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“We actually still aren’t quite certain whether we are going to move into our ADU or whether we’ll find someone else to rent it. As we were designing it, we kept in mind what we’d want if we were going to live in it. We’ve fallen in love with it as it has taken shape and as we’ve put our own effort into it..” –Ray Chirgwin
Ray Chirgwin first learned about accessory dwellings through his work as a licensed architect. He had familiarized himself with Portland’s zoning code, so he knew that ADUs are allowed by right in Portland and was familiar with their requirements. Ray became fascinated by ADUs and their potential for both homeowners and cities.
“The biggest inspiration is the value that ADUs bring to underutilized suburban spaces and the pressure they take off urban sprawl. I think it is important to consider all the intricacies of introducing higher density living in a suburban context.” –Ray Chirgwin
As he and his wife Natalie looked to purchase a home of their own, they decided to buy a property in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood with ADU potential.
“We had been looking at property and thinking about how things can pencil. We had to make sure it was a wise investment.”–Ray Chirgwin
As he worked on the design for his detached ADU, Ray enjoyed the experience of wearing multiple hats for this project. You can read more about Ray’s lessons learned in a post he wrote for Sera in February 2016: Small home, big lessons: What I learned from my ADU.
“It was fun to have that balance of being the owner and the architect all in one and having to make decisions based on cost and return on investment. We did a lot of iterations; they started out complex and then got simpler and simpler. We make a good team because Natalie is the balance to me wanting to bite off more than I can chew. She reminds me that the simpler solution is often the best.” –Ray Chirgwin
Of course, as an architect, Ray brings to the table more design criteria than the average ADU owner. Here’s his favorite design trick for small spaces:
“I tested the designs by seeing if I could reduce the number of interior walls. Interior walls often break up a space making it feel smaller and they leave less opportunity for flexibility. There is a lot to be said for simple, open spaces because they allow the tenant to use the space however they wish. Also, a simple circulation pattern is important. It’s essentially a full house. The ADU has everything that a home would have except the extra bedrooms.” –Ray Chirgwin
Natalie and Ray went back and forth on several decisions. For instance, they deliberated about whether to put in a bath or save some space by putting in a shower. However, there were other things – like adding a washer and dryer – that they could quickly agree on.
“Several of our decisions were made by asking ourselves if we would live there. For example, we felt that a tub would be a good amenity for the small amount of additional space. Also, we knew a washer and dryer should be on the living level since we wouldn’t want to go up and down the stairs to do laundry. As we thought about the space we thought about things we wanted to live comfortably. We thought about our own lifestyle and the necessities. Natalie has been going through physical therapy school as we were designing this, so we were able to integrate a little study nook. It’s a nice feature especially since we’re near Reed College. We also added ample bike parking down in the shop. We didn’t want to low-ball it and cut out comfort or quality.” –Ray Chirgwin
Storage was also a priority for Natalie and Ray as they thought about how they would live in the space if they occupied it. (Also check out ADU Storage Solutions.)
“Part of the reason people want to live in ADUs is because they don’t want to collect stuff they don’t regularly use, but it is important to be realistic about storage in small spaces. Just because your house is five times smaller than the average house doesn’t necessarily mean your wardrobe is five times smaller. I focused on providing ample storage that directly relates to everyday activities and is easily accessible.” –Ray Chirgwin
As Ray and Natalie explored design criteria for their ADU, they landed on a design that allowed them to have a living space above and a shop below. Ray explains that the additional cost of adding a shop below the ADU rather than constructing a quaint single-story building was worth it for additional storage, secure bike parking, and covered car parking.
They were also able to incorporate some salvaged materials such as reclaimed gym flooring and exposed salvaged beams as collar ties. They demolished their garage to construct the ADU and their contractor, AK Builders, was able to use some of the 2x4s as miscellaneous lumber. Throughout the design process, Ray kept the ADU zoning requirements in mind, too.
“As it became a more serious idea that we’d do this, we decided that we’d keep it pretty simple and by the book. We didn’t want to go overboard with anything. It went back to following the zoning code strictly because we didn’t want to do any variances or anything outrageous or unconventional. Nothing that would be a major headache for the permitting process, add cost, or slow down the schedule. Once we decided we were doing this it went quickly. We broke ground in May of 2015.” –Ray Chirgwin
At time of writing, Ray and Natalie were just finishing up their ADU, about six months after they started the project. They have been living in the primary house while building the ADU. Now they’re trying to decide which house to call home.
“We’ve contemplated everything from Airbnb to renting to moving into the ADU ourselves and renting out the main house. Right now we’re hoping to have a great tenant in there. It’s a community-oriented set up. There’s a courtyard with a patio and a fire pit. The two buildings relate to each other via the courtyard. We anticipate a lot of opportunities to comfortably interact with our neighbors and promote a healthy community environment.” – Ray Chirgwin
Now that it’s complete, there are two things Ray is particularly proud of in their ADU. The first is the way the reclaimed wood floors turned out.
“All the weekends we put into sanding the reclaimed wood gym floor are finally over! It’s really smooth and comfortable to walk on. We used a low-VOC product called Rubio Monocoat, so you’re walking on the wood surface, not a urethane coat.” –Ray Chirgwin
The other thing Ray is proud of is the way the puzzle came together.
“I enjoyed the challenge of designing a quality dwelling with several constraints such as a narrow site and strict zoning requirements. Once the puzzle came together, it was a very rewarding experience.” –Ray Chirgwin
If they had it to do over again, they would have given more responsibility to the contractor.
“We saved money by doing some of the work ourselves but it complicates the contractual responsibilities and schedule. It would have been a more straightforward process if we just had the contractor do it all. If we were to do it again, we would pay close attention to the nuances of the contract and clarify the division of responsibilities.” –Ray Chirgwin
So what advice does Ray have for homeowners considering creating an ADU on their own property?
“Ask yourself if you would want to live in it and make sure it’s an improvement not only to your property but to the surrounding neighborhood. Is there a proper separation between public and private? Does the project contribute to a healthier community?” –Ray Chirgwin [Be sure to also read more about Ray’s lessons learned in a post he wrote for Sera in February 2016: Small home, big lessons: What I learned from my ADU.]