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Marenda Chamberlin and her partner Heidi Lohman first learned about ADUs several years ago on the Build It Green (BIG) Tour, which was hosted by the City of Portland. One of the ADUs on the tour was the Wine Lovers’ Accessory Dwelling Unit, which was designed by Dan Lajoie of Departure Design and built by Hammer & Hand. Heidi and Marenda talked about this ADU – and particularly its use of salvaged wood – as they discussed creating an ADU on their own property.
“We liked use of wood and natural light. Our ADU is very different, but the Wine Lovers’ ADU inspired us to go for an open feel and natural wood. I work in the trades, so I’m always interested in seeing how people build small. I wanted to be creative with reclaimed wood.” –Marenda Chamberlin
As Marenda and Heidi made plans for their ADU, they decided they wanted to do most of the finish work themselves. They contracted with Dan Lajoie of Departure Design – the designer of the Wine Lovers’ ADU they liked so much. They also brought Holly Huntley of environs on board to build the shell of the ADU. They pulled together funding for the ADU with savings and credit.
Working with Dan, they explained that their major design considerations were having the space feel open and functional, with lots of natural light. In some cases, they found it was helpful to describe what they didn’t want.
“A lot of ADUs we’ve seen haven’t felt very functional. The use of space wasn’t great. So we wanted to make sure we were utilizing space well, making it feel usable and not cramped, and making sure it still has a little storage.” –Marenda Chamberlin
As they considered options for their detached ADU they were pleased to discover that since their property abuts an alley they could put the ADU right up against the property line on the alley side. They did, of course, need to comply with the 5’ setbacks on either side. (Check out other examples of ADUs on Alleys.) However, they bumped up against the city’s requirement that detached ADUs match the look of the primary dwelling.
“We originally designed triangle windows in gable ends and city didn’t like that. We also might have had a shed roof if we didn’t need to match the roof pitch.” –Marenda Chamberlin
Heidi and Marenda decided to invest in sustainable building practices up front to save money in the long run. Their ADU includes low U-value windows, advanced framing walls with dense pack fiberglass insulation, low-VOC paint, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. For Marenda, the highlight of the build was installing the finishes, and the loft floor in particular.
“It was very simple and fun to do. We refinishing the wood so as we were peeling off the first layers, the character of the wood revealed itself. We especially enjoyed doing finishing touches, like adding shelving and building the furniture. The ADU is like a piece of art because we built everything in there from light fixtures to furniture. I appreciate that we had the opportunity to do that.” –Marenda Chamberlin
Heidi and Marenda also appreciate the housing flexibility their ADU has created for them – especially if parents or siblings move to the area. They were initially planning to bring in additional income through renting the space long-term to a tenant. However, they were also intrigued by the possibility of using the ADU for short-term rentals, since Portland allows ADUs to be used for this purpose.
“We’ve recently finished it and we found that we’ve liked the flexibility of the space. Our house is only 820 square feet so it doesn’t fit a lot of people. We have had family coming into town, so having another space back there has helped. It’s great having family stay there. We just weren’t ready to let it go completely. We wanted to be able to get into the space and enjoy it. So for right now we’re Airbnbing it.” –Marenda Chamberlin
You can find their listing at Bright, Modern Loft in N PDX. However, the added responsibility of Airbnb has Marenda and Heidi looking to other options for their ADU in the future.
“We will probably go to long-term since Airbnb is a lot of work. Having the ADU is an added expense. We get revenue from Airbnb and we enjoy meeting people, but there are also things to maintain. There’s an additional responsibility. It’s like having a side business. Eventually we may live in it or have parents live in it. Our house is easier to grow old in, so we’d probably live in the back and have our parents in the main house.” –Marenda Chamberlin
Marenda isn’t sure if the ADU would have adequate storage for a long-term renter.
“Maybe, if they lived a very simple life. It depends on the individual. We would definitely be utilizing our garage or we might have an additional shed. It could be done.” –Marenda Chamberlin
Speaking of space, Marenda says her biggest surprise is that the ADU isn’t as obtrusive she she feared.
“Originally, when we were building it, we thought it would take up a lot more of our backyard than it actually does. When the foundation was being poured it seemed bigger than it does now!” –Marenda Chamberlin
If they had it to do over again, Marenda says they’d probably put in a ductless mini-split heat pump right above the French doors, rather than the infrared heat system they installed. Otherwise, they’re happy with their ADU, proud of the work they put into it, and enjoying the opportunity to share it with friends, family, and strangers.
So what advice does Marenda have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“I’d be ready to make a lot of decisions. It was way more decisions than we were originally anticipating. Plan ahead and get those figured out. You’ll need to pick everything from colors and fixtures to finishes. Find a contractor you trust and a designer with experience building those spaces.” –Marenda Chamberlin