Budget Breakdown: Architect Transforms His Garage Into a Finely-Tuned ADU for $75,000

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Architect Valery Augustin of DNA Architecture + Design and his wife, Kim, an art historian, had just 60 days to find another home when the owner of their beloved three-bedroom apartment decided to sell . “We got this great deal on a house in West Los Angeles,” says Valery. “We were paying something ridiculous, like $2,000 a month.”

They considered trying to keep the house, but it wasn’t meant to be. “The asking price was well above our maximum cap,” says Valery. “We thought, okay, we’re not going to be able to stay here.”

At first the couple looked for other rentals, but after 20 days they changed course and decided to buy their own house. “The project was to build an accessory apartment, because it was too much for us to buy a house,” explains Valéry. An ADU would help offset the cost of the mortgage – so he says they ‘scraped all the pennies together’ and started viewing properties.

“I wanted something bold and fresh,” says architect Valery Augustin of the hue of his ADU’s front door, painted Tangerine Dream by Dunn Edwards. The door is flanked by horizontal redwood slats and gray acrylic stucco.

In the end, the duo fell for a 1940s bungalow with independent garage in their favorite neighborhood, just 15 minutes from the beach. “Ladera Heights is a diverse community located in the heart of Los Angeles,” says Valery. “The neighborhood reflects our multicultural family, and that meant a lot to us.” Young families, nearby parks and the ability to walk have added to its appeal. “We made an offer and we were lucky,” says Valery enthusiastically.

$5,100
HVAC
$1,450
Insulation
$5,825
Electric
$1,800
Lumber
$5,000
Work on the site
$1,800
Landscaping
$1,200
Sewer connection
$4,000
New roof
$1,250
Redwood fence and facade
$1,600
Custom Stainless Steel Canopies
$270
Exterior lighting
$7,517
Finishes
$740
the Windows
$6,200
Control seals and sealing
$1,400
To paint
$6,500
Indoor furnishings
$980
Doors
$900
Skylights
$6,034
kitchen appliances
$9,705
Cabinets and hardware
$349
Kitchen Sink & Faucet
$2,600
Kitchen counters
$748
Bathroom faucet and vanity
$1,800
Shower, bath and toilet fittings
Total: $74,768

With the keys in hand, the couple set about transforming the existing garage into the ADU of their dreams. From the start, Valery wanted abundant natural light and a fully equipped kitchen with very durable surfaces. “Stylistically, I always look at open spaces, natural light, simple things,” he says. “Daylight makes any space feel bigger than it is, so I try to emphasize that in the design.”

The couple also wanted to preserve the privacy of their family and tenants. And since they were working on a tight budget, they had to make cost-effective choices – Valery decided to serve as the project’s general contractor to help offset the expenses.

The garage door became the main entrance to the new unit. The new structure retains the same square footage and features a private patio out back.

Demolition debris piles up in the driveway as the crew prepares to pour a new concrete slab. The ADU also needed a new roof, which cost $4,000 of the budget.

After getting the permits in June 2020, the couple kicked off the project by lowering the garage to the posts. “We just gutted it,” Valery says. The couple relied on a single handyman for most of the work, although they also hired subcontractors for the plumbing, electrical, tiling and cabinetry.

Once the hull was prepped, the couple opted for polished concrete floors instead of hardwood. “It seems counter-intuitive, but overall, pouring new concrete was cheaper,” says Valery. “I liked the durability and ease of not worrying about a wood floor.”

Framing the ADU cost around $1,800. Site work totaled $5,000 and electricity was $5,825.

Insulation for the main living space is $1,450 of the total budget.

Originally the garage had a flat ceiling, but Valéry opted to vault the new living space. “I thought it was an important thing to do, to make the space feel bigger,” he says. “We had planned for four skylights, but ended up with just two, which I think is enough.” They covered the garage opening with wooden slats, except for the entrance, and they cut an opening in the back of the structure for the glass slides to connect to a private patio.

“If you don’t seal the redwood, it will turn gray after a while,” says Valery. “A lot of the design choices were about durability and maintenance.”

