What one renter Looks for in an ADU or DADU

February 21, 2020

When you’re developing an ADU or a DADU as a rentable unit, it can be tricky to try to determine how you should finish out the space and what amenities to include. After all, this is your space, but you still want to make sure that potential renters find it comfortable enough to stay for a while. We reached out to one of our employees who has lived in a series of rental units under 450 square feet – with her partner(!) – for the better part of the last 12 years. Fast forward 12 years and they have learned the ins-and-outs of fitting into small spaces, keys to making it work, and what to look for in a place that will give them lasting returns.

Consider Storage Needs

Think about your own house and the typical storage locations. There’s obviously the coat closet, bedroom closet, and linen closet, but don’t forget about providing spaces for “attic” storage and for “basement” storage. These are often left out of the plan but are invaluable to long-term renters.

Especially in the northwest, renters are likely to own bicycles, tents, kayaks, and the like. Consider a lockable basement-like or garage-like storage spaces that is unfinished and can handle a little bit of abuse from skis getting banged around. If bicycles need to be stored outside, make sure they’re in a concealed location or at least where they are highly visible from inside the home.

Depending on the renter you find, there might be those one or two heirloom pieces of furniture or art that don’t fit in the space but aren’t ready to be passed along either. A walk-in-sized closet, whether accessible from the interior or exterior of the unit, can solve the need for this ‘attic’ type of storage. This could be joined up with the basement storage, but something with a bit of climate control is helpful.

Sure, this is a lot of closet space and space isn’t cheap in Seattle but keep in mind that the linen closet, cleaning closet, etc., are more flexible spaces. Forgo these typical storage closets in favor of larger areas mentioned above. Renters can always pick up freestanding storage pieces to accommodate the rest.

This same line of thinking goes for other types of built in storage. Provide sufficient cabinetry space in the kitchen and make sure there’s a spot for a toothbrush in the bathroom, but otherwise know that built-ins aren’t necessarily the best solution if you’re trying to appease a variety of people. If anything, they just limit the renter’s ability to use the space to meet their individual needs.

Personal, accessible outdoor space

This one may or may not be possible, but if you can, consider providing some outdoor space with a touch of sun exposure; bonus points for sun exposure towards the end of the day when people are most likely to step outside and relax with dinner al fresco. This outdoor space can be at grade, up on a rooftop, or otherwise incorporated as you and your architect see fit. Ideally this space could provide for al fresco dining, space for a couple of pots to grow herbs, or a small corner to air dry beach towels during the warmer months.

Since we have limited sun in this city already, it’s a great benefit to provide renters with a chance to enjoy the benefits of fresh air without having to haul their cooler multiple blocks to the nearest park. If there’s simply no room for a deck or a private corner of the yard, consider a Juliet balcony as a substitute.

Find the flow

Make sure you and your architect test fit the space to ensure furniture works in the space. An open layout might look sufficient in plan view but be sure to consider the need for clear walking space, typical couch dimensions and the like. Especially in small spaces, it’s vital that every square foot can be put to work. Watch out for odd or ‘oversized’ areas, including excessive circulation space or hallways.

Ask yourself some of the fundamental questions too: Is there a space in the living room for a couch to face a TV? Can a dresser be placed in a convenient location? Simple plan alternations like raising the sill height of a window to accommodate a table, or moving a window over to accommodate a bookshelf can make a huge difference in how someone lives in the space.

Climate is key

Bring in as much light as possible, especially up high and in the corners. This will ensure it reaches deep to the interior and bounces off adjacent surfaces. Utilize slim, clerestory windows that let light in, but provide privacy and give flexibility with the furniture layout. Be diligent with your ‘viewing’ windows; one well-framed view can be more valuable than 3 half-views! Consider the sun’s location during morning and evening and try to plan for activities appropriately in those areas.

Maintain proper ventilation as well! Lack of ventilation not only can be uncomfortable for renters but can also leave you susceptible to moisture build up. Make sure that operable windows are placed appropriately to help carry fresh air through the apartment. Talk to your architect about capitalizing on passive cooling. If you have a tall or two-story space, your architect can show you how to take advantage of the ‘stack effect’ in which you bring cool air in down low and let warm air exit up high.


This edition on small spaces was written by Annie Michels, a designer who splits her time between Architecture and Interior Design with Master’s degrees in both Architecture and Interior Architecture from the University of Oregon. As a designer who loves both designing for and living in small spaces, Annie intimately understands the ins and outs from both sides. Read more about Annie in her bio.

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