About eight years ago, Michael Lerner of the band Telekinesis and his wife, Amiee, bought a 1954 home on a sizable Seattle lot. Over time, they accrued enough equity in the property to finance the construction of a detached accessory dwelling unit for their backyard. "We’d been thinking about doing a DADU for some time, but it all really happened to coincide with this pandemic, and me not being able to travel or work," says Michael. Even though he didn’t have any training in construction, formal or otherwise, Michael had always been interested in learning how to build a house. So when the pandemic struck, he was suddenly presented with the opportunity.
He and Amiee flirted with the idea of turning a shipping container into a small residence, but it ultimately would have been too expensive. Instead, they chose to collaborate with local prefab builder NODE, who was experimenting with a one-off pilot program to test new prefab technologies.
For the program, NODE essentially provided a completed shell: They designed and engineered the DADU, prepped the site, installed the foundation, and finished the framework. They then roughed-in plumbing and electrical before completing the building envelope. They handled all of the permitting, too, which made for a streamlined process. "In reality, it’s incredibly difficult to permit something like this," says Michael.
Michael had just returned home from a tour when NODE started the build in late fall of 2019. The timing allowed him to work alongside the crew to get the hands-on education in construction that he’d long desired. "I really wanted to learn about how every process happened," he says, describing eight-hour days. "So yeah, I was there right from the beginning."
After two months of work, NODE was finished with their part, leaving the couple to complete the DADU as they saw fit. The moment was a memorable one: "It was like, ‘What on earth do we do now? And how on earth do we do it?’ It was terrifying," says Michael.
To find answers—and a way forward—Michael turned to YouTube, estimating that he watched some 1000 hours of tutorial videos to learn everything from laying tile and trimming out the plumbing and electrical, to installing an IKEA kitchen and building a deck. "There were so many times in the project where I felt like it was an insurmountable task, and I would really feel I wouldn't be able to do it," he reflects. "And then every time I started to do it, I realized that it was totally doable."
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The couple wrapped the project in August of 2020, and have since been renting it out on Airbnb for extra income. Michael reflects on his work with immense pride, and has a newfound respect for the building industry. "I really appreciate people that do this for a living," he says. "And I have so much more respect for the entire process and the reason why a house is an expensive thing to buy." He adds: "It was a really eye-opening experience and it was super fun. Also, an incredible way to spend a bummer year, really."
Structural Engineer: Lund Opsahl
Interior Design: Michael Lerner
Cabinetry Design and Installation: IKEA and Michael and Amiee Lerner
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