A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) – PART II
Cut away view of a 2-level, spatially efficient ADU.

Section view of a 2-level, spatially efficient ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit).

When thinking about building ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) it is imperative to not think of them as full houses. That is the first thing you need to realize when deciding to build one of these Accessory Dwelling Units on your property. It is often difficult for clients to make informed decisions that seem like sacrifices to their normal lifestyles when conceptualizing the layout of a new ADU. Space is at a premium and it is necessary to consider smaller appliances, less storage, and less stuff. As we have been working with a variety of clients on ADU projects over the past year we have been gathering appliances and other space saving tricks that we highly recommend considering.

Small Kitchen Decisions

When considering kitchen layouts it is important to understand that there will be minimal counter space. It is usually difficult to fit in large islands and other features common in contemporary kitchens. However, there are a few ways to maximize counter room by scaling down the appliances you are used to. The biggest space saver is by rethinking the fridge. Considering only one or two people max will be living in an ADU there is no reason to have a full, family sized, refrigerator. It is easy to allow the grocery store to store your food and thus save space within the dwelling. It does mean a change of lifestyle, shopping more frequently for one or two meals at a time rather than large shopping trips. This can also help save money by reducing the amount of food that goes bad, ending up in the compost or trash. To address these issues we highly recommend under the counter, drawer style refrigerators. They are simple, elegant, are easy to access and allow the counter to be extended over it. It can even be finished to blend in with the under-counter cabinetry so it doesn’t stand out as an appliance but rather blends in with the kitchen aesthetic.They are a bit more expensive than your standard fridge but in our opinion they are worth the investment to increase the usability of the kitchen.

Another kitchen related decision is whether or not to include a dishwasher. Again, it is our belief that small living doesn’t necessitate all of the same conveniences we are used to in full sized houses. We feel that with smaller spaces and less people, there will also be less dishes and kitchen mess. For this reason we suggest removing the dishwasher altogether. It is an added expense and takes up a lot of space that could be better used for storage. However, if you can’t imaging living without the modern convenience of a dishwasher than we again recommend a smaller sized, drawer style unit. This takes up much less space than a standard dishwasher and can also be blended in with the cabinetry materials.

Combining an under counter fridge, small drawer style dishwasher, as well as considering a extra narrow, apartment style stovetop/oven can make compact kitchen more efficient and usable. Counter space is always at a premium in any kitchen layout and these small tricks or lifestyle decisions can make a huge impact on the livability of the space.


The other appliances that are challenging to accommodate in a small living space are the washer/dryer units. We almost always recommend stackable units and are now even suggesting that clients invest in a 2-in-1 Washer/Dryer combo, which one client recently did. Even though stackables save floor space, every inch of volume needs to be efficiently used in an ADU. The vertical space above a 2-in-1 combo can be better used as a linen closet or storage for detergent and other items. In the Sustainable Portland ADU we had to fit the laundry under the stairs and thus a 2-in-1 unit was the only option.

Downsized Furniture and Storage

This downsizing must occur beyond just appliances. Rooms, closets, furniture also must be conceived as smaller and more efficient than what we are used to in full sized homes. Whittling down our personal items, like clothes, linens, books and other accumulative things is a must if you are considering moving into the ADU. Otherwise, you have to assume any tenants will be doing a similar purge of personal belongings. Closets will be small, necessitating less clothing. Beds should be in the Double (or Queen size max) to fit comfortably in a small bedroom. Loves-seats might replace full couches and small tables are chosen over full dining tables. To make an efficient ADU built-in shelving, creative cabinets and hidden storage can be incorporated throughout the design. We recently designed a fold-out murphy bed so a room could double as a bedroom and office. We have designed built-in cabinets below staircases, fold up benches with storage below for dining areas, and multi-tiered closets with built in dressers. Each client has unique needs and the storage throughout the ADU needs to creatively solve their specific challenge.

 For A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) – PART I click here:

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Video: Accessory Dwelling Units – Take the First Step

Here is an excellent video by the Oregon DEQ about building Accessory Dwelling Units or “Granny Flats.” It offers lots of great reasons to build an ADU on your property, either for rental income, relatives to live in or visit, or even to move into yourself as you rent out your main house. Propel Studio has been designing many of these projects over the past couple years and think they are a fantastic way to increase the value of your property, bring in supplemental income and creating sustainable, affordable housing stock in our wonderful Portland neighborhoods.

You can check out our previous post titled A Design Guide to Portland ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) for more information on this project type, frequently asked questions, and how we can help you create one on your property.

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Lents Story Yard Grand Opening

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Monday August 18th saw the grand opening of Lents Story Yard, Propel Studio’s first public project. Over 100 Lents community members and business owners converged on the site to celebrate with us. With a grant provided by the Portland Development Commission, and collaborating with ROSE Community Development and photographer Dawn DeAno we turned a vacant lot in Lents Town Center into a community asset. We utilized gabion baskets to build walls that defined space, paths, and supported the photography exhibit, and wood benches. A stage was located in the center of the site and we hope it will be activated throughout the next 18 months by local community groups and neighbors. Tis project is a great example of our dedication to Pubic Interest Design. We believe architects have the ability and responsibility to improve our communities and quality of life. We take this responsibility seriously and are looking for new opportunities to collaborate with communities on projects like this. If you want more information about the photography exhibit, or would like to hold an event at the site, visit the website


– Portland Development Commission
– Regional Arts and Culture Council
– The Kinsman Foundation
– Lents Grown
– Dawn DeAno Photography
– Portland Youth Builders
– Lents International Farmers Market
– Mt. Scott Fuel Co
– Pro Photo Supply

To see the project page with renderings and more information go here:

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