Jun 25
Acton Construction

How to Optimize Space in Your ADU

Posted on by Acton Construction
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Photo Courtesy of Tiny House Talk

Silicon Valley has had a long history of high living costs.  So it’s no surprise that Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are exploding in popularity here.

In case you’re one home trend behind, ADUs are supplemental residential structures. They typically attach to a main home or are detached from it. ADUs can be furnished to be a home-away-from-home for in-laws or out-of-town guests, rented out (to generate extra income); or used as a home office. You can purchase high-end pre-fab units or trick out your own custom construction solutions. Creativity is the name of the game.

ADUs are also flexible in ways that your main residence may not be. As your needs change over time, you can adapt the space. When your child is young, it might function as a workspace. When your child leaves for college, transform it into a rental cottage. When returning from college to live at home while pondering his/her next move, reinvent it yet again as a private space for him/her.

ADUs are generally small, though. Consider these strategies for optimizing every square foot:

Store Things Smarter

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Orson Wells once observed that “the enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” That’s a nice thought… in theory. In practice, it’s hard to force a tiny space to accommodate tons of stuff without making it look like Mrs. Havisham lives there. Try these ideas:

  • Use vertical space for storage. Use your ADU’s limited floor space to your advantage. Rather than installing dressers or large cabinets, embed stacks of drawers, built-in shelving and hidden cubbies straight into and up the walls while keeping the floor clear.

  • Create storage lofts above your closets, accessible by a rolling ladder. In a pinch, these cute nooks can be transformed into extra play areas for kids. Sleepover!

  • Trick out your ceiling with hooks and brackets. This method keeps bikes and outdoor gear out of the way. Depending on the nature of the space and how fancy you want to get, consider installing custom storage platforms moved by electronic rails or a pully system.

  • Don’t forget the precious space under the stairs. If your ADU has stairs, install a large storage cabinet or deep built-in shelving under them for storing seasonal items.

Force Furniture to Serve Double Duty

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Photo Courtesy of Home Edit

Tap your inner Wallace and Gromit to come up with creative alternative uses for furniture:

  • Deploy murphy beds to save space and amuse any visiting children. These beds fold up and disappear during the day, creating room for daily activities.

  • Add a corner desk to serve as both a nightstand and a working desk space, assuming your sleeping area is large enough.

  • Have a standard bed? Keep it up off the floor. Use the space underneath for roll-away storage.

  • Mount TVs on the wall. Say sayonara to bulky media consoles.

  • Use ottomans instead of coffee tables. These double as both extra storage and seating.

  • Integrate a daybed into your living space. Is it a sofa or an extra guest bed? Surprise, it’s both!

  • Need more surface space? Install nesting tables. These tuck away when not in use.

  • Illuminate your world with sconces or hanging ceiling lights, instead of floor lamps.

Broaden Your Bathroom

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A cramped bathroom is no one’s escapist fantasy. But with intelligent design, you can create the illusion of a spacious, calming space even if square footage is limited. Here’s how:

  • Forget the double vanity. Instead, install a trough or long and wide shallow sink.

  • Choose your shapes wisely. An oval sink gives you more counter space than a square one does. Likewise, a rounded vanity takes up less space than a blocky one.

  • Use optical tricks to make the bathroom feel larger. For instance, run the same tile straight through from the floor into the shower stall.

  • Ditch that bulky shower curtain. Opt for a glass door to open up the space.

Cook Up Creative Kitchen Design Tweaks

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With limited room to maneuver, avoid the temptation to host lavish dinner parties in the ADU. But try these strategies to get more from a small area:  

  • Maximize workspace. One large countertop surface beats several smaller ones. Expand the functional countertop area by using a custom cutting board that can sit over the sink.

  • Ditch the kitchen table and chairs. Instead, install an island to be both an eating area and extra workspace. Or construct a built-in banquette for seating and reserve a smaller island on wheels that can be tucked away in a corner when not in use.

  • Choose small-but-mighty appliances. An 18-inch dishwasher can do almost everything a 24-inch one can, for instance. And new countertop toaster convection ovens can tackle almost job you’d normally task to a standard wall oven or microwave.

  • Make every inch of cabinet space count. Eliminate wasted corners by installing a pull-out corner shelf. Think vertical with your upper cabinets by building up to the ceiling; these high shelves are perfect for storing seasonal dishes or bakeware that’s only used a few times a year.

Create the Illusion of More Space

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Photo Courtesy of Tiny House Talk

Perception, as they say, is reality. Make your ADU feel larger than life:

  • Deploy mirrors tastefully. Reflected light opens up rooms and makes them feel larger.

  • Choose sliding doors (think barn doors) over traditional doors. They take up less space, and you can even build cubby storage directly into a sliding door.

  • Divide rooms with pocket doors to create the illusion of extra space and privacy. As a bonus, add frosted glass to allow light to flow from one room to the next.

  • Install a glass wall at the back of the ADU. Let nature in: keep window coverings sheer to help light shine through while still offering privacy.

  • Avoid dark paint; choose neutral pale colors to keep a light and airy feel. However, do consider a darker color for the ceiling; this design tactic draws the eye up and gives depth to the space.

Inspired to take that first step and build your own accessory dwelling unit? Acton Construction’s ADU team specializes in optimizing these smaller spaces. Contact us today for a free, in-home design consultation, or give us a call at 408.369.1103.

You can also subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter or RSVP for one of our free ADU seminars to learn about California laws related to ADU construction; ADU designs and benefits; and ADU financing.

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