If you’d like to make room for visiting friends and family without moving to a larger home, take notes from these accessory dwelling units (ADUs), lower-level guest spaces, and other inventive in-law units that treat Grandma right.
In Austin, Texas, this 1,100-square-foot accessory dwelling unit, called The Chelsea, splits a lot with the main house. The ADU responds to the lot by dodging the heritage trees to the north while creating a very spacious front yard. There is a garage that blocks a dogtrot and the living area of the house from the setting sun; the larger windows are concentrated on the northern side of the lot for plenty of natural lighting while reducing the heat gain in the summer and encouraging passive cross-ventilation.
The guesthouse hovers above the motor court. "The main area was broken up into four zones: the kids wing, the guest suite, the master suite, and the living-dining room and kitchen, which is a transition area, where public meets private," says Hawkins.
Phoenix design-build firm The Construction Zone renovated an old concrete-and-steel barn, turning it into a sleek new guesthouse with an open-plan, three-room layout. Completed for approximately $300,000, the 790-square-foot adaptive reuse project carefully preserves the character of the existing structure while upgrading it to match the modern aesthetic of the main residence.
This ADU in the backyard of a Spanish Revival home in Los Angeles mixes old-world charm with updated interiors and modern amenities. The ADU features a full kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living area perfect for long or short stays from friends and family—or a long-term renter.
Hidden Studio is a 646-square-foot guesthouse that overlooks both the hinterland and Pacific Ocean. Designed by local practice Harley Graham Architects, the small dwelling responds to two existing buildings on the same property—a family house and a writer’s cabin.
This two-story, 1,000-square-foot ADU takes advantage of the existing home’s generous backyard to provide an urban infill opportunity for the property owners. Situated on an alley in Austin's hip Eastside, the structure's simple, yet adventurous geometry attracts the attention of many a passerby and becomes a great excuse to spark up a conversation with strangers.
In response to the Bay Area’s housing crisis and a recent relaxation in ADU rules, Emerging Objects has crafted an experimental housing prototype: the Cabin of Curiosities. True to its name, the unusual structure is clad in over 4,500 3D-printed ceramic tiles and features a beautiful front facade full of succulents. The structure is envisioned as a livable or rentable ADU whose one-room gabled structure is weathertight, structurally sound, and designed for longevity.
Built into a steep slope, this contemporary spec house hopes to raise the bar for hillside development in Los Angeles. The lower-level ADU can be used as an office, fourth bedroom, guest room for Grandma and Grandpa, or a suite for a possible tenant.
Spurred by the city’s generous ADU incentives and a desire to reduce their environmental footprint, a couple—he an architect and she a construction engineer—designed and built an elegant, 624-square-foot backyard home with sustainability at its core. Scott Mooney and Lauren Shumaker’s compact backyard home is located in the back half of their 5,000-square-foot lot in the Richmond neighborhood of Southeast Portland. The couple plans to track the energy use of their new-build’s electric equipment and appliances. The data will inform the size of their photovoltaic array they'll add to offset the energy costs of the ADU and the bungalow.
Jason and Suzanne Koxvold commissioned Studio Padron to design a 200-square-foot guesthouse on their Ellenville, New York, property. The geometric structure’s dark cedar cladding contrasts with the inviting interior, which is heated by a cast iron Jøtul stove. A layer of built-in bookshelves made from felled oak lumber also helps insulate the building in winter. While not distinctly designed for a grandma, the minimalist exterior and warm interior filled with books is certainly an inspirational example.
Confronted with the challenge of a site where a house couldn’t occupy the center of its lot, architects Norman Millar, dean of the Woodbury School of Architecture, and Judith Sheine, professor of architecture at the University of Oregon, instead had to create two structures: a modest main house and a separate guest house. The 483-square-foot guesthouse has similar materials on the exterior and interior as the main home, providing an ideal opportunity for family, friends, in-laws, and grandparents to visit.
Architect Rocio Romero designs ADUs that are conceived as studios, backyard offices, guest cottages, and short-term getaways. She’s sold over 50 prefab units in 17 different states, and recently launched a series of more modestly sized, construct-it-yourself structures dubbed the Camp series. The 456-square-foot Base Camp and 312-square-foot Fish Camp will both be priced in the $20,000 range. At just over 300 square feet, the Fish Camp is the smaller of the two Camp styles, but the prototype illustrates its utility as guesthouse or office.
Fifty miles north of New York City, a controversial home and guesthouse were built from Frank Lloyd Wright’s drawings on a private island. Intriguingly, the main home was completed in 1996 following Wright's original sketches for the 1950s owner of the island, who ultimately instead commissioned a 1,200-square-foot home on the island because of the high cost. Today, that 1,200-square-foot home serves as a three-bedroom guesthouse—the perfect space for extended family to stay.
At this four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Palm Springs by architect Sean Lockyer, the guesthouse has a strong visual connection to the main home across the ipe deck and pool area. Adjacent to the 460-square foot guesthouse is the outdoor shower.
