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Because space is precious in an ADU and livability is a key priority, storage is an important consideration for most ADU owners, whether they plan to rent the place long-term, short-term, or live in it themselves. I’ve picked up lots of small space storage solutions over the past couple years as I interviewed ADU homeowners and designers for the ADU Case Studies Project. You may just have to read through the whole set of case studies to see ALL the clever ideas, but here I’ll pick out my top 10 favorites.
(There are, of course, lots of design tricks to make small spaces seem larger contained within the Case Studies, too. Read through the ADU Designer Profiles or ADU Design-Builder Profiles to acquaint yourself with each professional’s design philosophy for small spaces.)
Here are 10 great small space storage solutions from the ADU Case Studies Project:
#1: Storage Under the Stairs
Holah Design + Architecture incorporated a couple of drawers into the stairs in Steve Snyder’s ADU. These drawers, right inside the entryway, provide a convenient place to stash hats, mittens, scarves, and shoes. Stew and Lisa Hulick, in conjunction with their designer Willie Dean of Ground Up Design Works also used the trick of stashing drawers in the stair treads leading up the second floor of their ADU. Stephen Williams incorporated a storage cupboard under the stairs in his ADU on the Alley and Sylvia Allen & Martha Shelley used a cupboard under the stairs in their Home for a Friend. Marenda Chamberlin and Heidi Lohman took advantage of the space under the stairs for storage at their place (and they may someday add in built-ins here). Meanwhile, Heidi Rose created a “Harry Potter Room” in the space under the staircase in the ADU she built for her sister and her sister’s kids.
#2: Storage Lofts:
In the ADU on the Alley Stephen Williams of Rainbow Valley Design & Construction Inc built on his own rental property, he put a little storage loft in in each bedroom. The tenant has a full drum set and that’s the only place in the whole house where he could store it, so that’s where it goes when not in use. The tenant’s daughter turned her loft into a sleeping nook for when she has friends over to spend the night.
#3: Reclaimed Furniture:
Lisa Lonstron used reclaimed furniture to create storage space in her Artistic Basement Apartment. Her kitchen cupboards are made out of a reclaimed curio cabinet while the shelves in her walk-in closet are reclaimed bookshelves from a college.
#4: Movable Storage Wall
For her tiny 220 square foot carve-out ADU, Rita built all of the shelves and storage cabinets, primarily out of salvaged wood, including a two-sided bookcase-wardrobe to provide essential storage and a movable separation between the living-dining and sleeping areas.
#5: Modular Shelving
Lara & Wally Jones pieced together storage solutions throughout their basement ADU so that their storage can change as their lives do. The other advantage is that they spent a fraction of what they would have if they’d done built-ins. Additionally, since most of their storage is open, it gives them quick and easy access to everything. Check out their clever kid’s closet!
On the other hand, using built-ins can also use space very effectively. UDU Design likes to think of their kitchens as a piece of furniture and incorporate them into the living space. In Sharon Nielson, Keith Pitt, and Stephanie Mix’s ADU: A Miniature Mansion, the built-ins were a splurge, but they allow for storage in all the right places. Meanwhile, Caleb Bruce is a cabinetmaker, so he used built-ins throughout his ADU. He went so far as to add built-in storage in the sliding track door that closes off the bedroom! Be sure and look for built-in storage throughout the ADU Case Studies Project. There’s a lot of it!
#7: Stashing Away the Pantry
Marenda Chamberlin and Heidi Lohman wanted to tuck away the more utilitarian parts of their kitchen (the pantry and fridge) so they’d be able to enjoy the furniture aspect of their cabinets and shelves. So they worked with their designer Daniel Lajoie of Departure Architecture to stash their panty in a closet adjacent to the kitchen.
#8: Multifunctional Furniture
When Stephanie and Sam Dyer created A Guest Cottage Off Mississippi Ave, they incorporated a triple-duty space. The built-in sofa can also be used as a dinette or turn into a guest bed.
Ben Kaiser of PATH Architecture likes to use use built-in cabinetry and multi-functional furniture. In the Laurelhurst ADU he designed, the bed folds into a couch, the dining table disappears into a wall, the chairs all stack, and storage goes into unused space.
#9: Share the Basement or Garage
Since an ADU is always accessory to a larger home, there is often an opportunity to borrow space in the basement or garage of the primary dwelling. Bob Stacey notes that he’s not worried about storage in his future ADU because he and his wife Adrienne are able to use storage in the main house where their family lives. (Check out ADUs Work for Multigenerational Families for more examples of this.) Similarly, Tom Hudson, who lives in his ADU, is able to share the basement and garage with his tenants (AKA friends) who live in the primary dwelling. Rambo Halpern and Ray Chirgwin both built ADUs over a garage and accommodate their tenant’s bike storage in the garage. Meanwhile, Sharon Neilson downsized dramatically to move into her Miniature Mansion, but she’s glad her son and daughter-in-law were up for her storing her snow tires in their basement!
