As a teenager, your greatest desire may have been to move out of your parents’ home — like a typical rebel you wanted a living space that gave you privacy and independence. When you realized you don’t even know how to boil water, that dream may have gone with the wind. But an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) equipped with a kitchen would have been perfect to teach you responsibility.
Nothing says adulting like managing and bagging groceries, and being responsible for your own meals, right? Not only is a compact ADU kitchen the perfect starter kitchen for young adults, it can also be fully functional — even in a smaller space — for renters or guests. Let’s find out how to create an ADU kitchen within an ADU!
What Is an ADU — And Who Is It For?
Whether they function as a living space or guest house for teens, elderly parents and in-laws, or family members with health conditions or impairments, or are used as a short-term or long-term rental, ADUs have become as popular with homeowners in the U.S. as recipe videos on TikTok.
Families who want to downsize can even move into the ADU and find tenants for their main house to increase rental income. Lastly, they can even be used as a home office — an idea that’s become especially desirable as more people work from home and need a private, quiet space.
Basically, ADUs are an effective solution to growing population and housing issues as well — they follow the theory of “filling in” as opposed to “spreading out.”
Understanding an Accessory Dwelling Unit
When a home has a second living/residential unit (detached or attached to the main home), that unit is called an accessory dwelling unit. The key word, however, is “dwelling” — an ADU is meant for living in.
As described on Los Angeles County’s Department of Regional Planning website, an ADU must have permanent provisions for living (including bathroom/toilet facilities), sleeping, cooking, and eating, among other specifications. While requirements change with each state, they’re more or less in this ball park.
Conceptually, ADUs, like Insta yoga gurus, are flexible. The size depends on your needs and pre-existing home size — going from less than 200 sq. ft., (like the Shed Tiny House from DEN), all the way up to 800 sq. ft. for an attached ADU or 1,200 sq. ft. detached.
Single-family homes and multi-family residences can both accommodate ADUs. Before you jump onto the ADU bandwagon, check your zone laws. You wouldn’t want to upset your friendly, Leslie Knope-type neighbor.
The best way for you to build an ADU is to connect with companies like DEN Outdoors. We can help you figure out zoning and building laws, permits, and if your land is viable for an ADU; give you budget guidance; and connect you with professionals who can help you construct your new ADU. We guide you from the planning and ideating stage, and offer wallet-friendly packages (which include design blueprints, budget spreadsheets, material details, and more) to help bring your ADU to life.
Types of ADUs
Naturally, the most pressing need in an ADU is creating a comfy, stress-free, private little space — one that makes sure you’re not disturbed up there in the main house. (You definitely don’t want to hear your teenager blasting heavy metal at 2 a.m. or your guests clanking around pots and pans in the wee hours).
A perfect example of a self-contained detached ADU is the 325-square-foot Outpost from DEN. It sleeps two to four, has a mini kitchen and bathroom with a shower, and it’s a gorgeous design, to boot.
So should you opt for an attached ADU? Detached? Above a garage? Tucked neatly in your basement? Here’s what you need to know:
- Backyard structure ADU: The classic detached accessory dwelling unit, or DADU, this is totally independent and self-sustaining. You may also know it as a carriage house, casita, or granny flat.
- Basement ADU: This is when a basement is entirely remodeled to become habitable. To qualify as a habitable ADU, basements in many municipalities may need to be equipped with their own plumbing, ventilation, ADU kitchen, and bathroom.
- Garage conversion ADU: Simply put, a garage conversion ADU is when the garage or a part of it is converted into an ADU.
- Attached ADU: Like the name suggests, this is an addition to your house, but one that’s independent and self-sustaining with a separate entrance. Some people call it a mother-in-law suite. An attached ADU shares a wall with the main home, while a DADU has a little land in between it and the primary dwelling.
What Makes a Good ADU Kitchen?
Considering an ADU is primarily a living space, the floor plans tend to include a living room, bathroom, sleeping quarters, and a functional kitchen. An ADU kitchen is pretty much a normal kitchen except it needs to maximize usage of space, be easy to walk around in, and be energy-efficient. Ideally, it should be ergonomically designed with a functional triangular work area that goes fridge-sink-stove.
Before you start designing, look into the rules for ADUs and the type of kitchen they need to have, since it will depend on where you live.
While planning, check zoning requirements — some cities and municipalities have certain square footage requirements for the kitchen; others require the addition of certain appliances.