Founded in 2014 by Alexis Rivas and Jemuel Joseph, Cover was born out of a frustration with the current residential building climate. Based on a belief that great design should be available to everyone, Cover strives to design for manufacturability, looking to Apple and Tesla for inspiration—as opposed to the traditional architectural model. This West Los Angeles pool and guesthouse is 410 square feet and features a full kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. It also doubles as a pool house. The compact design features floor-to-ceiling windows to bring the outside in.
Courtesy of Cover
London–based architects Hamish & Lyons replaced a set of unconnected and flood-prone outbuildings with airy and minimal steel-framed living spaces to create the Stepping Stone House. Connected to the main home by a structural glass bridge, the new buildings include additional living space and guest accommodations. A winding path connects the front parking area to the rear of the structures before leading to stepping stones that playfully connect with the guesthouse.
In Præstø, on the Danish island of Zealand, a guesthouse infuses the regional vernacular with Japanese influence. Copenhagen-based architect Martin Kallesø was tasked with a simple program: create a freestanding guest room so that visitors have a private and cozy place to lay their heads. What ensued was a mashup of local influence, Japanese stylings and irregular geometry.
CCS Architecture designed this 5,800-square-foot home for a family of five in Palo Alto, California. The home’s bent, linear configuration divides the site; the public-facing, street sides wrap the corner, creating a more private interior. A breezeway leads to the entry and the yard beyond, while also separating the main house from the garage and guest studio, which opens directly out to the garden with large sliding doors.
An existing home in San Francisco was renovated by architect George Bradley as his home with Eddie Baba, an attorney. The house was reconfigured to accommodate the entrance on the second floor, but the couple retained the in-law unit as a rental but shrunk it from two floors to one, creating space in which to carve out an office and a guest bedroom on the bottom floor of the main house.
Specializing in customized, modular units for residential backyard use, the Los Angeles–based startup Cover is out to transform the market with their high-quality prefabs. This Los Angeles suite was created for clients who were looking for a beautiful and functional space for their in-laws to live in. It was designed with all the amenities needed for independent living including a full kitchen, living space, bathroom, bedroom, office, and laundry space.
Clustered around a sunny courtyard, Three Piece House’s three volumes—a main house, comprising two volumes (one for living and the other for sleeping) connected via a sun-soaked reading corridor, and a free-standing guest studio—are oriented for optimal passive solar conditions, including access to cooling ocean breezes. Recycled brick paving ties the volumes together. Located in the garden, the studio accommodates visiting friends, family, and guests.
With both an aging relative and a wheelchair user in mind, architect Neal Schwartz creates a family guesthouse designed to be accessible to all. Resident Elizabeth Twaddell enjoys the weather with her daughter Uma outside the guesthouse Schwartz designed for her mother-in-law, Surendra, who frequently visits for extended stays. A concrete driveway forks off from the main house to lead to a covered breezeway, sited between the new 775-square-foot structure and a two-car garage.
Nestled in a wooded area in the Pacific Northwest, the 1,800-square-foot Passive Cedar Haus was built as a retirement home. The Artisans Group, who designed the layout of the home, were mindful of the needs of residents who would be aging in place, and met a complex program with an unheated sleeping porch for a master bedroom, a screened porch, a 600-square-foot caretakers’ apartment/in-law unit, large wood shop, plus a two car carport.
Just north of San Francisco, the Mill Valley home of former Phish manager and current restaurant owner John Paluska takes its place within its eclectic neighborhood and natural surroundings. A guest cottage flanks the family's garden. The "casita" has hosted friends, family, and even wildfire evacuees; Rachel Paluska refers to it as a "revolving door, in a fun way."
A 1,600-square-foot in-law unit in Sonoma, California, has two bedrooms and two baths for its 87-year-old resident, whose daughter lives nearby. "The layout is well-suited for older clients," says Jared Levy of Connect:Homes. "It feels generous and open." Though the daughter didn’t want all-glass walls, natural light and airflow were key. Levy and fellow cofounder Gordon Stott used an LED system to offset light from windows and doors. Says Stott, "It’s about 150 watts to light the whole house."
The clients for an existing home in Seattle approached Best Practice Architecture with a need to make space for an aging family member, but the home on-site was already filled to the brim. The firm's answer was to expand the existing detached garage into a gracious and airy living suite. The architects worked with the natural, six-foot slope of the site and built the Granny Pad into the hill to gain the needed interior height. The volume on the right is the original garage footprint, which now houses a kitchen and sitting room. The added volume on the left hosts the bedroom, as well as a bathroom beneath the loft space.
The owners of Kew East House, a triple-story, 2,853-square-foot home in the Melbourne suburb from which it gets its name, are a couple with two teenagers who sought to maximize their wonderful, parkland views and add an internal "granny flat" on the ground floor.
In the coastal town of Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia, local practice Harley Graham Architects elevates the Australian "garden studio" with this 646-square-foot granny flat. Named Marvel Street Studio, the guesthouse is an addition to a home designed by Paul Uhlmann.
Located in Austin’s historic Hyde Park in the company of 1920s-era bungalows, the Concrete Casita by Ravel Architecture is distinct with its contemporary, low-lying profile, yet feels at home with the neighborhood. Designs to become in-law’s quarters or serve as a versatile, indoor/outdoor space for an active Austin family, the 600-square-foot structure has a rugged makeup of board-formed concrete, rusted steel, and glass.