Los Angeles–based firm LA-Más has designed a new twist on a potential solution to the city’s affordable housing shortage. The studio released a suite of designs for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) earlier this year that are intended for moderate- and low-income homeowners interested in making supplemental rental income from their properties. The designs are part of the Backyard Homes Project, an initiative led by the firm that will assist homeowners in building ADUs meant to be rented to low-income households.

The ADUs take advantage of California state policies passed in 2016 that gave most single-family homeowners in the state the right to create extra rental units on their lots. After the law was passed, LA-Más received funding from the Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LA LISC) to study ways to deploy detached backyard home ADUs that could be rented to tenants paying with Section 8 housing vouchers. Working with a variety of local community organizations and experts, the firm set about designing backyard homes that would be functional and affordable, and would avoid the emerging cliche of the techno-sleek ADU.

Axonometric diagram of 21 different ADUs

LA-Más designed ADUs in a range of sizes and styles. (Courtesy LA-Más)

“We’re oversaturated with a design that looks like it came out of Dwell,” Elizabeth Timme, LA-Más’s co-executive director said about the ADUs currently being offered by startups and others. Rather than designing giant iPhones for living in, Timme and her team wanted to create ADUs that would be “playfully engaging” and “adapt to the context and character of the community.”

LA-Más designed ADUs in a range of sizes, from studios to two-bedroom houses, in three different styles: craftsman, modern, and Spanish. Renderings show all three styles using a mix of bright, saturated colors, and playful twists on traditional design elements. The proposed ADUs are decidedly not generic. One of the Spanish-style designs features a pair of 2D pink-and-blue Tuscan columns that wouldn’t look out of place in a Charles Moore project. The designs “did come out of a postmodernist design philosophy,” Timme said, referring to them as “postmodern-plus.”

The ADUs and their coloring-book style representations potentially bring liveliness to affordable housing, an area that can sometimes be weighted down with bureaucracy and economically-driven aesthetics. “A lot of people are excited that they could be doing an ADU that’s fun and playful,” Timme said.

Illustrations of three different ADUs showing interiors and exteriors

The designs are rendered in bright colors, accentuating the playful “postmodern-plus” aesthetics of the Spanish, modern, and craftsman styles. (Courtesy LA-Más)

LA-Más is making the designs available to participants in the Backyard Homes Project, which offers financing, design, and construction support to eligible homeowners. The studio will work with participants to adapt the designs of the participants’ choosing to their respective sites. Participants must live in a single-family house in the City of Los Angeles and agree to rent out the ADU to Section 8 tenants for at least five years. The project will provide landlord training, project management for design and construction of the ADU, and an optional mortgage product to those selected to be part of the program.

Homeowners interested in participating can submit applications until May 1, 2019. More information on applying is available here.

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