Looking to Build a Granny Flat in Your Backyard? Meet the Firms and Designs Pre-Approved in LA
Adding a backyard home in Los Angeles is now nearly as easy as buying a barbecue.
Homeowners who for years have wanted to build a granny flat in their backyard, but dreaded the red tape, can now choose from 20 pre-designed homes that the city has already approved for use.
The shift, made official last week, will speed up a weeks-long process and bring more badly needed units to an overpriced market. It also has the potential to elevate the 14 startups and firms building the next generation of homes.
The designs for the stand-alone residences range from a 200-square-foot studio to a 1,200-square foot, two-story, two-bedroom unit. And many of the homes are filled with design flourishes, reflecting the diverse architecture of the city, from a house in the silhouette of a flower to one with a spiral outdoor staircase leading to the roof.
It's no surprise. The program was spearheaded by Christopher Hawthorne, a former architecture critic at the Los Angeles Times and now the city's chief design officer.
The firms are primarily local and startup architecture and design firms, while others are well-known with a history of building granny flats, also know as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.
The standard plans avoid the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety's typical four-to six-week review process and can allow approvals to be completed in as quickly as one day.
Some aspects of the plans can be modified to fit a homeowner's preferences. Eight other designs are pending approval.
Mayor Eric Garcetti believes by adding more such units, the city can diversify its housing supply and tackle the housing crisis. Recent state legislation made it easier to build the small homes on the lot of single-family residences. Since then, ADUs have made up nearly a quarter of Los Angeles' newly permitted housing units.
Because construction costs are relatively low for the granny flats – the pre-approved homes start at $144,000 and can go beyond $300,000 – the housing is generally more affordable. The median home price in L.A. County in January was $690,000.
Here's a quick look at the designs approved so far:
Abodu, based in Redwood City in the Bay Area, exclusively designs backyard homes. In 2019, it worked with the city of San Jose on a program similar to the one Los Angeles is undertaking.
In October, it closed a seed funding round of $3.5 million led by Initialized Capital.
It has been approved for a one-story 340-square-foot studio, a one-story one-bedroom at 500 square feet, and a one-story, 610-square-foot two-bedroom.
The pricing for the studio is $189,900, while the one-bedroom costs $199,900 and the two-bedroom is $259,900.
Amunátegui Valdés Architects
Led by Cristobal Amunátegui and Alejandro Valdés, the firm was founded in 2011 and has offices in Los Angeles and Santiago, Chile. Amunátegui is an assistant professor at the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA.
The firm designs work in various scales and mediums, including buildings, furniture and exhibitions.
Its one-story, two-bedroom with a covered roof deck 934-square-foot unit is pending approval from the city.
Connect Homes has a 100,000-square foot factory in San Bernardino and an architecture studio in Downtown L.A.
It specializes in glass and steel homes and has completed 80 homes in California. Its designs have an aesthetic of mid-century modern California residential architecture.
It has two one-bedroom models pre-approved by the city, one is 460 square feet, which costs $144,500 with a total average project cost of $205,000. The other is 640 square feet, which costs $195,200 with a total project cost of $280,000.
The Los Angeles-based architectural firm founded in 2010 describes itself as having a "bold and irreverent vision." Its projects include urban infill ground-up offices to single-family homes, adaptive re-use of derelict commercial buildings and renovations of historic landmarks.
Its pre-approved design, named "Midnight Room," is a guest house/ studio. Its bedroom can be left open for a loft feel or enclosed as a separate room. The design is a one-story, one-bedroom at 454 square feet.
Escher GuneWardena Architecture
Founded in Los Angeles in 1996, Escher GuneWardena Architecture has received international recognition and has collaborated with contemporary artists, worked on historical preservation projects and more.
The company has been approved for two different one-story, one- or two-bedroom units, one at 532 square feet with an estimated cost of $200,000 and another at 784 square feet with an estimated cost of $300,000. The firm noted the costs depend on site conditions and do not include soft costs. Those could add 10% to 12% to the total construction costs.
First Office is an architecture firm based in Downtown Los Angeles. Its approved ADUs will be built using prefabricated structural insulated panels, which allow for expedited construction schedules and high environmental ratings.
The interior finishes include concrete floors, stainless steel counters and an occasional element of conduit.
There are five options:
- A one-story studio, 309 to 589 square feet
- A one-story one-bedroom, 534 to 794 square feet
- And a one-story two-bedroom, 1,200 square feet
Fung + Blatt Architects
Fung + Blatt Architects is a Los Angeles-based firm founded in 1990.
The city has approved its 795-square-foot, one-story, one-bedroom unit with a roof deck. It estimates the construction cost to be $240,000 to $300,000, excluding landscape, site work and the solar array. Homeowners can also expect other additional costs.
Taalman Architecture/ IT House Inc.
The design team behind "IT House" is Los Angeles-based studio Taalman Architecture. Over the past 15 years, IT House has built more than 20 homes throughout California and the U.S.
The IT House ADU standard plans include the tower, bar, box, cube, pod and court.
The city has approved four options, including:
- A two-story including mechanical room, 660 square feet
- A two-story including mechanical room, 430 square feet
- A one-story studio, 200 square feet
- A one-story including mechanical room, 700 square feet
The firm also has another two projects pending approval: a 360-square-foot one-story studio and a one-story, three-bedroom at 1,149 square feet.
LA Más is a nonprofit based in Northeast Los Angeles that designs and builds initiatives promoting neighborhood resilience and elevating the agency of working-class communities of color. Homeowners who are considering their design must commit to renting to Section 8 tenants.
The city has approved two of LA Más' designs: a one-story, one-bedroom, 528 square feet unit and a one-story, two-bedroom, 768 square feet unit. The firm has another design for a one-story studio pending approval. That design would be the first 3D-printed ADU design in the city's program.
Massachusetts-based Jennifer Bonner/MALL designed a "Lean-to ADU" project, reinterpreting the stucco box and exaggerated false front, both Los Angeles architectural mainstays.
The design has been approved for a 525-square-foot one-story, one-bedroom unit with a 125-square-foot roof deck.
sekou cooke STUDIO
New York-based sekou cooke STUDIO is the sole Black-owned architectural firm on the project.
"The twisted forms of this ADU recalls the spin and scratch of a DJ's records" from the early 90s, the firm said.
Its design, still pending approval, is for a 1,200-square-foot, two bedroom and two bathroom can be adapted to a smaller one-bedroom unit or to include an additional half bath.
New York-based SO-IL was founded in 2008. It has completed projects in Leon, Seoul, Lisbon and Brooklyn.
Its one-story, one-bedroom 693-square-foot unit is pending approval. It is estimated the construction cost will be between $200,000 and $250,000.
Los Angeles-based Welcome Projects has worked on projects ranging from buildings, houses and interiors to handbags, games and toys.
Its ADU is nicknamed The Breadbox "for its curved topped walls and slight resemblance to that vintage counter accessory."
It has been approved for a one-story, one-bedroom 560-square-foot unit.
Founded in 2004, wHY is based in Los Angeles and New York City. It has taken on a landmark affordable housing and historic renovation initiative in Watts.
Its one-story, one- or two-bedroom 480 to 800-square-foot unit is pending approval.