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“I think people will be creating mother-in-law suites more and more as we get older. I think in this country we’ve lost touch of extended family and this can help. What’s surprised me most is that it has worked out as well as it has for as long as it has. It’s been such a positive experience. My husband gives me a lot of credit to getting along with his mother. We’ve made it work and it took all four of us to do that.” –Bonnie Dalton
Bonnie Dalton didn’t realize at first that she owned an ADU. She says she first learned the term Accessory Dwelling Unit when she was contacted by the state of Oregon last summer to participate in a survey of ADU owners. (You can read about the ADU Owner Survey Results.) When she and her husband Larry created a daylight basement apartment in their home in 1994 the terminology was different. However, Bonnie says she has known about the concept of accessory dwellings for fifty years. She has just always called them by one of the many and confusing synonyms for ADUs, such as “mother-in-laws apartments.”
In fact, Bonnie’s grandmother moved into an accessory dwelling in her parents’ home many years ago. So as Larry’s parents grew older, Larry and Bonnie decided to create a similar multi-generational housing arrangement for themselves.
“We wanted his parents close by. They lived on the Oregon Coast and were far from hospitals. We wanted them to move to Portland and live with us where we could keep an eye on them. We had to tempt them with a hot tub. The apartment was my idea and I suggested it to my husband. We knew someone who was set up that way and it was working really well for them. I just felt it was the right thing to do. My husband and I are both social workers, so go figure.” –Bonnie Dalton
When they decided to purchase a property that could accommodate two generations, Larry and Bonnie looked for a place with potential for a mother-in-law apartment. Larry’s parents sold the home they had owned on the Oregon Coast and put some of that money towards the creation of the mother-in-law. Eventually Larry and Bonnie purchased a home with a daylight basement that had been used as an office by the previous owners.
“Everything was actually there. We didn’t have to build anything. No separate walls or anything. We didn’t have to put up or move walls. The fireplace was already there and it was already plumbed for cold and hot water because they were going to put in a bar. We just ran the electrical and put in kitchen and linoleum and carpet. We didn’t want it to be a basement, but this daylight basement works really well.” –Bonnie Dalton
Bonnie explains that in their new neighborhood there were already three units with parents living in an apartment. Bonnie and Larry’s son Pat Greenwell designed the apartment’s kitchen and his friends helped out by providing discounts on materials left over from other projects. As they designed the ADU, there were a few major design considerations. Bonnie explains they wanted the apartment to feel like a home. It had to be really comfortable and have lots of daylight. It had to have a fireplace. It had to have a separate phone line.
And, of course, it had to have a separate kitchen. The importance of two kitchens became apparent right away because Larry’s parents moved in before the apartment’s kitchen was completed.
“My mother-in-law insisted that we wouldn’t get along if we shared a kitchen. Cooking is her main pride and art. She was very wise. We shared a kitchen while we were waiting for the apartment kitchen to go in. Now I’m amazed we shared a kitchen for that long. We probably wouldn’t have lasted all these years if we still had to share a kitchen!” – Bonnie Dalton
Bonnie says that the highlight for her was that they were able to provide privacy and autonomy for Larry’s parents while also having them close by. The basement unit has a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room. It even has a sewing room!
“It is such a nice apartment and we’re in a nice spot. There’s a creek running behind it and the deer come into the yard when the gate is open. We’re up on Mt. Scott with a view of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer, and Mt. Adams.” – Bonnie Dalton
The basement apartment has served them well for the past 20 years as a mother-in-law suite. Larry and Bonnie figure that over time it might also be an art studio or a guest suite for visiting relatives.
“Maybe my son could come and live upstairs and my husband and I could move downstairs… And, of course, there’s the resale value of the house, when we get too old to finally live here. Considering the aging population, it seems like someone else would want to do what we’ve done here. I don’t think we would do anything differently. We absolutely would do it again. People have been amazed at how nice the apartment is and how well it’s worked.” –Bonnie Dalton
So what advice does Bonnie have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“You do have to make some sacrifices. After Larry’s father died we spent a lot of Saturday nights visiting with his mom instead of going out. They’re going to depend more on the folks upstairs. One of the problems is that where we live there is no bus, so once she wasn’t able to drive herself anymore she wasn’t looking forward to having me take her everywhere. That’s something that people should think about ahead of time. It is a commitment. But there were a lot of advantages for us, too, like coming home from work and having a loaf of bread, still warm from the oven, sitting on the counter.” –Bonnie Dalton
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