Accessory Dwelling Units: Beyond the Granny Flat

by Scott Murfey

With the newly increased freedom of building an accessory dwelling unit—an ADU—on your property because of recent California legislation comes a multitude of options for how to use your ADU structure.

Commonly known as the granny flat, an ADU is a worthwhile investment to your luxury home even if you don’t plan to use it as an income property or to stash visiting or extended-stay relatives (but the space is still nice to have for them in a pinch). Because of the new residential codes, ADUs still need to have electricity and plumbing, so make sure your design plan comes with a bathroom. The great part of ADUs is their versatility—you can use them for just about anything.

Home office

Working from home is always more effective when you have a dedicated space. This is even more true of the detached backyard office: You can actually leave your home life behind and move to another building, even if it is a twenty-foot walk. Just that little separation has been shown to increase productivity of professionals who work from home, maximizing efficiency so that you actually have time to enjoy your luxury home.

Another upside to consider is that with a home office, there are ways to get special tax deductions for your home office space. There are two methods of deductions, the regular option and the simplified option, in which you multiply your home office’s square footage by $5, up to 300 square feet. Your home office must be your regular office, used exclusively for business, or it must be the place where you meet with clients. For more information on the types of home office deductions, visit

Home studio

For the creatives, maybe you want the look of an artist’s loft to write your memoirs, or maybe you are working on a collection of paintings to show at a gallery. One caveat is that if you’re setting up your own home recording studio, this will require a special audio/visual setup by a professional, as well as soundproofing, and acoustic paneling—it is a separate beast from a more versatile dwelling unit.

But if you are a professional artist and your home studio is your primary place of work, then the home office tax deduction mentioned above may apply to you.

Yoga studio or meditation room

Nothing says “luxury home” like your own dedicated space for exercise, yoga, or mediation. Make sure that your design has enough room to fully extend with room leftover for additional movement, or it will be a pretty stilted exercise.

Home brewery or cask room

Why not? Maybe you’ll create the next great Southern California microbrew.

Reading retreat

Ideal if you need a quiet place away from everyone to finish that book you started four months ago or you need to hide from the rest of your family for a couple of hours. Because this is a dwelling unit and not a shed, it will have a lock to keep everyone else out of your hair.

There are many companies that make prefab sheds and modular structures with customizable options, or you can have one built to your own specifications. You want to make sure your ADU has plenty of natural light coming in from large windows. For one thing, you want to take advantage of any outdoor landscaping that can provide a good view. But any work in an office or for a studio will necessitate an airy space with windows that can open, especially if you work with paint or other chemicals used in art.

Having a versatile, airy design will also be an asset to your home’s resale value. French doors or a large sliding door, plenty of windows, or even a skylight feature are critical to giving your accessory dwelling unit the feel of an actual room and not a garden shed.

With a luxury home, you want your accessory dwelling unit—whether it serves as your office, your studio, or your retreat—to fit into the design of your home and not have the feel of an afterthought. Or a creepy shed.

Next month, we’ll get into how your backyard can be its own architectural feature (no creepy sheds allowed).

If you want more information on building your backyard office or home studio or if you have questions about any part of the luxury home design and building process, visit us at

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