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, in her backyard.
When the first-time home buyer purchased the 1925 three-bedroom, two-bath home in the Fairfax district in 2021, she loved everything about the charming storybook cottage except the garage. “The garage was falling apart, and the foundation was messed up,” Bousa said. “I couldn’t park my car in there. I knew when I bought the house that I wanted to renovate the garage and make it usable. I also thought having an ADU in place of a garage would increase my ability to stay in the house for a long time.”
Southern Californians are racing to build accessory dwelling units — or ADUs — small, fully equipped homes on the same lot as a larger house. 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 that was designed by architects Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki for Sundius’ parents, Bousa reached out to the couple regarding one of four pre-designed ADU options offered by their architecture firm Bunch Design.
Bousa, 28, decided to go with a 400-square-foot studio that starts at $250,000. Working with the architects, she customized the ADU to suit her needs, including the addition of a separate bedroom, extra storage and a custom-built media center in the main living area. After all of the upgrades, Bousa’s ADU cost approximately $400,000.
Interior alterations weren’t the only changes. “I used their prototype, but I wanted the ADU to look more like my house, which has tall peaks and arched doorways,” she said. To make the unit less box-like, Bousa had the architects change the roofline to slope like the envelope of the main house.
Further custom details include a bifold sliding door (the windows and doors cost more than $30,000), engineered oak floors, Douglas fir cabinets that add warmth to the small space, and glamorous dark green handmade Moroccan zellige tiles by Zia Tile in the bathroom.
To make the small space feel bigger, 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.
“Clerestory windows always offer a surprise,” Ichiki said as she pointed to the palm trees and clouds — and the main home’s pitched roofline — that is visible through the high, narrow windows atop the walls of the ADU.
After securing the architects, Bousa approached contractor Eran Shahar, having spotted him doing construction on her neighbor’s house. Her savvy introduction paid off. Shahar and his team took on her project because the two homes were within walking distance of one another.
In an attempt to help others who are interested in building an ADU, Bousa shared the project’s timeline. She initially started working with Bunch Design in late March 2021.
The plans for the ADU were submitted June 15, 2021, and approval was received on Dec. 10 that year. Bousa secured Shahar until late December 2021. (She also met with two other contractors). However, construction on the ADU did not begin until March 2022 as they waited for the windows and doors to arrive because of supply chain issues.
When the ADU was completed in October of last year, Bousa, who formerly worked in the entertainment industry and is now getting an MBA at UCLA, rented the ADU to her sister, Monica, and Monica’s boyfriend Jack Overholt. (They are both 26.)
“My sister is my best friend,” Bousa said. “I thought, ‘How cool would it be if she wanted to live here?’”
Prior to moving in, the couple paid $4,300 in combined rent at two apartments. They now pay Bousa a “friends and family rate,” which allows them to save for the future. (Bousa also has a roommate to help with the mortgage.)
Although Monica admits that living in a tiny space is an adjustment, she is pleased with the living arrangement and envisions living in the ADU for several more years. “I like living in the Fairfax district and having my sister close,” she said. “The access to the outdoors and the vaulted ceilings make it feel so much more spacious.”
The communal layout is also beneficial for Bunny, Monica’s rescue dog, who enjoys the backyard and stays with her sister when Monica, who is an assistant to a showrunner, travels for work.
The only downside? “Clothing is 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 the closet space because he has to wear suits to work.”
In addition to the bedroom closet, the media center and a built-in dresser, the couple stores items in the cabinets of the full-sized bathroom.
When it comes to bathrooms, Sundius advises clients to resist the temptation to make everything small scale. “Bridget’s bathroom is quite large, which is something of a surprise,” 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 some alone space. You can sit in the bathroom and read your phone if you like.”
Sundius, who has experienced multigenerational living firsthand, views the explosion of ADUs in response to California’s housing crisis as an opportunity to rethink the homes we live in.
“A lot of the houses in L.A. were built in the ‘30s by developers,” he said. “The kitchens are like cells. I want everyone to steal our ideas on how to make small spaces feel bigger. Everyone should vault their ceilings. Everyone should put in clerestory windows. These are simple things that anyone can do to improve their living situation.”
As evident with Bousa’s house, an ADU is also a way to bring together family and build community.
“I adore having my sister right here,” Bousa said. “We share groceries and have dinner together. It’s the best of both worlds. She is nearby, but we are 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.”