That ADU Guy’s Tips for Designing a Sunny, Comfy, Affordable ADU

August 3, 2022

A key to designing small spaces is finding ways to make the home feel more spacious than it actually is. Here are a few techniques Derek recommends that can help you save money and create a living space that tenants will absolutely love and want to call home for a long time.

For the footprint, Derek suggests a simple rectangle, combined with a vaulted ceiling so you get the most volume from the square footage that is, in many jurisdictions, limited to 800 sq. ft.

Another trick? Put windows on every wall so when you walk in, you experience that bright, sunny feeling. Windows and skylights combine with the high ceilings to open up the space. Derek also recommends using light colors and a minimalist one-wall kitchen. His signature ‘galley kitchen’ is a proven cost-saver. Typically, it can save you about $5,000 because, he says “there’s no turn, there’s no seams in the granite and you don’t have big turns in your cabinetry.” So by incorporating a one-wall kitchen you also save money, in addition to saving space.

The interior pocket door is another great strategy because you can create the illusion of a larger space by opening up more of the wall between the bedroom and living areas, thus allowing more light to stream in through the windows.

Pocket doors on the bedroom(s) and bath are also nice because you don’t lose any valuable space where a traditional door would need to swing in and out. This choice can allow for a smaller-sized bathroom which lets you dedicate more space to other, more heavily utilized rooms.

Finally, understand your end-user so you can meet their needs better than any competing units. For example, in the Southern Oregon market, Derek’s tenants are usually single professionals that are between their last long-term relationship and they haven’t settled down and gotten married yet. They’ll have camping gear. “Everybody seems to have a kayak right now,” he says, meaning they will need adequate storage for the outdoor gear — usually about 50 sq. ft. with at least a 10 foot area for the kayak.

Handmade Ladder and Interior Storage Loft designed by Derek Sherrell

Again, really know your end-user so you can design a great product for them.

Feel free to try out these ideas when planning your ADU. If you find this information helpful, connect with Derek on Instagram and YouTube and perhaps check out the ADU Resources page that includes free plans for your own one or two-bedroom affordable ADU.