This Bright and Airy Backyard Cottage in Los Angeles Feels Like a Cabin in the Woods

Originally an ADU for aging parents, this cottage in Solano Canyon is at once lofty and snug.
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When Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki, of Bunch Design and BunchADU, devised an Accessory Dwelling Unit for their aging parents in the yard of their Solano Canyon neighborhood, they imagined a 750-square-foot home that feels intimate and roomy. That effect is best represented by the sculptural, stepped ceiling rendered in Douglas Fir that runs the full expanse of the 45-foot-long cottage. 

"We live in a funny part of Los Angeles right behind Dodger Stadium called Solano Canyon," Sundius says. "It's got quite a lot of history; Ry Cooder made a concept album about our neighborhood and there’s a track called ‘Poor Man's Shangri-La.’ That’s about right because the neighborhood consists of these small 100-year-old bungalows tucked up in the hills of Elysian Park. They’re hidden away from downtown, but still only five minutes away."

The backyard cottage that Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki designed on their own East L.A. property for their aging parents is shrouded by trees and plantings. They selected a pale shade of green for the lap wood siding so the home would blend into its lush landscape.

The home and the neighborhood are obscured and protected from Downtown L.A. by the area’s rolling topography. "You can see stars at night," Sundius says. "A park wraps the property in greenery, and it’s always five degrees cooler [here]." Fruit trees punctuate the front yards of many of the homes along Sundius and Ichiki’s street. "If you’re hungry, you can pick avocados, oranges, and kumquats from the sidewalk," Sundius says. "It’s amazingly rural while still being smack in the middle of everything." 

Initially, Sundius and Ichiki built their backyard ADU for Sundius’s parents. "Bo’s dad was dealing with an Alzheimer's diagnosis and we decided that he and Bo’s mom should move closer," Ichiki says. The designers’ decision to move their parents next door was also a financial one. "Twenty-four-hour care was looking to charge between six and eight thousand dollars a month," Ichiki says. Fortunately, Sundius and Ichiki had enough home equity and space on their property to build the cottage. "We could look after Bo’s dad at night and bring in help during the day," Ichiki adds. "They were a stone’s throw away."

The lap wood siding on the exterior of the compact dwelling imitates the Craftsman-style homes that populate the neighborhood.

Because Sundius grew up in an architect-designed home in Tennessee—one of the reasons he became a designer—his parents were thrilled to have another house designed for them. They lived in the ADU for a year, spending time and making memories with Sundius, Ichiki, and their young children. "Now, we rent it out to lovely tenants," Ichiki says. "It’s wonderful to have people you know live on your property with you. After the experience with Bo’s parents, we realized the ADU allows for a community aspect to urban living that’s really quite wonderful. We really do have neighbors we borrow sugar from and that’s pretty special in urban Los Angeles." 

The cottage is simple yet thoughtful in its design. "It looks like a monopoly piece, almost like a kid’s drawing," Sundius says. "All of the houses in the neighborhood have a stripped-down Craftsman aesthetic with lap wood siding and flashes of color[ful] trim. We wanted to play off that iconic profile." Clad with pale green-painted lap wood siding, the home’s appearance is enlivened by a front door and window frames painted a sunshine-yellow tone.

The designers painted the door and window frames a vibrant shade of yellow that contrasts with the pale green cladding and adds a playful note to the exterior's presentation. 

The interior of the cottage showcases a stepped Douglas Fir ceiling with a sculptural, geometric quality. "With warm materials and lots of light, we made the space feel as large and as expansive as possible," Sundius says. "We love vertical grain Douglas Fir as a finish material and used it for all of the windows, doors, and the ceiling. The fact that typical construction materials are also Douglas Fir makes us love it more." For the floor of the office area and the staircase, the designers used 4x12 #1 & Better S4S timber. "The result is like being in the captain's quarters on a wooden ship," Sundius says. "There are tight confines, but they’re super warm and light-filled."

A glass front door, strategically placed windows, and partial walls canopied by a vaulted, stepped ceiling flood the rooms, including the living area, with plenty of sunlight.

A globe-like pendant suspends from the stepped Douglas Fir ceiling in the living room.

The kitchen-and-dining area is outfitted with a large wood table, a wood butcher block, and a wood shelf that all tie to the materiality of the Douglas Fir ceiling and reinforce the idea of a cabin in the woods. 

In the master bedroom, a clerestory window facilitates privacy and plenty of soft natural light.

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The second-level bedroom features white pegboard that blends into the wall, where the new residents can hang shelving with toys, artwork, and beloved items.

Because the Sundius and Ichiki wanted the feeling of a loft and the comfort of a cabin, they conceived the idea of a vaulted, stepped ceiling. "We altered the roof joists so that instead of going ridge to edge as they always do, the roof joists went the other way and were parallel to the ground instead of the roof slope," Sundius explains. "Without using any additional material, it created this interesting form that reinforced the house's linearity, making it seem longer and larger." 

The vaulted, stepped ceiling, made with Douglas Fir, helps to create an airy, linear effect for the interior, making it feel more spacious.

The rooms of the cottage are defined by partial walls; the vaulted ceiling hovers above the partial walls and unites the various spaces.   

The cottage is situated near a large native California walnut tree and the property line, and in combination with the main house, helps to form courtyard areas for the outdoor space. "The ADU is only 12 feet wide and 45 feet long," Sundius says. "At the one end, there’s a drop in the grade, which allowed us to make the house split-level. We love split-level houses because they ease you into elevation without making a big deal out of staircases. Plus, it was easier for our elder parents." 

The property's descending grade allowed the designers to create a split-level home so that the dining area steps down from the living space.

A timber staircase accesses the loft-like office and is wider at the bottom, where it doubles as shelving.

For the Sundius and Ichiki, the design is special in more ways than one: It facilitated spending time with and caring for aging parents—and it inspired the new arm of their design firm. "This home is very personal to us and a key part of our decision to launch BunchADU," Sundius says. "ADUs can house aging parents or returning kids. They can be rented for added income, or [used] simply as a home office. Regardless of the intended purpose, they raise the value of an already-owned property and give homeowners a greater shot at thriving in the Golden State while encouraging thoughtful densification of existing communities. All of this is why at Bunch ADU, we have several pre-designed ADUs. We do custom designs, too, but hope that the pre-designed models can speed folks into an ADU of their own." 

The upper-level office, where the materiality of the Douglas Fir ceiling has the most impact, takes on the feeling of a true cabin in the woods.

The linear quality of the stepped ceiling is best experienced from the loft area, where the home office is situated.

Related Reading:

Dwell’s Top 10 Tiny Homes of 2019

Think Small With This Gigantic Guide to Tiny Homes

Project Credits:

Architecture: BunchADU by Bunch Design/@bunch_design

Builder: Casa Vieja Construction


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