City ADU Pilot


Accessory Dwelling Unit Pilot Project

ADUs can address our housing crisis by promoting both housing affordability and contextual design.

This collaborative pilot project demonstrates that it’s possible for average homeowners to build a thoughtfully-designed home in their backyard.

Accessory Dwelling Units (also known as ADUs, backyard homes, granny flats, etc.) present an innovative opportunity in LA — serving as a housing model that is contextual, affordable, and feasible. With a housing crisis heightened by the supply shortage, LA-Más teamed up with Mayor Garcetti’s Innovation Team and Council District 1 on an ADU Pilot Project that demonstrates that it is possible for average homeowners to build a thoughtfully-designed home in their backyard.

After an extensive outreach process, homeowners Trent Wolbe and Grace Lee were selected to participate in the Pilot Program. With a construction loan provided by Genesis LA, LA-Más worked with the Highland Park residents to design a new 1,025 sqft, two story, two bedroom home with a 275 sqft garage. This project is made possible with the support of Nous Engineering as the structural engineer, Breen Engineering as the civil engineer, and Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles as the general contractor. Because of these incredible partnerships, this project became an invitation to help redefine the potential of a single family lot – to demonstrate that a well-designed home is possible at a low cost, that innovative financing solutions are possible, and that government can make it easier for average homeowners to build in their backyard. This ADU is a second two-story home on a single-family lot — doubling the lot’s density and challenging the notion of what LA neighborhoods “should” look like.

The ADU site is in a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which meant the architectural character of the home needed to “match” the context around it. The Craftsman-inspired exterior is a playful take on contextual design. The design approach is a reinterpretation of the Craftsman values of natural materials, simplicity of form, and making handcraft visible — all while accommodating the homeowner’s desire to blur the lines between “natural” and “manmade.” To create ambiguity between the interior and the exterior, the interior is painted with a wash of “blue-tral” colors that blend the walls and ceiling into the background of the sky through framed picture windows.

Additional design features:

  • Elements made of natural materials like OSB and plywood are mixed with faux-natural composites like Linoleum and Formica. 

  • Cartoonized Craftsman iconic elements like chair rails, picture frame windows, iconic flower pots outside of Cora’s window, and an elemental balustrade upstairs. 

  • A variety of delightful features including a pink concrete floor, picturesque flower box, and a neon terrazzo kitchen island. 

  • Although interested in expressing the handmade craft of building a home, this project only uses off-the-shelf affordable materials.

Construction of the ADU was completed in summer 2019. The project received a LABC Architectural Award in the Design Concept category in 2017.

This ADU Pilot Project directly inspired the creation of the Backyard Homes Project — an affordable ADU program that gives helps asset-rich, cash-poor homeowners build equity with low-cost, well-designed ADUs that are rented to Section 8 tenants.


Photography by Stephen Schauer.