July 18, 2024


Body and Interior

Budget Breakdown: An Architect Overhauls His Garage Into a Finely Tuned ADU for $75K

Budget Breakdown: An Architect Overhauls His Garage Into a Finely Tuned ADU for $75K

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 rental decided to sell. “We had this great deal on a house in West Los Angeles,” Valery says. “We were paying something ridiculous—like $2,000 per month.”

They considered trying to hold onto the home, but it wasn’t meant to be. “The asking price was so far above our max ceiling,” Valery says. “We thought, okay—we’re not going to be able to stay here.”

At first, the couple searched for other rentals—but after 20 days they changed course and set their sights on purchasing a home of their own. “The plan was to build an accessory dwelling unit, because it was a stretch for us to buy a house,” Valery explains. An ADU would help offset the mortgage cost—so he says they “scraped all the pennies together” and started touring properties.

“I wanted something bold and fresh,” architect Valery Augustin says about 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 pair fell for a 1940s bungalow with a detached garage in their preferred neighborhood, just 15 minutes from the beach. “Ladera Heights is a diverse community located in the heart of Los Angeles,” Valery says. “The neighborhood reflects our multicultural family, and that mattered a lot to us.” Young families, nearby parks, and walkability heightened its appeal. “We put in one offer, and we got lucky,” Valery says excitedly.

Framing Lumber
Site Work
Sewer Connection
New Roof
Redwood Fencing & Facade
Custom Stainless Steel Awnings
Exterior Lighting
Control Joints & Sealing
Interior Furnishings
Kitchen Appliances
Cabinetry & Hardware
Kitchen Sink & Faucet
Kitchen Counters
Bathroom Faucet & Vanity
Shower Fittings, Tub, & Toilet
Grand Total: $74,768

Once they had 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 featured kitchen outfitted with highly durable surfaces. “Stylistically, I always look at open space, natural light—the simple things,” he says. “Daylight makes any space feel larger than it is, so I try to emphasize that in the design.”

The couple also wanted to provide privacy for their family and renters. And since they were working with a tight budget, they needed to make cost-effective choices—Valery decided to serve as the project’s general contractor to help offset expenses.

The garage door became the new unit’s front entry. The new structure maintains the same square footage and features a private patio in the back.

Demolition debris accumulates in the driveway as the team prepares to pour a new concrete slab. The ADU needed a new roof, too, which ate up $4,000 of the budget.

After acquiring permits in June 2020, the couple kicked off the project by taking the garage down to the studs. “We just gutted it,” Valery says. The couple relied on a single framer handyman for much of the labor, although they also hired subcontractors for plumbing, electrical, tile, and cabinetry.

Once the shell was prepped, the couple opted for polished concrete floors instead of hardwood. “It seems counterintuitive, but all in all, pouring new concrete was cheaper,” Valery explains. “I liked the durability, and the ease of not worrying about a wood floor.” 

The ADU’s framing cost about $1,800. The site work came to a total of $5,000, and the electrical added up to $5,825.

The insulation in the main living space amounted to $1,450 of the total budget. 

Originally, the garage had a flat ceiling, but Valery chose to vault the new living space. “I thought that was an important thing to do, to make the space feel bigger,” he says. “We planned for four skylights, but ended up with just the two, which I think is plenty.” They covered the garage opening with slatted wood, save for the entry, and they cut an opening into the rear of the structure for glass sliders to connect to a private patio.

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

The front facade is accented by redwood slats. The low-maintenance wood pairs nicely with the white trim and a frosty gray acrylic stucco. As you step through the threshold, the concrete flooring transitions from rough to polished.

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

Since the project is located just steps from their home, the couple observed their color options daily before making the final choice. “I painted samples on a piece of wood, and we laid out paint chips and looked at them everyday 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, and grinding, polishing, and sealing. “We just put one layer of sealer on and they ground it down a bit,” Valery says.

The new ADU sits within the garage’s original footprint, and it offers renters 390 square feet of cleverly designed living space. The ceiling lowers as you enter the kitchen and bathroom spaces, to provide room for air conditioning ductwork. “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 are lined up under the drop ceiling.”

The kitchen countertops, made of white manufactured Quartz, cost $2,600 including material, fabrication, and a clean waterfall edge. The backsplash is composed of textural Inedita tile in five-by-five-inch squares. “They are really beautiful; they have this sculpted shape,” Valery says. “We thought high contrast with the black was nice.”

The couple opted for a full kitchen—and to take the space to the next level, they spent $1,975 for a panel-fronted refrigerator. “It was hard to justify, even to myself—but to me, it is about the quality of the design,” Valery explains. “You can buy a fridge for $400—and maybe that would’ve been smarter—but I wanted a clean and elegant design, so I chose panel-front appliances.”

The custom cabinets were another significant investment—they cost $9,525, and were fabricated by Rowla Studios. “They do beautiful cabinetry,” Valery says. “They’re the kind of millworkers you want to work with if you ever get the chance.”

The baseboards, walls, and ceiling are painted with High Reflective White by Sherwin Williams. “My usual is Dunn Edwards 3560,” Valery says, “but on this project I strayed off 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 to have openings into our yard,” he says, “so it made sense to load the kitchen and bathrooms on that side of the space.”

The rental‘s finishes came to a total of $7,517, including costs for tile and installation. Valery prefers to take tile to the ceiling, making for a grand impression. The white hexagonal floor/wall tile is by Antik, and the bathing area tiles are by Demettra in Sculpture Gray.

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

Ultimately, Valery highlights the concrete floors, and shopping thoughtfully online and at Home Depot, as the sources of his greatest cost savings. “I think sourcing and spending money in the right place is important,” he says. “I skimped in some areas so I could splurge on the kitchen.”

He also ordered materials himself, and had subcontractors install them. “If you can get the pieces 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 I’d get a knock on the door. I was constantly on-site, which made it easy for me to be available.”

The unit’s private back patio is a standout feature. “Guests love sitting there with the bougainvillea, just getting a little private space to themselves,” Valery says. The project’s landscaping costs added up to $1,800. 

“I’m not going to lie; it’s been a game-changer,” Valery says of their decision to buy a home and build a rental property. Now that it’s finished, the ADU has a 5.0 rating on Airbnb—and he’s proud that the space is being enjoyed by many guests. “We have long-term renters; people who are staying at least 3-6 months at a time,” he says. “But we have time blocked off for my in-laws, too. People really seem to respond to it, and it warms my heart.”

Valery’s favorite part of the design isn’t 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 rented pretty solidly now,” he says. “The light comes in through the private rear patio, which is is one of the best things we did—people love it.”

Floor Plan of Ladera Heights ADU by DNA Architecture + Design