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Cottage People

Five homeowners who've made room for granny.


Elizabeth Weiss

(1 of 6) 

Elizabeth Weiss

(2 of 6)

Jake Decker 

(3 of 6) 

Jake Decker 

(4 of 6) 

Lisa, Dennis, and Peggy Jones

(5 of 6) 

Lisa, Dennis, and Peggy Jones

(6 of 6) 


Lisa, Dennis, and Peggy Jones
Location: El Cerrito
Designer/builder: New Avenue Homes
Cost: $240,000
Dennis and Lisa Jones live in a 2,100-square-foot 1940s-era stucco home set on a deep, parklike lot in El Cerrito that Lisa has spent years transforming into a vast succulent garden with hundreds of rare varieties ordered from as far away as Korea. There’s a hot tub and a trampoline for their daughter, Lilia. Now it’s also where Dennis’s 74-year-old mother, Peggy, lives, in a 700-square-foot two-bedroom cottage with a side room she uses as a sewing room. (That’s right: a granny for Granny.) The cottage has French doors that open onto a small patio and a full kitchen with recycled-glass-and-concrete countertops. There are large windows with lace curtains and quilts covering side tables. “It’s nice to be able to not only provide for her but also keep an eye on her,” Dennis says of his mom. “And,” Peggy adds, “I get to have this special relationship with Lilia.”

Elizabeth Weiss
Location: Richmond
Designer: Kathryn Rogers, Sogno Design Group
Cost: Close to $500,000
In 2015, Weiss, a retired librarian, used a small inheritance to build a flexible, detached 640-square-foot ADU with one bedroom and one and a half baths. Weiss is currently using it for visiting family and as an Airbnb rental that starts at $85 a night. The design inspiration, she says, comes from her two favorite vacation destinations: the beach and the desert. The home has bright-blue exterior walls and red-stained concrete floors that remind her of Utah. “I wanted it as a vacation house, but next door,” she says. Now 57, Weiss says that in the future she could move in to the space and rent out her main house.

Ann Vosti
Location: Menlo Park
Builder: New Avenue Homes
Cost: $250,000
Vosti, an urgent care doctor in Mountain View, is in the midst of building a roughly 400-square-foot cottage in the backyard of her 1,600-square-foot main house. She and her husband have five sons ranging in age from 22 to 31, and space had gotten a bit tight when more than one of them would come to visit. She considered purchasing a larger house, but prices had doubled since she’d bought in 2009. So she hired New Avenue Homes to design and build the cottage, which has been in progress for almost four years, including permitting, inspections, and construction. (She asked for approval from her neighbors as well as from the city.) It will include a sleeping loft and a large bathroom with an indoor-outdoor shower that opens onto a little patio. Someday the cottage could house one of her sons, or it could become a rental if she wants to retire but keep an income stream. “We’re not quite sure how it’s all going to go,” she says. “But you can create a certain flexibility.”

Heidi Lubin
Location: Oakland Hills
Architect: Baran Studios
Cost: 10 to 12 percent of the total new-build cost
Lubin, a real estate developer, is including a 500-square-foot ADU on the bottom floor of the new 2,350-square-foot home she’s building in the Oakland Hills. The in-law will be used by—you guessed it— her in-laws, who fly in from Colombia, along with other visiting family. But that wasn’t her only motivation: She also liked the idea of adding midprice housing to the neighborhood. “I thought it was also impactful on a community level,” she says. “We have the privilege of building this home, but we also get the opportunity to do something sustainable.”

Jake Decker
Location: North Oakland
Designer/builder: Valley Home Development
Cost: $130,000
Decker, a labor organizer, purchased a three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot home in Oakland in 2012. One night, he and his partner, who works at a nonprofit, realized there was an untapped resource in their home’s backyard and garage, the roof of which had recently crumbled. With a home equity loan and the money they’d banked renting their house on Airbnb, the couple built the 392-square-foot rental cottage in their backyard, which took 10 months to approve and another 6 months to build. The extra income has allowed Decker to refinance his home loan to a 15-year mortgage with a 2.25 percent interest rate. “That’s been really helpful,” he says. Though Decker says he’s loved having his friends as his tenants, it has been an adjustment. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘What’s that sound?’” he says. “‘Oh, that’s right, there’s somebody living in the backyard.’”

Read More About the Granny Flat Explosion:
Grannies Gone Wild: A guide to going big by building small.
New Kids on the Lawn: Three companies trying to crack the cottage code.
Another Thing Canada Does Better: Vancouver shows how cottage laws can ease a crisis.
The Granny Whisperers: Designers, builders, and expediters of backyard flats.


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco 

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