Features of an Efficient ADU Kitchen
As described above, the most-effective ADU kitchen is one that is space-saving, energy-efficient, and user-friendly. Designing an ADU kitchen is a lot of fun because you have the opportunity to use multi-purpose appliances and furniture, and come up with clever ideas for optimum use of space.
Would you like to live in a rental with kitchen appliances that rival spaceships? Or inconvenience elderly parents with complex gadgets when they barely know how to use a smartphone?
Remember, in a brand-new ADU, a user-friendly kitchen with easy-to-use appliances that don’t require a lot of specialized knowledge is key. Make sure there are plenty of electrical outlets, or you’ll find coffee being made in the bedroom and staining your pristine sheets.
Firstly, this is the more environment-friendly approach. Secondly, energy-efficient appliances help keep the cost of your electric bill down. This is nice peace of mind to have, especially if those in the ADU have a bad habit of leaving the lights on when they leave.
Naturally ADUs are smaller than a typical American home, so a key feature is to have multi-purpose appliances and space-saving cabinetry. Think: a kitchen island/prep station/dining counter, a sink with a dishwasher tucked neatly under it, a mini fridge instead of a full-size fridge, and a washer-dryer combo.
Types of ADU Kitchens
The type of ADU kitchen you opt for depends on the space size, your interior design style, your requirements, and your budget. These four sizes and types cover all budgets, and of course, the pretty decor elements are all up to you. P.S. — Pinterest is your BFF for design ideas.
Think of this as a mini kitchen for your mini home. It’s usually in a shared space with an open-plan living room, and has only two burner stoves on the cooktop. No matter the size of the kitchen, a space equipped with small appliances like a coffee maker, microwave, and toaster is expected (and always appreciated by guests — even if that “guest” is your angsty 18-year-old).
A kitchenette should be minimally designed, which lends itself to Scandinavian style — a clean approach that combines function with aesthetic.
A great example of an ADU project is the Essential Guest House from DEN. The 550-square-foot design sits separately from a primary home but can easily connect to other buildings by a walkway. Here, the shared kitchenette has 24-inch-tall cabinets, and all the basic amenities you need.
For all you budding Martha Stewarts, this kitchen has all the bells and whistles without being too fancy — think four-burner stoves, a full refrigerator, toaster, dishwasher, and sink. You’ll have to sacrifice on the amount of storage space because the cabinetry will be less here.
Hey, you gotta lose some to win some.
You can find a real-life version of this in DEN’s design of the 1,000-square-foot Essential House. Along with two bedrooms and a full bathroom it has a full kitchen with a gas or wood stove, and 24-inch-tall cabinets. A standard kitchen can be more personalized design-wise since it’s larger.
For larger ADUs, this means having a larger kitchen space with extra upper and lower cabinets for storage! Architectural Digest has some great ideas on storage solutions in the kitchen. And if you’re anything like us, with an affinity for coffee mugs and totally unnecessary but adorable heart-shaped ramekins, you’re gonna need them.
If you have a spacious kitchen, you can really indulge your design preferences and explore any type of aesthetic, from rustic to farmhouse to modern.
Welcome to your warm, open-plan, dining-meets-kitchen space, where the wafting smells of pie will lure hungry kiddos to the table. Here, a dedicated kitchen island space along with a full kitchen and upgraded appliances takes your ADU from liveable to luxe.
Find it in DEN’s 880-square-foot Barnhouse Retreat, and pin it up for inspo on your moodboard!
Handy Interior Design Tips for Your ADU Kitchen
Small spaces can be a little harder to work with, but there are clever ways to make the most of the space and still create a warm, cozy nook that fulfills your requirements. Here are some quick tips to help you design an ADU kitchen:
- Bring in natural light: Use large windows in a small space to harness the most natural light so it doesn’t look dark and dingy.
- Opt for taller ceilings: While ADUs have ceiling height restrictions, go as high as you can to create an illusion of space in your kitchen.
- Convenience is key: The ADU kitchen should have a clean layout that makes it easy to walk between the stove, fridge, and sink without any obstruction. This way, meal prep and cleanup will go better.
- Use floating shelves: In a smaller space, these and hanging racks take up less room while also giving you the storage space you need.
Getting Started On Your ADU and ADU Kitchen
If you were wary of getting on the ADU bandwagon, you now know all about an ADU, why an ADU kitchen is so important, and how you can pick and design the ADU kitchen of your dreams.
So if you’re ready to begin, DEN's design packages will help you get cooking!