ADU Design: It’s a Game of Inches

ADU Design: It’s a Game of Inches

For a small home that feels functional and open, consider the size of everything

When you embark on the journey of building an ADU from scratch, you’re going to have to make a lot of big decisions involving very small amounts of space. 

But here’s the kicker: the goal isn’t just to go high-tech and tiny for the sake of living in less square feet. It’s about minimizing the things you can make do with less of, and making more room for the things that matter.

Just think of your minihouse as a puzzle you can actually plan for.

Sweat the small stuff 

The smallest pieces of the puzzle are the most challenging to find, but they’re the most important to get right. 

Your lifestyle will be the most important influence on decisions about key elements of your home planning: structure, fixtures, appliances, furniture, and technology/recreation. 

Start thinking about these pieces early in your planning and work with your designer to bring it all to life in your new space. 

Our designer’s advice? Whenever you have a choice to make, make the smallest one. It’ll be fine. 

Start with structure and fixtures

Walls and Stairs

A great example of structure planning has to do with your walls, in the very beginning of the design phase. How thick do they need to be? How thick are they in your drawings? Is it possible to make them thinner, or create built ins to use the extra space for storage or display?

The Roof 

Another great example is your attic space. There are some height regulations to be conscious of, but if possible, is there room to build in a loft? Or would your small space be better with high vaulted ceilings for a more open feeling?


Items that get touched every day need to balance form and function but are commonly overlooked when it comes to the space they take up.

  • knobs
  • lighting
  • sinks
  • bathroom faucets
Appliances – not just the cherry on top 

You can save a lot of space with a few versatile appliance upgrades, like a microwave that can double as an oven, a toaster, a roaster, and a frying pan. 

If you want to get the most out of your floor plan, you should start doing your research on appliances in the beginning of your project (we did some of that for you below). Then work with your designer to make sure they work for you.

Consider this- do you spend a lot of time baking? If so, you might need to dedicate more cubic feet to an oven and less to a freezer. How many mouths do you have to feed? If you’re living solo, you may need a much smaller fridge than you think. 

Here are a few appliance options to think about:
  • Dishwasher drawer – they save space, time, and help conserve water over hand washing.
  • Cook Top – when not in use, the smooth surface can double as counter space. Products like this 24” Induction can save space without sacrificing function.
  • Refrigerator – Tall, skinny, and fits in a tight corner. Our favorite model also features special hinges and a compressor, so the whole unit takes up no more than 24” x 24.”
  • Convection Oven Microwave – it can roast a chicken, pop popcorn, and make the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had. Available in 120V.
  • Ventless washer / dryer combo – these can be run on 120V electricity, and require no special venting. Never have to switch your clothes from the washer to the dryer again. It’s all in the same box!?

Note: we don’t get dollars from links above, we just like to shout out good finds. We also know the above appliances won’t work for all budgets. That’s okay. Remember, there are always options.. the point is to start looking for them!

Technology – use it or consolidate it!

Think about a cluttered TV/entertainment area. There’s a lot more going on in that part of the house than just a television. 

Having a TV can also mean having five remote controls, various consoles or other gaming devices, boxes, some kind of stand or hookup, speakers, a mess of chords, and all the DVD’s, controllers, games, etc. [fill in your own mess here]. On top of that, you might also have stuff like a computer or printer nearby (and their cords). 

Unless you’re Neo from the Matrix, you may want to plan on consolidating some of the bulkier pieces of technology you need for a smoother and smarter ADU design.  

Pieces to think about…
  • One smart remote vs. 5 remotes that don’t make sense 
  • Projector screen on a wall or window instead of a monitor with a stand
  • Surround sound (doesn’t take up floor space)

Furniture – the ultimate two-fer!

Spoiler alert: You can’t fit much furniture in a mini house.

Imagine if the surface area of a queen-size bed, used at night, could serve as a work zone during the day? In one of our CL case studies, this bed space-to-office space conversion opened up an extra 60 sq. ft. in a 250 sq. ft. house (that’s 24%!).

Tatami mat bed platform serves as a work area during the day. At night the technology packs away and the futon is easily rolled out.

A table is a necessity, but not at all hours of the day. Look for items that can fold away when not in use.

If you want to have a space for guests, look for a couch or loveseat with thin lines and a pull out bed that’s actually comfortable. And voila! A guest room. 

An ottoman with storage can also serve as a step stool or an extra chair when you need it. 

Asking yourself questions about how you use the different parts of your living space will go a long way in maximizing the results of your design plan. Your answers will inform design choices large and small.

Photos for this blog courtesy of Little Bee Photography

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