A Dilapidated Los Angeles Garage Is Reborn As A Tiny Bright ADU

Bridget Bousa knew from the start that she wanted a functional home and not just a temporary guest house when she added an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, to her backyard.

When the first-time homebuyer purchased the 1925 three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the Fairfax District in 2021, she loved everything about the charming storybook home except the garage. “The garage was falling apart and the foundation was messed up,” Bousa said. “I couldn’t park my car there. I knew when I bought the house that I wanted to renovate the garage and make it usable. I also thought that having an ADU instead of a garage would increase my ability to stay in the house for a long time.

Southern Californians are racing to build secondary suites — or ADUs — small, fully-equipped homes on the same lot as a larger home. But building an ADU can be complicated and expensive. Architect Bo Sundius of Bunch Design suggests you keep these considerations in mind.

Shortly after reading an article about an ADU in Elysian Park designed by architects Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki for Sundius’ parents, Bousa contacted the couple regarding one of four pre-designed ADU options offered by their architectural firm. Bunchdesign.

Bousa, 28, decided to go with a 400 square foot studio apartment that starts at $250,000. Working with the architects, she customized the ADU to suit her needs, including adding a separate bedroom, additional storage and a bespoke media center in the main living area. After all the upgrades, the Bousa ADU cost around $400,000.

Interior modifications were not the only changes. “I used their prototype, but wanted the ADU to look more like my house, which has high tops and arched doorways,” she said. To make the unit less box-like, Bousa had the architects modify the sloping roofline as the main house’s envelope.

Bridget Bousa stands outside her house holding a dog.

Owner Bridget Bousa wanted the ADU in the back yard to mirror the roofline of the front house.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Other custom details include a folding sliding door (windows and doors cost over $30,000), engineered oak floors, Douglas fir cabinetry that adds warmth to the small space, and tiled floors. Zia Tile’s glamorous dark green handmade Moroccan zellige in the bathroom.

To expand the small space, the architects added vaulted ceilings and clerestory windows. A full-length mirror in the hallway reflects light throughout the dwelling, and strategically placed windows bring the outdoors in.

“The clerestory windows always provide a surprise,” Ichiki said, pointing to palm trees and clouds — and the sloping roofline of the main house — visible through the tall, narrow windows at the top. from the walls of the ADU.

Two photos side by side, one of a mirror reflecting details inside a bedroom, the other of a pair of dogs sitting on a bed.

Bousa requested a separate bedroom in Bunch Design’s pre-designed ADU studio.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

After securing the architects, Bousa approached contractor Eran Shahar, having spotted him building his neighbour’s house. His savvy introduction paid off. Shahar and his team took on his project because the two houses were within walking distance of each other.

In an effort to help others interested in building an ADU, Bousa has shared the timeline for the project. She started working with Bunch Design at the end of March 2021.

ADU’s plans were submitted on June 15, 2021, and approval was received on December 10 of the same year. Bousa secured Shahar until the end of December 2021. (She also met with two other contractors). However, construction of the ADU did not begin until March 2022 as they waited for the windows and doors to arrive due to supply chain issues.

A small kitchen with natural wood cabinets and white tiles.

In the kitchen, Bousa installed Douglas fir cabinets to expand the small space.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

A kitchen in a tiny ADU.

The natural wood cabinets are one of Bousa’s favorite things about the ADU.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

When the ADU was completed in October of last year, Bousa, who previously worked in the entertainment industry and is now earning an MBA from UCLA, rented the ADU to his sister, Monica, and the little Monica’s friend, Jack Overholt. (They are both 26 years old.)

“My sister is my best friend,” Bousa said. “I thought, ‘Would it be cool if she wanted to live here?'”

Before moving in, the couple paid $4,300 in combined rent on two apartments. They now pay Bousa a “family and friends rate”, which allows them to save for the future. (Bousa also has a roommate to help with the mortgage.)

A living room with a folding glass door opening onto a courtyard.

A folding door eliminates a wall, giving access to the backyard and opening up the unit.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Two photos side by side showing a yellow board on a wall, left, and books and a camera on a shelf, right.

Artwork on the walls and books on the shelves in the living room.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Although Monica admits that living in a tiny space is an adjustment, she is happy with the living conditions and plans to live in ADU for several more years. “I love living in the Fairfax District and having my sister nearby,” she said. “The outdoor access and vaulted ceilings make it so much more spacious.”

The shared arrangement also benefits Bunny, Monica’s rescue dog, who loves the backyard and stays with her sister when Monica, who is a showrunner’s assistant, travels for work.

The only downside? “Clothes are the trickiest,” Monica said. “I think there would be more than enough room for one person. But for two people it’s really tight. Jack dominates closet space because he has to wear suits to work.

A folding door on the ADU opens to the back yard.

A sliding door opens to the backyard.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

In addition to the bedroom closet, media center, and built-in dresser, the couple store items in the full bathroom cabinets.

When it comes to bathrooms, Sundius advises clients to resist the temptation to go small. “Bridget’s bathroom is quite large, which is somewhat surprising,” he said of the sunny space, which houses a stackable washer and dryer. “When there are two people living in the unit, it’s nice to have a space alone. You can sit in the bathroom and read your phone if you want.

Two side-by-side photos showing a window against green and white tiles, left, and a vase and artwork in a green bathroom, right.

A window is placed as a work of art in the bathroom.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Sundius, who has experienced multigenerational living first-hand, sees the explosion of ADUs in response to California’s housing crisis as an opportunity to redesign the homes we live in.

“A lot of houses in Los Angeles were built in the 1930s by developers,” he said. “Kitchens are like cells. I want everyone to steal our ideas of how to make small spaces look bigger. Everyone should jump their ceilings. Everyone should install clerestory windows. These are simple things anyone can do to improve their life situation.

As Bousa’s home demonstrates, an ADU is also a way to bring family together and build community.

“I love having my sister here,” Bousa said. “We share the shopping and have dinner together. It’s the best of both worlds. She’s nearby, but we’re not on top of each other. I’m so happy with how the ADU turned out. It makes me feel like I can live here for a long time.

Clothes in a closet.

Bousa asked Bunch Design for more storage to make the ADU more livable.

(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

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