AKJ Architects LLC

Beauty, Creativity and Efficiency – Attached Dwelling Units (ADUs)

In this blog post, we’d like to give you an idea of what it’s like to add an ADU or DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit) to your residential property, to help you make an educated decision about whether this is a good idea for you. We’re using our Toonuyah ADU as an example of what this process looks like and what this type of space can evolve into.

ADUs and Why Seattle is So into Them

It’s 2022 in Seattle, Washington, and the ADU, aka, Accessory Dwelling Unit market is in high gear. How so? Well, take a quick drive through just about any Seattle neighborhood, from Ballard to SoDo, West Seattle to the Central District, and you’ll see a significant number of new construction and remodels going on – many of them including ADUs. 

Often referred to as Mother-In-Law units in the past, these units serve a few appealing purposes. The owner of a property may indeed be able to house family members in these attached or detached units; however, they may also serve as income generating rental units, making them appealing as investments. 

In this blog post, we’d like to give you an idea of what it’s like to add an ADU or DADU (Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit) to your residential property, to help you make an educated decision about whether this is a good idea for you. We’re using our Toonuyah ADU as an example of what this process looks like and what this type of space can evolve into. 

Recent History of ADUs in Seattle

In 2019, the Seattle City Council passed ADU Reforms that helped spur the ADU boom in Seattle by updating building and zoning code requirements. The code revisions encouraged development of an ADU or DADU on a residential property by making these dwelling units more feasible on all zoned residential lots, thereby making it an appealing choice for property owners looking to densify/add space. 

What AKJ Loves About ADUsHelping clients develop a strong design concept for their ADU’s makes for an interesting and creative challenge. In the case of our example, Toonuyah ADU, it was going back to the property’s historic character. It’s about embracing the opportunity to get creative, taking what you have and creating an aesthetic that works for your home, resulting in a truly beautiful space. A space that you have a personal connection to and that brings you joy. As an architect, I love the creative challenge of making the most of the space available, incorporating the details and elevating the design to meet your vision collaboratively. 


What makes it interesting for me is that these aren’t spaces for a luxury 6-foot tub, they’re spaces where we get to see how much we can do in a small amount of space. It’s totally possible to create a beautiful one-bedroom apartment in 800 square feet. With 500-800 square feet, you might be able to create a guest suite for family (we love the idea of multi-generational living and aging in place). Other options include a studio or workshop, a gorgeous at-home office, a rec room for flexibility with the kids, or even a library or learning suite. Consider creating an exterior deck for an easily accessible outdoor space. ADUs can allow someone who might live in an apartment building to move into a neighborhood while maintaining a small footprint. As more people fill up the city, ADUs allow the beautiful areas surrounding the city to remain vast and green.

Our Process

At AKJ Architects, we follow a well-defined process for our projects grown out of our diverse experience. We start in collaboration on how to efficiently build this type of space onto your home. Structurally we need to answer questions such as: Where will the access points be? How do we give the resident private access to the unit? Do we want access from the attached garage or elsewhere? Where will we place the staircase? Where will the dedicated car parking space be located? Is the size of the garage limiting the potential of the space?


In an ADU things are designed to be small and efficient. Your kitchen may feature a range that’s 24” wide, a single sink, compact work area, and a smaller dishwasher. You may decide to sacrifice the giant TV when it doesn’t feel inviting in the space. Designing creative places to store off-season clothes, vacuums etc., is an interesting challenge, and utilizing clever features such as hooks going up stairs for hanging coats is an example of a creative opportunity adding to the charm of the space. Creating a unique, beautiful and creative space that makes efficient use of every square inch, while maintaining a spacious and open feel, is the name of the game. 

We can see examples of storage here.

If you decide to create an ADU on your property, you’ll be required to provide the city with a comprehensive permit package including the dwelling unit building design and placement on your property, all the way down to details for water drainage when new bathrooms and kitchens are added. Your architect will help you design your project with these permitting requirements in mind.


An example of something we had to get creative with were the handcrafted tiles for the kitchen which were not the typically sized, requiring each of the surrounding tiles to be custom cut. Another element of this part of the project was the close collaboration between AKJ and Pam Pearce, mocking up patterns and placement for the tile to work with outlets and appliances in a beautiful configuration. 


Project Timelines

Schedules vary of course, but projects range from the short-term with completion in a year or less to the longer-term projects of around a-year-and-a-half – depending on who’s building it and how much help you want. We’ve seen various delays since Covid began. Anything from tiles to appliances to paint can be delayed due to shipping or supply issues, but we do our best as a team to adapt to the situation. 


These images from our Toonuyah ADU project show just how creative you can get with a small space. The final project is being used as a carriage house guest suite for the owner’s family, but it carries the potential of becoming a rental property as well. We love how beautiful this space is while pushing the envelope of what we were able to add for efficiency and function. 

This open kitchen plan has everything you need – accessibility, lots of storage, and is bright and beautiful all at once.

If you’re ready to get creative and have some fun putting together a beautiful space, contact us to start the conversation! We’re here to help. 

Arlene Kisiel-Jermann

Arlene brings over twenty-five years of design experience to her company. As a professional who strives to provide exceptional customer service, creative design skills, and an eye for detail, AKJA has the experience and training to lead your residential project from concept through completion.

Arlene received her Master in Architecture Degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, her Master in Science in Interior Design from the University of Massachusetts and her Bachelor degree from Skidmore College with a major in Art & minor in Spanish. Arlene's combination of creative degrees in Architecture, Interior Design and Fine Art give her a holistic approach to residential design and enable her to quickly comprehend and efficiently collaborate with other professionals. At MIT, she coupled her studies with graduate courses at the MIT Center for Real Estate where she studied business. Since a young age, Arlene has had numerous academic opportunities to travel throughout America, Europe and Asia and learn about art and culture throughout the world.

Since 1987, Arlene has been privileged and trusted to work on residential and commercial projects with multi-million dollar budgets. She has managed all phases of residential design, architecture, and construction for well-established Seattle architecture firms such as Sullivan Conard Architects, NBBJ, and General Contractor Toth Construction, a Seattle based custom residential builder. Arlene launched her own firm in 2007 to design new and renovated homes, cabins and condominiums ranging in size from 500sf to 10,000sf. She brings passion, creativity, a commitment to succeed, and a powerful blend of skills, education and experience to every residential architecture project.

Stacey Lara

Stacey Lara has a wide range of experience specializing in efficiency and human wellness. She's a transformational coach with an administrative background in the medical, engineering, landscape architecture and architecture industries.

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