ADU is turning a Santa Monica backyard into a WFH retreat

Nearly 30 years after buying a modest two bedroom, one bathroom home in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Santa Monica, Michael Solomon and Naomi Lieberman turned their attention to their back yard, where they hoped to add a guest house that would house their family and friends.

What seems unthinkable by today’s real estate standards, they bought the 1,300-square-meter house for $ 300,000 in 1994. But decades later, they wanted a little more space and had little success in finding a larger apartment that they both liked. “We were lucky and bought the house right after the Northridge earthquake,” said Solomon. But today, when you really want more space, “there really isn’t a place you can get anywhere,” he added.

Given their deep bond with their long-standing neighborhood, the couple decided to add an additional unit or ADU in the back yard rather than renovating or moving elsewhere.

Living room, bedroom and kitchen of the ADU designed by Minarc. Can you guess where the queen bed is hidden?

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Her decision to stay there comes as no surprise in neighborhoods like hers, where small single-family homes sell for more than $ 2 million and the nearby neighborhoods are some of the most expensive zip codes to buyers in the country.

Set on a large lot with a detached garage and large back yard, the traditional 1939 house was built, along with others in the wing, in the 1930s and 40s for Hughes and McDonnell Douglas aircraft workers.

“We thought the house was awkward to expand,” because it’s so “old-fashioned,” said Solomon, a former music manager and artist manager who now serves as the Southern California representative for Penguin Cold Caps, a UK line of headgear designed to minimize hair loss while chemotherapy. However, he liked the idea of ​​a separate structure, especially if it could accommodate elements of the Midcentury Modern design that he is a fan of.

The couple, interested in eco-friendly design, were inspired by the possibilities of prefabricated construction after visiting a Venice house by Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson from the Santa Monica-based company Minarc.

“We loved the quirky nature of what they did,” said Solomon of the house’s open-air floor plan and eco-friendly building solutions.

So they hired Minarc to make something for them.

A folding bed can be pulled out over a couch.

The living room has a space-saving Clei Queen Murphy bed that can be pulled out over a couch.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Such additional housing units are on the rise in Los Angeles, where the city is relying on ADUs to meet insufficient housing needs: In 2020 alone, the city of Los Angeles received more than 5,000 ADU applications.

The house Minarc built for Solomon and Lieberman is known as the Plús Hús (Icelandic for “Plus House”), and the blueprint is one of several available through the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety’s standard plan: That Program offers 40+ stylish pre-approved ADU designs designed to simplify the approval process.

The pre-fabricated ADU consists of mnmMOD construction panels, a wood-free, fireproof option made from recycled steel, and a durable expanded polystyrene insulation panel.

Minarc’s compositions for the couple reflect the designers’ desire to create sustainable and flexible living space.

“We wanted to change the way we think about building,” said Ingjaldsdóttir about the Plús Hús. “We started thinking about it 10 years ago when we built our first prototype. We checked [using shipping] Containers, but they are not made for living because there is no insulation and the ceilings are low. Why put a lot of energy and work into something that is not made for people? We started thinking about kits for crisis. We thought, ‘How can we help if someone’s house burns down?’ “

A woman is sitting on a sofa in a compact ADU.

Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir in the ADU, which she designed with partner Tryggvi Thorsteinsson.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Impressed by Minarc’s low-waste, sustainable construction concept, Solomon and Lieberman decided to install a custom-made Plús Hús, a 320-square-meter studio that was manufactured in downtown Los Angeles, arrived as a low-profile kit and was on-site in. was assembled one day.

Even if it takes up part of their cherished garden, the tiny studio adds tremendous appeal and a touch of modernism to the backyard, where drought tolerant landscaping and a new lap pool add to the serene addition.

Located next to the garage, the ADU offers natural light and privacy at the same time thanks to narrow, floor-to-ceiling aluminum windows in three corners. A heavy, well-insulated sliding glass door connects the guests with the pool, the back yard and the main house.

An ADU sits behind a lap pool with a waterfall function.

