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Editor’s Note: This post is an extended case study from the AARP ABCs of ADUs publication published earlier in 2019. Stay tuned for additional extended case studies from this project in the coming weeks.Lina Menard
Walt Drake had lived in the home he owned in Decatur, Georgia since 2000. By 2014 he was ready to downsize since he didn’t need all the room anymore. He began exploring his options for his next home. Walt, in his early 70s, is athletic and active, still running his own business and keeping busy with social engagements. He wanted some yard space so he was more interested in a house than a condo. However, looking towards the future he wasn’t interested in the stairs that a townhouse would entail. He put an offer on a cottage court property, but the deal fell through.
Meanwhile, he wanted someone in the family to buy his house, so he talked with his children about it, and they took a look. One of his sons, Scott, had done some development and had worked with other developers so he saw the potential of the one acre property for his own growing family. Scott had also recently renovated a home in Decatur and sold it, so he had funds available to purchase the property. Scott and Walt struck a deal. Scott explains:
“From not finding what we wanted for Dad, we decided to create it. We said, ‘You live in the main house till carriage house is ready, then you can move into it and we’ll move into the main house.’ Decatur is progressive with land use and zoning. Neighborhoods built in the 1920s have carriage houses and it’s coming back into vogue. Land prices are going up so people are trying to maximize property value. Building an ADU was a modern day version of something people have been doing on their residential property in this area for 100 years.”Scott Drake
As Walt and Scott worked with Adam Wall of Kronberg Wall to design the ADU, they had several design considerations. First, regulations limited the ADU size to 800 square feet. They recognized that outdoor space would be key to making the space live larger, so they added a screened wrap around porch. Although Decatur doesn’t have design requirements for ADUs, Walt and Scott chose to design an ADU that would be in keeping with other buildings in the neighborhood. As Scott puts it:
“They tell you height and setbacks, but there are no rules and they don’t try to be the design police. Everyone’s got their own style. Some have a more modern look. The design was up to us and it has a Southern architecture to it. Working with Adam and them, they did a good job tying them together with the patio, so looks like it was designed appropriately.”Scott Drake
Designing the unit to be efficient while not sacrificing comfort was the biggest challenge for Walt and Scott. Scott says:
“We were really honing in on ‘what do you need day to day?’ and more ‘what do you need?’ than ‘what do you want?’ We had to be efficient because we were not building a 3 story house so didn’t have much room to play with. How can we provide the functionality and be smart about it?”Scott Drake
They were practical in many of their decisions, such as including a stacked washer and dryer behind a sliding door. The kitchen is efficient in cabinet space and fits everything Walt needs. The family notes that from a storage standpoint it was beneficial that they have the main house to fall back on, especially for larger items. Yet, they also incorporated aspects to make the ADU really feel like home. Walt is an avid reader so the design accommodated his hobby with a wall of bookshelves. Accessibility considerations were also among their design criteria.
“We were thinking as you get older, you want there to be an ease of movement in your home. So it’s one big room with a kitchen and a den. The bathroom is a good size so there can be an ease of movement into the shower. It’s a flat walk from the driveway to the door and the driveway extends all the way back to the unit, which took planning and design. We it wanted to be separate and to feel like you’re on your own property, but we’re there for each other.”Scott Drake
At the same time that the ADU was being designed and built, the family also designed and built a separate office for Walt over the garage with stairs facing the carriage house. The office will provide a separate 500 square foot work space for as long as Walt chooses to use it.
“Dad hasn’t quite pulled the trigger on retiring yet, but he has his office upstairs so he could theoretically work from home. Now he doesn’t have that worry of trying to go somewhere and do something different in a different property. He can be self-contained on his own property. He didn’t have to move and sell his home. He was able to keep his own stuff and turn over what he didn’t need to us. It kept my dad in place, which I think was important.”Scott Drake
They have created a multigenerational household with the addition of the ADU and Scott really appreciates the ability to having his father on the property. Meanwhile, his kids love having grandpa nearby.
“We’ve got two kids so his granddaughter gets to see him every day. When I’m out of town I know someone has a watchful eye on the house. Having family nearby is also a back-up system. I can say ‘Hey, I’m running late. Can you take the dog out?” Or if I’ve got someone coming to fix something and it’s while I’m at work he can often meet them. We cook out a lot together. My wife might make something and have a ton of leftover so she’ll take back food to him. You get opportunities to interact more.”Scott Drake
Scott notes that the ADU is “serving its intended purpose” and that someday down the road it could be a long- or short-term rental. Many people in the area rent out parts of their home on a short-term basis. The ADU is set up well for rental with a separate electrical meter. As Scott says, “the ADU could turn into lots of different things over the course of its lifetime.”
So what advice does Scott have for families considering creating an ADU on their property?
“Try to find some ADUs in your area and ask property owners if you can look at them. I’ve had a number of friends of mine who have thought about doing something similar and they’ve come over to look at it. It’s really helped them to look at it and get a sense of space and scale and what you can and can’t do in an ADU.”Scott Drake