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Neither Stephanie Dyer’s parents nor her husband Sam’s parents live in Portland, but both visit regularly. At one point they were looking into purchasing a condo that could serve as their Portland home-base during extended stays. They were especially interested in finding a place near Stephanie and Sam’s house in the bustling Mississippi Neighborhood. Eventually Sam’s father suggested creating a guesthouse in Stephanie’s and Sam’s backyard.
“With our ADU, we have the best parts of hosting family at our house while allowing everyone their personal space. Our one-bedroom house is only 1076 square feet, so having the ADU makes visits very easy.” –Stephanie Dyer
Although their parents would have “first dibs,” the couple realized that they could also rent out the space through VRBO when neither set of parents were in town. Stephanie and Sam were interested in this additional income potential and both sets of parents liked the investment potential of the property.
“Our parents funded the ADU as an investment. For now we intend to hold onto the house, but we’ll be able to provide them a substantial return when we eventually do sell.” –Stephanie Dyer
Sam and Stephanie carefully considered placement of the ADU on their lot and decided to tear down the existing garage and build the ADU on its footprint, aligned with the edge of the driveway. They didn’t want to build too far into the garden space or disrupt their mature cherry tree.
“We studied the sun and wind patterns and lot positioning. We figured we only had one shot to determine the placement on the lot and how to make it as efficient as possible. We really wanted to engage with our backyard and have a nestled-into-the-garden feel. We could have made it larger on the west side, but we were considering how it fit on the lot.” – Stephanie Dyer
In Portland, new construction must comply with 5-foot setbacks, but when they had a survey done they realized the garage was only 2 feet from the property line. In order to use the footprint of the old garage, Stephanie and Sam applied for an adjustment, which required notification of neighbors and a 6-week window of time for neighbors to respond.
“We wanted to be sensitive to our neighbors. As the City informed us, adjacent neighbors tend to respond negatively to windows that view into their property, so we eliminated windows on the east wall closest to the property line, which set up an ideal placement for the stairwell. This initial decision greatly informed our space planning.” –Stephanie Dyer
Stephanie explains that she and Sam did a lot of research about their utility and appliance options. They put everything that wouldn’t need natural daylight along the east wall. They located the water heater under the stairs and tucked the smallest stackable washer-dryer combo unit they could find off the bathroom. The bathroom size was dictated by the size of the tub. They installed an L-shaped run of cabinets for the kitchen with an under-counter fridge.
“This was a really fun challenge. We studied precedents of small spaces. We all were drawn to the idea of compact living. Really thinking about what you use and what you don’t. There were definite trade offs. You’re just not going to be able to fit everything into a 342 square foot space. The idea was for it to feel cozy yet open, comfortable, and completely functional.” –Stephanie Dyer
Stephanie managed to find the balance by paying careful attention to light, materials, and functionality. She prioritized the living room and kitchen, making the bedroom the minimum size allowed by code, at only 70 square feet. The bed nestles right into a small bump-out on the west side of the ADU, which makes the room feel more spacious. The bump-out adds visual interest and provides an opportunity to catch cross breezes. On the first floor the bump-out contains a dining nook which converts into a second bed. Stephanie explains that multi-functionality was an important consideration throughout the design process. Sam and Stephanie were committed to figuring out a design that would accommodate both sets of parents as well as guests. Speaking of design, working out the interior design of the ADU was a fun challenge for Stephanie, an interior designer and product developer.
“I was delighted my in-laws and parents wanted to incorporate my product lines. The three-dimensional tile installation—as the kitchen backsplash, fireplace surround, and stair risers—showcases the Topo Collection I designed for Clayhaus Ceramics, a fantastic local sustainable company. Another highlight of the build was seeing the flooring tile installed. It was the first installation of Archipelago Tile – a company I’ve been envisioning and developing for about 5 years. To finally see it installed was a great moment!” –Stephanie Dyer
Energy-efficiency was also a key consideration. Stephanie and Sam installed a Valor gas fireplace in the ADU underneath the double-height space, so the heat travels upstairs. There’s a ceiling fan to push the air up and out or push it back down. Operable skylights help with natural ventilation. Stephanie and Sam also incorporated salvaged materials including a butcherblock countertop, reclaimed from old church beams and made by a local woodturner.
With such intentionality in the design phase, the ADU has functioned much as they imagined it would. However, when Sam’s mom injured her ankle recently, she found it challenging to make it upstairs. So Stephanie noted that if they had it to do over again they would pay more attention to universal design criteria.
“We would have done a gentle slope instead of a step up at front door, installed lever hardware instead of round door hardware, and used fridge drawers rather than an under-counter fridge. If there was a powder room downstairs guests would have everything they need on the lower level since the dinette can be a bed.” –Stephanie Dyer
Nevertheless, Stephanie and Sam are very pleased with their ADU and don’t have any plans to sell or modify the property any time soon.
“I don’t really foresee it changing too much. Perhaps longer extended stays for our parents. I think it would be difficult for someone to move in full-time because there’s not enough storage space for everyday living. But it’s great having family so close by for extended visits. We host coffee at our house. Whenever they wake up they come on over. We usually hang out after our kid heads to bed, too.” –Stephanie Dyer
They couldn’t identify any negatives with having an ADU on their property, but they have encountered a couple surprises.
“What’s really surprised me is that we never see some guests even though they’re just yards away from our house. The amount of privacy and anonymity is amazing. There have been people who were here 6 days and we didn’t see or hear them. Guests have the ability to interact with us as much or as little as they like. When we do get to chat with guests, the hosting aspect is highly rewarding. We enjoy meeting different people and seeing how they connect with the space- it’s a wonderful experience to hear people laugh and tell stories in our own backyard. We often have people stay here who are family members of neighborhood residents. We’ve been surprised our neighbors are so interested in our ADU. It’s definitely been a conversation starter and contributed to the sense of community in our neighborhood.” –Stephanie Dyer
So what advice does Stephanie have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Run the numbers. Have clear expectations of how much it will cost and stay on budget. A good contractor is critical for a successful project. We were so fortunate to work with Sean of Harding Construction. His enthusiasm and attention to detail made all the difference. Also, though I am biased, I’d say the value of hiring a designer cannot be underestimated. There are a multitude of factors to consider- a trained professional can guide the process with ease and help the homeowner make well-informed decisions.” –Stephanie Dyer