Embracing Simplicity in 800 Square Feet

Living large with an unfettered, small-house design in Southeast Portland

By Amara Holstein July 20, 2015 Published in the August 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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You can’t see Ann Wilson’s accessory dwelling unit from the street. But skirt around the back of a bungalow just off of SE Clinton Street, and Wilson’s ADU reveals itself with a hefty dose of visual drama. “It’s like a sculpture in the garden,” says architect Ben Waechter.

Most often, ADUs are secondary spaces that supplement a primary residence: in-law cottages, rental properties, or studios. But Wilson’s ADU functions as her primary home. The bungalow just wasn’t her style—it had a “ton of little rooms,” she says. “I wanted to live somewhere that utilized space better.” So she rented the house to her adult son, and turned to Waechter for help creating her dream home. Her requirements were simple: a modern, airy space with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Waechter’s 800-square-foot design accomplished that and more, with various aspects elegantly mimicking the main house, meeting code requirements while making the space feel capacious. Windows sprawl across full walls. Eaves are long and lean, overhanging the dwelling by nearly 10 feet. Inside, the material palette is limited to maple plywood and a smooth concrete floor. The living space is composed of one big room, which can just as easily host dinner parties as intimate coffees. Upstairs, angles push the gaze upward, as does a skylight. 

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An interior designer, Wilson added pops of color and modern style for personality. There’s a cast-off reddish-orange leather couch from a neighbor, and inherited Barcelona chairs reupholstered by local expert Leland Duck. Orange Ann Sacks tiles slide along the kitchen backsplash, and upstairs accent walls of the bedrooms and bathroom are painted deep orange, bright green, and gray.

It may be small, but it’s also perfect. “I love the openness,” says Wilson. “I have everything I want here.”

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