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“What I like best about our ADU is that we got to stay in our house, and so did our friends.” – Lara Jones
In 2000, Wally and a small group of his friends landed in Portland, OR after attending college in Ann Arbor, MI. Wally’s family helped him and his friends get their start by purchasing a large Victorian in the Lair Hill neighborhood for all of them to live in. The house remained a busy bachelor pad for the next decade.
When Wally and Lara decided to get married, start a family, and start their own business, they decided they wanted a space of their own. However, they didn’t want their friends to have to have to move out, so Wally and Lara decided to convert the basement into a separate affordable living space. They first learned about ADUs from their contractors, one of whom was a friend and former colleague. Lara and Wally figured they could live in the basement ADU, so that their friends could remain as renters upstairs. This housing arrangement would allow Lara and Wally to weather the challenges of starting a new family and business at the onset of a major recession.
Wally and Lara funded their basement-to-ADU conversion with a personal loan from family. Between wedding and business start-up planning sessions, they scrupulously planned their ADU build-out in such a manner that they had enough remaining funds to open Westside Academy of Kung Fu and CrossFit Hillsdale in November of 2010, without accruing any additional debt. Their daughter arrived the following spring.
Lara and Wally’s greatest inspirations were small space design books checked out from the Multnomah County Library. Their primary design consideration was making the small space as livable as possible for the two adults and one child.
“Ours may not be a great example of an immaculate, glossy, austere environment because we have a 3 1/2 year old. We have had friends who are expecting a baby, and who want to remain in their current apartment, come over specifically to check out how we have designed our small space to allow for kid livability.” -Lara Jones
Lara explains that one of the tricks she and Wally employed was creating an open floor plan with high ceilings.
“We had to design the space with balance in mind for both open space and privacy. The biggest structural investment had to do with installing a new glulam beam to allow for the main space to be freed up from being ‘cut up’ by vertical columns. Having high ceilings has made a huge difference in our small space.” – Lara Jones
Although they were able to create a contemporary great room layout on the inside, they faced design constraints on the exterior of the structure. Because their property is located in the historic Lair Hill neighborhood, Lara and Wally’s ADU was subject to a historic design review process.
“They insisted that our non-emergency egress windows would need to be as small and at same odd height as was historically accurate. They did allow for vinyl windows though, in the end, because the rest of the house already had been outfitted with them prior to purchase.” – Lara Jones
Once the structural issues were addressed, Wally and Lara turned their attention to interior design, with a focus on sustainability and finding great deals. Their tight budget encouraged creative problem-solving.
“If you’re looking for folks who made it happen creatively (on a budget) with Craigslist, Goodwill, and ‘Scratch and Dent’ finds, we fit the bill!” -Lara Jones
Wally and Lara were gifted a farm sink for the bathroom, which they had resurfaced, along with a claw-foot tub purchased from Craigslist for $100. They purchased all Energy Star appliances from a local “Scratch and Dent” appliance supplier. Their shopping savvy carried through to the kitchen set up as well.
“We purchased used commercial kitchen counters, along with an old gorilla rack and a few new metal shelves from IKEA to create a pantry and save $6,000 on cabinets. The whole set-up cost a fraction of the quote we got on cabinets alone. The highlight of our ADU build was when the builders admitted that they initially were a bit wary about our unconventional kitchen layout (with no built-in cabinets), but eventually admitted that they were able to see that it would all work well and look good in the space.” -Lara Jones
Although the budget was tight, Lara and Wally recognized that it would be worthwhile to invest in systems to make their basement ADU comfortable and energy efficient. Their home features a dual-flush toilet from Green Depot and a Rinnai tankless water heater. They installed double-pane windows for energy and sound insulation. Their contractor also laid PEX tubing over the existing concrete slab floor and then poured another layer of concrete on top to create a radiant heat system.
“The natural gas radiant floor heat has proven very efficient in the unit! We also invested in nice doors, and are glad that we did.” -Lara Jones
Lara has been pleasantly surprised that their decision to create and live in an ADU has been economically sustainable.
“The rental income allowed us to be able to start our business during the recession…and has absolutely helped keep us afloat!” -Lara Jones
The ADU has also enabled Wally and Lara to enjoy some of the benefits of shared housing, with a high level of privacy between the two units.
“We split all utilities and taxes except electricity. We also invested in a nice gas grill together. Every first Sunday we share a potluck dinner, and on some holidays we eat together. One friend upstairs babysits our daughter!” -Lara Jones
Lara’s favorite features of the ADU is that it is small and easy to manage. She says there isn’t enough storage space, but “That’s terrific we feel, because it prevents us from accumulating too much ‘stuff!’ If we bring something new home from Goodwill, I try and toss out two seldom-used items to make space.”
Her least favorite aspect of her basement ADU is that they have had to contend with some mold issues, so she says if she had it to do over again they would have been more aggressive about vapor and water barriers.
However, they’re happy in their ADU and they’re planning to stay for the long-run. The family of three enjoy and appreciate living in their home and spending time in the back yard (which faces a stunning community garden) or out and about the metropolitan area. Although it is small, their ADU affords them a simplicity of living that encourages mindfulness. They’ve recently refinanced into a 15 year mortgage and hope to pay off their loan in 10 years.
So what’s Lara’s advice for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Look over lots of floor plans in magazines, books, websites like ApartmentTherapy and Pintrest. Keep in mind that commercial magazines want you to buy mass-produced products. Thinking well outside of the box, and installing “placeholders” with simple, inexpensive fixtures that can be replaced later can help save on money and allow for changes later on.” -Lara Jones