#10: Outdoor Storage Sheds
Several ADU owners and designers noted that they are able to provide adequate storage space inside the ADU for everyday living. It’s the off-season or outdoor stuff (which would, say, go in the garage or basement you’ve just turned into an ADU!) that is harder to figure out how to accommodate. Sharon Nielson, Keith Pitt, and Stephanie Mix plan to build a storage shed to accommodate their outdoor gear now that they’ve turned their historic garage into a mother-in-law suite. Sylvia Allen and Martha Shelley created a separate shed for their tenant to accommodate outdoor storage and a washer and dryer so that they don’t get in each other’s way on laundry day.
A Note on How to Not Give Up ALL Your Storage When You Create an ADU
Several ADU owners mentioned that by turning a space that used to be a storage space (such as a garage or basement) into an ADU, they eliminated their own storage. Some, like Lisa Florentino and Susan Eliot appreciated the nudge to downsize and purge possessions. Others, such as Lisa Lonstron and Amanda Punton & Das Chapin retained part of the basement for themselves when they created an ADU.
“For us, giving up the basement for the ADU means we don’t have that space for storage. However, we split off the back corner of the ground floor because the ADU couldn’t be that big anyhow. It could only be 75% the size of the main house. So that back corner is where we have our bike room and storage.” –Amanda Punton
Joe Robertson of Shelter Solutions added attached exterior storage (which doesn’t count in the livable square footage) to accommodate bike storage for an ADU dweller who was super into bikes. Similarly, Susan Moray added attached exterior storage to her garage to ADU conversion. Rainbow Valley, Studio Cropp Architecture, and Hammer & Hand have all provided outdoor storage sheds. Several designers have noted that the ability to add either attached exterior storage or a short shed in the setback was what really sealed the deal on ADU feasibility. It feels much more reasonable to give up your garage or basement storage for an ADU when you know you won’t be giving up your whole backyard nor your own ability to store your bike and snow tires.
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are Portland’s ADU rules in writing, or do ADU architects and builders have to get variances for each project? And are there minimum size restrictions for such things as kitchens (I know in some cities microapartments under 300 square feet are not allowed to have an oven or cooking surface, only one microwave. And here in Austin, a non-code ADU under 200 sq ft cannot have a bathroom. Go figure….
I am seriously trying to figure out how to legally live in an approximate 230-300 square foot space with additional loft space in Austin, texas without having to jump through 1000 legal restrictions.
I am especially interested in how the ADU builders get away with “habitable” space in a non IRC compliant loft. Does Portland simply allow it or is that specifically outlined in the local code? If it’s a written code, what does Portland allow (i.e., e.g. 5 foot ceilings?). I personally am thinking about designing one with 10 -12 foot ceilings so I can place a “furniture” type non-attached loft inside legally without having to comply with the IRC rules. I can’t see any other way to do it. But THAT is not realistic in some settings. I’d like to know what Portland does. Austin code authorities seem to be contemplating such variances but I can’t get the code people to respond concisely to my inquiries. I’d love to have an example of a city that actually has written rules, not just variances, allowing for such lofts and small spaces. While I am also considering a tiny house on wheels, Austin has yet to allow for such except as an RV and, I believe you personally are familiar with the constraints of such, so I won’t elaborate.
And, p.s. just as an aside, I cannot contemplate how the ADU s there are so expensive! I could be the GC on a VERY nice ADU here in Austin for well under $40,000 (if I subcontracted myself, I think I could feasibly do it for around $30,000). $100,000 or more is astronomical IMHO. But I DO realize housing costs are higher in the northwest coast area.
Thanks. I have many questions, but we will start with these.
I really enjoy the examples but I am contemplating actually being able to afford life. I am not remotely rich. I bought a 1200 sq ft house here in Austin 8 years ago for $120,000. Some of your tiny ADU s are twice that. Yes, they are obviously well designed and very nicely done, but really?
Thank you, Laura johnston
Thank you for your comment and your questions. Yes, Portland’s ADU codes are indeed outlined. You can reference them (as well as Austin’s and those of many other cities) here: https://accessorydwellings.org/adu-regulations-by-city/. You can also find a link to some model code for ADUs here: https://accessorydwellings.org/2014/11/25/model-code-for-accessory-dwelling-units/. Details about sleeping rooms allowed in Portland (including ceiling heights and percentage of the room that can be less than 5 feet) are all outlined in the regulations. Some ADUs have been particularly creative to address height restrictions: https://accessorydwellings.org/2014/05/02/paz-pozaryckis-adu-taking-it-down-a-notch/. But the new guidelines for Accessory Structures in Portland allow more flexibility with regard to height as well: https://accessorydwellings.org/2015/12/02/the-accessory-structures-zoning-code-update-passed/. Finally, here are two posts that address the costs related to building an ADU: https://accessorydwellings.org/2014/06/25/how-much-do-adus-cost-to-build/ and https://accessorydwellings.org/2014/05/01/stradivarius-violins-and-cigar-box-guitars-how-much-does-an-adu-cost/. Hopefully these resources will be helpful. Best wishes to you and your project!
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A better link for Oakland, CA ADU’s is http://www2.oaklandnet.com/oakca1/groups/ceda/documents/report/oak050966.pdf
Paul — that document is dated 2017. What’s the best link for Oakland currently?
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