The front facade is accented with redwood slats. The low maintenance wood pairs well with the white trim and a frosted gray acrylic stucco. As you cross the threshold, the concrete floor changes from rough to polished.

To create a sense of privacy, Valery designed a series of full-height redwood walls that lead to the entrance of the ADU. At first, the couple considered painting the front door a fresh green, but they eventually landed on a cheerful, electric orange. “I like bright, punchy colors – a lot of architects shy away from color, but I really like it,” says Valery.

With the project located a short walk from their home, the couple observed their color options daily before making the final choice. “I painted swatches on a piece of wood, and we laid out paint chips and looked at them daily to see which ones really grew on us.”

Valery spent $6,200 on the concrete floors, which involved pouring a new slab, installing control joints, grinding, polishing and sealing. “We just put a coat of sealer on it and they ground it down a bit,” says Valery.

The new ADU sits in the original garage footprint and provides tenants with 390 square feet of smartly designed living space. The ceiling drops as you enter the kitchen and bathroom, to make room for the air conditioning ducts. “It also defines that space,” Valery notes. “The unit is designed in thirds: the doors line up with the middle third, and the kitchen and bathroom line up under the drop ceiling.”

The kitchen counters, made of fabricated white quartz, cost $2,600, including material, fabrication and a clean waterfall edge. The backsplash is Inedita textured tile in five by five inch squares. “They’re really beautiful, they have this sculpted shape,” says Valery. “We thought high contrast with black was nice.”

The couple opted for a full kitchen and to take the space to the next level, they spent $1,975 on a panel fridge. “It was hard to justify, even for me, but for me it’s about the quality of the design,” says Valery. “You can buy a fridge for $400 – and that might have been smarter – but I wanted a sleek, sleek design, so I chose front-panel appliances.”

The custom cabinets were another big investment – they cost $9,525 and were made by Rowla Studios. “They make beautiful cabinets,” says Valery. “They’re the kind of carpenters you want to work with if you ever get the chance.”

The plinths, walls and ceiling are painted in High Reflective White by Sherwin Williams. “My usual is Dunn Edwards 3560,” says Valery, “but on this project I veered away from the script.” Two skylights, costing a total of $600, bring in natural light from above.

To provide privacy, Valery avoided placing windows along the back wall. “I didn’t want any openings in our yard,” he says, “so it made sense to load the kitchen and bathrooms on that side of the space.”

Rental finishes were $7,517 including tiling and installation costs. Valery prefers laying tiles on the ceiling, which makes a big impression. The white hexagonal floor/wall tiles are by Antik, and the tiles in the bath area are by Demettra in Sculpture Grey.

Views to the private back patio are framed by $800 double sliding doors. Furnishing the interior, including the bed, tables and chairs, cost around $6,500.

Ultimately, Valery highlights concrete floors and thoughtful shopping online and at Home Depot as sources of his biggest savings. “I think it’s important to find and spend money in the right place,” he says. “I skimped in some areas so I could splurge in the kitchen.”

He also ordered materials himself and had them installed by subcontractors. “If you can get the parts yourself, you can save money,” he says. “During the pandemic, my office was in the main house, so 10, 12 or 15 times a day there was a knock on the door. I was constantly on site, which allowed me to be readily available.”

The unit’s private rear patio is a standout feature. “Guests love sitting there with the bougainvillea, just having a little private space to themselves,” Valery says. Landscaping costs for the project were $1,800.

“I’m not going to lie; it was a game-changer,” Valery says of their decision to buy a house and build an rental property. Now that it is complete, ADU has a 5.0 rating on Airbnb and is proud that the space is enjoyed by many guests. “We have long-term tenants; people who stay at least 3 to 6 months at a time,” he says. “But we also have time set aside for my in-laws. People seem to be really responding, and that warms my heart.”

Valery’s favorite part of design is not an element at all, but a time of day. “What I love is when I sit in the place at sunset, which isn’t too often because it’s pretty solidly rented out now,” he says. “The light comes in through the private back patio which is one of the best things we’ve done – people love it.”

Ladera Heights ADU Floor Plan by DNA Architecture + Design

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