A one-stop source about accessory dwelling units, multigenerational homes, laneway houses, ADUs, granny flats, in-law units…
Lisa Florentino had been thinking about creating a living space in her backyard for several years before she learned about ADUs and realized that was what she wanted.
“We had this giant detached two-car garage and it seemed immoral because there are so many homeless people. I come from third world country, so I found it wasteful that this building just houses cars. Tearing down the garage and building living space was on my mind before I saw my friend, Nan’s place.” –Lisa Florentino
“Nan’s place” is Nan Haemer’s ADU: Crepe Myrtle Cottage, which Lisa and her partner Patrick visited when Nan hosted an open house there.
“When we went to her open house, we fell in love with her little cottage which was built using many salvaged and recycled materials. It even had gables shingled with the lids from tomato sauce cans from a pizza parlor! We started talking to her about it and learned it was built by Brad Bloom. Brad is kind of elusive. He only takes on projects he finds interesting. Brad likes artists, and since Nan and I are both singers and voice teachers, I figured we had an edge. We stalked Brad until we were able to convince him to build it for us. He’s very particular about the people he builds for. If he’s building an ADU for someone, he has to see them every day for a year-and-a-half so he has to really like them.” –Lisa Florentino
At the time Lisa and Patrick were living in a large home in the Buckman neighborhood of Portland, with a garage in the back. They determined it was time to replace their garage with an ADU when Lisa received money from an inheritance.
To create the ADU, they tore the garage down completely and built from the ground up with a brand new foundation. But, of course, this happened in typical Brad Bloom style, meaning that as he deconstructed the garage, he salvaged everything he possibility could for reuse in the new space.
“Brad deconstructed the old garage and pulled out every single nail from every single board. We used about 90% of the garage in building the ADU. He re-milled the wood to trim the windows, doors, and baseboard. He also used it for the room divider panels into which he hand-jigsawed the pattern. We pretty much used up the old garage.” –Lisa Florentino
Brad’s style is build-design, rather than design-build. His spaces evolve from the materials available rather than from a set of lines on paper. As they watched the design emerge, Lisa and Patrick – and their friends, family, and students – tried to name the style.
“The design was going to be whatever we discovered at The Rebuilding Center. We were very open to making it shift around. At first we were calling it ‘Asian fusion.’ I’m from the Philippines, so we knew it would have Asian influences. Then we found the doors from Cabo, Mexico so we put in the doors. Now it was Asian-Mexican fusion. Then we found the pineapple finials, and a friend told me ‘Your place is Mexican-Asian-Pineapple.’ You have to be open to what you find. If we’d found Moroccan lamps it would probably be Mexican-Asian-Moroccan. It’s not one particular style. We notice that whenever people come to the house they call it different things. One friend said it reminded her of the Philippines. My student spent a lot of time in Switzerland and said ‘This reminds me of Switzerland.’ My friend Nina who spent time in Italy says it reminds her of an Andalusian chalet. A fourteen-year-old voice student said it reminds her of a beach house and another student said it looks like a hobbit house. Everyone projects their own experience on the house. Whatever they are familiar with, that’s what the house feels like to them. My brother-in-law summed it up perfectly when he said ‘You guys are the only people I know who were able to build a new old house.’” –Lisa Florentino
The house evolved as the materials appeared.
“Brad called me one day and said there were these amazing doors from Cabo and I had to get them. ‘What are you going to do with them?’ I asked him. ‘I’ll figure it out, just buy them!’ Brad said. So I went down to the The Rebuilding Center and got them. For a year we stored everything we kept buying all around the house. The translucent panels surrounding the porch column are made out of 100-year-old capiz shell windows from the Philippines. We got these when we were first planning the ADU, but we didn’t know what we were going to do with them. I told Brad ‘Maybe we can use this for dividers?’ And one day I came home and Voila! They were on the porch. Instead of using them as a divider, we now have a beautiful porch column that even lights up at night.” –Lisa Florentino
Although this approach certainly wouldn’t work for everyone, Patrick, Lisa, and Brad had an understanding. They learned to expect the unexpected as the little house evolved.
“It’s kind of fun. Everything is in jest. Brad doesn’t like to take himself too seriously. Hence, a trombone became a light over the grand piano, instead of a chandelier.” –Lisa Florentino
Lisa says that one of the most important things she learned from Brad is the importance of scale. He explained that building a small home is like building a boat. Everything has to be small. It won’t work to have large appliances.
