the property. Once it was in place, they couldn’t help but think that their new flex space was more than they’d hoped for. "I looked inside, and I was surprised that there was really nothing for me to do," says Leslie. "It was all there—appliances and everything."
So far, the Dwell House has made the family’s special gathering place that much more special. "My parents bought this land in 1982, and I kind of grew up here," says Sophie. "When I was younger, my sister and I would run through the vineyards all the time, chasing rabbits and birds. Now, my son explores while we sit and watch from the deck or the living area. Our family is growing—and we finally have the space we need."
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