Four years ago, when they were running out of room in their two-bedroom bungalow, Pastor Alvarado and Gennifer Leong-Alvarado went to architects Rebecca Rudolph and Catherine Johnson of with a proposition.
Could they design a multipurpose room that served not just them but their extended family? As much as they needed space for themselves and their two children — ages 9 and 4 — they also wanted to accommodate more of the people they love. They had a big extended family that visited regularly from out of state. Pastor wanted “something minimal, with essentials, that we could use as an evolving space.”
Gennifer was hoping to “create a space we love and not just an extra bedroom.”
Like so many young families in Los Angeles, the Alvarados realized their small bungalow was overflowing with kid stuff: toys, art supplies, schoolwork, soccer gear.
“We love this house,” Gennifer continues. “We love the location and the convenience. The house size is manageable for everyday living, but we did feel that we needed some more room for guests — especially with our young children. Seeing that both of us are not from the California area, it became a priority to have somewhere for our family to come and stay with us for comfortable amounts of time without being in a hotel. The ADU [accessory dwelling unit] seemed like the perfect solution.”
The couple wanted to keep things simple and originally considered adding on to the one-car garage built close to the house. But after consulting with Rudolph and Johnson, they decided to remove the garage and build something new at the back of the 6,750-square-foot property so they could use the yard as living space.
“We talked about designing something that felt comfortable and a little more like an upgrade on what they have but still spoke the language of the existing house,” says Rudolph.
Working with a budget of $175,000 for the building, the architects designed a simple pitched structure with a flat-roofed, modern attached carport that can be used as a covered patio.
The general footprint of the house quickly followed, thanks to the couple’s detailed PDFs and mood boards: a simple box with plywood walls, smooth concrete slab floors, a minimalist kitchenette and an open-plan living room.
On the outside, dark navy-blue cement-board siding was installed to allow the house to disappear and blend into the sky at night while allowing the plywood interior to “glow like a lantern,” Rudolph says.
With grandparents in mind — the architects say they have been getting many inquiries about adding ADUs, or accessory dwelling units, specifically for aging parents — the floor plan of the ADU was laid out to mirror the living spaces of the main house. To address concerns about aging in place, the ADU is built with one small step to the deck, which can be easily ramped in the future. The bathroom is large and open, with no level changes, allowing for easy access for older guests.
“We wanted to give them a sense of privacy while being connected to their family,” Johnson says. “The families can peek across the yard and see if they are eating outside, but it also allows them some visual privacy. There is clear space for mobility. We wanted to make it flexible for them, easy for them to get around, but still feel like a beautiful, wonderful, independent-feeling space. It’s nice to connect generations rather than isolate families.”
Everything in the 465-square-foot space has been designed to maximize the small floor plan: There is storage on both sides of the house, including a tool shed. There is room for a refrigerator under the kitchen counter and a small electric cooktop. Two skylights flood the interiors with natural light. Three doors lead to the outdoor dining area and saltwater pool, all with views of the drought-tolerant garden. When Gennifer’s father comes to visit, he can watch television on a bookcase designed to accommodate the TV monitor. When he is not in town, it is stored underneath the bed.
When it came to furnishing the rooms, the couple chose simple materials and furnishings that could withstand young children. Marine-grade plywood walls and a double-sided wardrobe and shelving unit by Waka Waka separate the sleeping and living areas and provide storage. Simple plywood shelves in the living area are lined with plants, books and personal mementos — all reminders of the family’s life together. An Ikea modular sofa in the living room folds out to accommodate overnight guests, while a simple Case Study desk from Modernica serves as Pastor’s corner office.
The outdoor area is essentially another series of rooms, with a lounge area with a fire pit; a covered patio with a ceiling fan for hot Los Angeles summers; and a slightly raised boardwalk inspired by the Japanese engawa, a type of veranda that serves as a passageway. While the boardwalk calls to mind the L.A. River landscape nearby, a small patch of low-water lawn provides a functional place for the family to play soccer.
Now when Pastor walks to work in the morning, the producer, who has always worked remotely, doesn’t have to walk far. “It is separate but connected,” he says of his 35-foot commute. “I can leave the house, and it feels like I’m going to an office. I love the separation.”
When they started the project in 2017, the couple budgeted roughly $175,000 for the ADU. By the time the house was finished in 2019, the entire project — ADU, carport, pool, hardscape and landscaping (front and back) — came in at just under $300,000. The ADU itself cost just under $200,000, with the addition of the carport, landscape and deck bringing it close to the $250,000 range.
Midway through the process, the couple decided to add a saltwater pool, which prolonged the project due to the fact that the pool had to be completed before the final inspection of the ADU was approved. Now that the house is finished and the landscaping is complete, the couple say they feel lucky. They have a comfortable, quiet and private compound with plenty of space for visiting relatives, a backyard for their children, a pool house and occasional classroom, and an office for Pastor.
“The ADU was our haven during the pandemic,” says Gennifer, who works in marketing at Disney. “We love that it flows and it’s well-thought-out. We were so fortunate to have this space. We were in lockdown, and yet we got to see our parents.”