“He had me order the window sizes one-by-one as he decided what size they needed to be. We have one 12”x12” window in the front that looks like a birdhouse, it’s so tiny. But that’s important because the house is small. Another thing Brad got us to appreciate was letting the imperfections of the wood really shine. It should be really all about the imperfections. Now there’s so much modern building with no imperfections, but his building is all about the nail holes and the discoloration that gives character and a warm feeling. They’re all different colors, too. You can’t buy this wood anymore because this garage was built in 1920s.”
When their house was on the ADU Tour, Lisa got lots of questions about the kitchen, and in particular, their zinc countertop. She and Patrick wanted a material that was unusual, so they explored their options and landed on zinc.
“People gravitated to the kitchen, probably because DIY is appealing to lots of people. The zinc we used for the countertops comes in the roll in the mail and my husband and I just pounded it down. It’s glued to the counter and attached with galvanized roofing nails. Everybody was amazed at the kitchen cabinets. They came from a set we bought at The Rebuilding Center. We paid a little bit over $1,000 and we picked and chose what we wanted to use. Then we returned the other half of the set to The Rebuilding Center. All the reconditioned appliances are from Appliance City.” –Lisa Florentino
Of course, when salvage is the driving force of a build, it’s not possible to order just what you need just in time. Lisa notes that the biggest challenge in creating their ADU was that the process took longer than a typical project of this size.
“We took our time. It took us more than a year and half, which was long, considering most ADU construction is about 6 months. There was a lot of mess around the house. Once you don’t have a garage anymore, what do you do with this sort of stuff?” –Lisa Florentino
As they were building their ADU, Patrick and Lisa were sure it was better use of the space to house people rather than cars. What they weren’t sure about was who would live in the ADU. (Check out Options for ADU Owners: Rent One, Both, or Neither.)
“We were 50/50 on it. Maybe we will rent it out. Maybe we will live in it. We weren’t decided when we started, but we got more invested in the process as we were enjoying fitting in the little quirks. After a year and a half we decided we couldn’t let anyone else stay in it. Besides, Brad designed the layout to fit my grand piano! He designed it so I could have performances right there in the house. All you do is push the sliding panels that he created aside to make it into one big room. I opened up the sliding doors and put in thirty rented chairs. We have a hall! After that I felt like I could live here. I had a recital of 12 singers with 30 parents!” –Lisa Florentino
Lisa and Patrick’s primary dwelling, which is approximately 1500 square feet and contains three bedrooms, is now being rented by four college students.
“We love them because we picked them. They’re average age 26. We’re back and forth with food. It’s great!” –Lisa Florentino
Patrick and Lisa plan to continue this use of their property for the foreseeable future.
“We’re planning on retiring here. This is our retirement plan. It’s all about downsizing. When my kids went to college we just filled their rooms up with junk. We had to get rid of all of that. We had to donate a lot of the stuff. We’re enjoying this downsizing. We downsized our jobs, the car, the house. The only thing that’s hard to downsize is my waistline!” –Lisa Florentino
Lisa says the biggest surprise she’s encountered now that they’re living in the ADU is how comfortable and easy to maintain it is.
“It’s well-insulated so we don’t hear too much of the noise on the street. The heating/air conditioning system is a ductless heat pump. It’s an amazing technology, almost silent. It takes me only 45 minutes to clean up the place when having friends over for dinner. When you’re living in the old house you have these baskets and baskets of laundry because you have lots of clothes that you can use. Now I don’t accumulate seven baskets of laundry anymore. It’s simpler. You can clear your mind and focus on important stuff.” –Lisa Florentino
On the flipside, Lisa said the biggest challenge has been that they had to figure out where to store camping gear and that sort of “stuff.” She discovered that there’s a 3’ tall crawl space under the ADU with a little hatch so they now store off-season items there.
“The crawl space hatch is so small that when the 300 pound cable guy came to install the wifi I was afraid he was going to get stuck, so I went down there and ran the cable myself.” –Lisa Florentino
So what advice does Lisa have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“If they want to do it as cheaply as we did, I would say that they should take their time about trying to salvage reusable materials. Is that something you can get for free? Try to get really good subcontractors. We loved our subs. I had no problems with any of them. We had to wait four months for our roofer, but we waited because he is very good.” –Lisa Florentino