Slim windows provide light and privacy. A lap pool with a waterfall function adds to the tranquility of the backyard.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Inside, the interiors reflect Solomon’s minimalist tastes, with white maple paneling on the walls and ceiling, and a space-saving queen-size Murphy bed from Italian furniture maker Clei (then $ 15,000 at Resource Furniture in West Hollywood) that comfortably offers storage and pull-outs an integrated sofa for overnight guests.

To reduce volatile organic compounds inside the unit, there is no paint or carpeting, and the bathroom tiles are certified for indoor air quality by the non-profit Greenguard Environmental Institute.

A toilet and steam shower-sauna.

A steam shower and a sauna in the bathroom.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Thanks to the structure’s energy-efficient mnmMOD interior wall panels, the ADU is always at a comfortable temperature, Solomon said. “The insulation is great,” he says. “When it’s a warm day outside, it stores the heat and stays warm at night. It is very efficient and cheap to run. “

In the bathroom, the couple treat themselves to a luxury steam shower and sauna from Aquapeutics, but in the kitchen there are inexpensive cabinets from Ikea (FÖRBÄTTRA covers in matt white paired with VOXTORP drawer fronts), Caesarstone worktops, a compact 24-inch refrigerator and an electric hob and microwave for a clean, modern look. “We didn’t want to overcrowd the room,” said Solomon.

A kitchen unit in brilliant white.

Here is a closer look at the kitchen as Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir walks out of the ADU towards the pool and main house.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The small footprint proves that you can have different living areas in just 320 square meters, as the kitchenette, living room and convertible master bedroom, dining room and bathroom each have an individual presence in the common room.

After a six-month construction period, the project was completed in January 2020 at a cost of around 150,000 US dollars due to expansions. Minarc also offers one-bedroom units starting at $ 79,000 for materials, with custom details like skylights, windows, and door upgrades for an additional fee.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the couple has only hosted one guest since graduating from ADU. Still, the ADU is a forward-looking step, Solomon said, as more and more Americans are working from home as coronavirus variants emerge. Lieberman, a psychotherapist, has given up her 20-year post and now uses the ADU as a virtual therapist’s office.

“We didn’t build it for that reason,” said Solomon, “but she loves working in this room.”

As someone who values ​​the ADU’s connection to nature, Solomon said that the ADU’s only downside is the lack of abundant sunlight. “The bathroom and dining area in the back corner are a bit dark. So I will use solar light tubes with light-collecting lenses. “

The ADU may have been a spatial compromise, but it was a good compromise for the couple: Solomon and Lieberman can stay in their beloved neighborhood while Solomon works from his office in the garage and Lieberman works in the ADU. You can enjoy the second bathroom you’ve always wanted and hopefully one day when the coronavirus pandemic ends, you can have your family in the room. Looking ahead, Solomon said the ADU could potentially be used as a shelter for a caregiver should either of them ever need help.

The ADU even has a rowing machine if you want to sweat.

A rowing machine is hidden in a corner next to a table and chair.

The flexible space can be used as a fitness studio, office or guest house.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

“We have everything we wanted in a small lot,” said Solomon. “I wanted something that looked good. If I look into the back yard now, I see a garage from 1939, a pool, a cozy lawn for our dog and a guest house that was built two years ago. They all go together wonderfully. That’s the look I wanted. And it’s so private that my neighbors can’t see me. If I could be a nudist, I would. “


We asked Minarc to break down the budget for a typical additional housing unit. Applicants for the standard plan select an approved plan, then the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety staff review factors for the specific site, including compliance with zone regulations and foundation requirements. Note that the city’s standard pre-approved plans may not be approved for use in certain situations or site conditions. The standard plans are drawn up by the planning offices and are owned and purchased directly from them as plan owners. Minarc is also working with ERLA Construction Services to facilitate construction as a contractor, but this is not required. Homeowners are welcome to use their preferred construction company or obtain a building permit to “build as a homeowner”. With these reservations, here is a general overview of the costs of a Plús Hús ADU:

Site planning and approval of $ 6,500

City fees $ 2,500 to $ 5,500

Site work and utilities $ 5,000-20,000

Plus house materials $ 47,000- $ 59,000

Foundation and assembly $ 56,000

Estimated total cost of $ 120,000 to $ 147,000

A woman and a man stand together under a skylight.

Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson, co-founders of Minarc, in their Santa Monica office.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

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