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How to Maximize Style in a Tiny ADU

Applying the best small space interior design tips to get the most out of this tiny living space.

ADU numbers are rising in LA and beyond. That’s good news for homeowners and anyone looking for the perfect little rental unit. But designing a small space can present challenges, especially if you’re not familiar with best practices for small space interior design. So today, I’m sharing my top tips for decorating your ADU to make the most of a small footprint.

Photo Courtesy of Architectural Digest and AAmp Studio Hollywood.

But First...What is an ADU?

ADU stands for accessory dwelling unit. More specifically, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, “Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) have been known by many names: granny flats, in-law units, backyard cottages, secondary units and more. No matter what you call them, ADUs are an innovative, affordable, effective option for adding much-needed housing in California.”

An ADU is a secondary living unit on a residential property. In California, this is often a detached garage converted to an in-law suite. ADUs can also be a lower level apartment or a repurposed attic, so long as it has a private kitchen and bath as well as a separate entrance from the main home.

California recently changed the guidelines, making ADUs much more achievable for homeowners. These spaces make great rental apartments, but some homeowners are using the extra space for extended family lodging, offices, and music studios.

Why Build an ADU?

The increase in casitas and secondary dwelling units in California is exciting for a number of reasons:

  • These backyard apartments alleviate CA’s massive housing shortage.

  • ADUs can provide extra monthly income from renters.

  • Detached in-law suites allow family to stay close while maintaining privacy (and social distance during the pandemic).

  • ADUs allow older homeowners to age in place, with private, on-site sleeping quarters for live-in caregivers.

  • Backyard cottages are highly adaptable, perfect for home offices, gyms, art or music studios, guest houses, and more.

Finally, as an interior designer, ADUs are a blast to decorate. Small spaces can be tricky. But, when done right, small space design is high impact and gives some freedom for bold design choices.

Homeowners are often amazed at how a design pro can optimize small spaces and make even the tiniest living space highly functional and beautiful.

Small Space Design — How to Decorate an ADU

So what are my best tips for ADU design and decoration? To make the most of your small ADU, follow these 5 interior design recommendations.

Photo Courtesy of Architectural Digest. Photo by Muk van Lil.


We could all use a little getaway right now, amiright? Create an escape with an ADU design inspired by your favorite vacation spot or a location that inspires you.

This doesn’t mean building a kitchsy tiki lounge. (No seriously, please don’t.) But do let your location inspiration influence colors, textures, and artwork selections, for an ADU design that transports you to a blissful destination.

Photo Courtesy of Architecture Digest. Photo by Tess Kelly.


Just because the space is small doesn’t mean you need to think small. A lot of homeowners believe the smaller the space, the more neutral the design needs to be. But I’ve found the opposite to be true.

In fact, I say, the smaller the room, the bolder your design choices should be. A tiny ADU is an opportunity to push the envelope and use vibrant colors, bold prints, or eye catching design elements like statement lighting or fixtures.

Just make sure to select your colors and patterns thoughtfully, without a lot of competing elements. When you use the basic design principles thoughtfully in your ADU, your designs are cohesive and fun instead of being overwhelming.

Photo Courtesy of Luxe Magazine. Photo by Angel Tucker Photo.


If your ADU isn’t a rental, seize the opportunity to design your dream space. Unlike the rest of your home, which you likely share with others who might not share your aesthetic, this space is all you.

So make it yours. Got a vintage guitar collection you’d love to display? Create a showstopping feature wall. In love with a bold color that doesn’t quite fit the rest of your home? Your backyard office unit is the perfect place to try it out.

Photo Courtesy of Architectural Digest. Photo by Gordon Gregory.


Luxe finishes and fixtures are in, and a great choice for small space design — especially if you plan to use your ADU as a rental apartment.

Today’s renters are design savvy and have high expectations for their apartment decor. The good news? In a small space, even designer finishes are affordable since the square footage is low. So select high-quality tile for the kitchen backsplash and gorgeous high-end water taps at the sinks to get top dollar from your investment property.

Photo Courtesy of Architectural Digest. Photo by Lara Swimmer.


When designing small spaces, it’s critical to take advantage of both natural light and outdoor access. Not only does the daylight make spaces feel larger, but in California’s climate, the adjacent patio doubles as entertainment space, increasing the footprint of a small ADU.

Luckily, many ADUs are converted garages. So take advantage of that large garage door opening, and use large sliding or stacking glass doors to create a seamless portal from the outdoors in.

Is an ADU a good investment?

A study in Portland, OR found that ADUs could increase property value by as much as 51%. This number, like any real estate investment, varies greatly depending on the unit itself. The architecture, landscape, and interior design of the ADU itself — and how it adds to the property’s overall aesthetic and utility — all affect the overall value of your ADU addition. That’s why it’s important to design your ADU thoughtfully and with the help of a professional, if possible.

If you’ve been thinking about adding an ADU to your southern California home, schedule a consultation today. Our team can provide plans, estimates, and renderings to help determine if an ADU is a good fit for your property.

Got more questions about interior design for small spaces? Check out our last blog post, outlining 9 basic principles interior designers know — and how you can use them to create beautiful spaces.

Until next time,


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