In 2006, when Stephanie Erickson and Ross Pfund bought their first house, a small 1920s bungalow, they viewed it as their starter home.
But they fell in love with their Minneapolis neighborhood. "Now we can never leave Longfellow," said Erickson.
Three years ago, when they were expecting their first child, they were unsure how their growing family would fit into their 1,100-square-foot house. In addition to a room for the baby, they now needed a guest room for visiting grandparents. The smallest of their three bedrooms was already serving as an office for Erickson, who worked from home before the pandemic.
They considered finishing their basement, but they eventually decided to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) next to the alley behind their house.
They'd seen another ADU in their neighborhood, designed by architect Christopher Strom, so Erickson googled him. "He's the ADU guru in the area," she said.
Strom was indeed familiar with their neighborhood. He's designed several other ADUs in Longfellow, and his mother grew up nearby.
Erickson and Pfund's home is typical of the neighborhood, Strom said. "Their house is a very modest bungalow; a lot of Longfellow is made up of those. As nice and cute as they are, it's hard to add on to them with their modest character. It's difficult to convert to a more open floor plan. They knew that. They wanted a very separate space — something completely different from the regular house — a fun experience that takes them out of everyday life."
'Bonus family room'
In addition to gaining a guest bedroom and bath, Erickson and Pfund envisioned a space where they could entertain friends and hang out together, watching movies or playing games — "a bonus family room," is how Erickson described it.
There was an old single-car garage on the alley, and in its place, Strom designed a living space above a two-car garage, with a gabled form that complements the bungalow. Inside, the couple wanted an open floor plan with a high ceiling.
"We worked hard to give them vaulted space in a bungalow structure," he said.
One challenge was the height of the house, just 1 ½ stories. Under city rules at the time, an ADU could be no taller than the primary house, said Strom. That meant the roof pitch had to be reduced by a foot to comply with the rule, which has since been changed.
Another rule, also now defunct, dictated the ADU's size, under 600 square feet, which is smaller than most ADUs Strom has designed. At the time, the city required that an ADU's footprint be no larger than the main house.
Clad in LP Smart Side, a low-maintenance engineered wood siding, the little structure is a bold bright red that stands out next to the light neutral bungalow.
"The house is cream, and Ross and I were thinking cream, to match," said Erickson. But Strom suggested they consider a more distinctive hue, since the ADU is at the back of the house.
Finding just the right shade was tricky, said Strom.
"We wanted a red that was fairly complex with a lot of different undertones — so when the sun is shining on it, it doesn't look pink." The color they settled on looks vibrant in both sun and shadow, he said.
"At first I wondered if it was too bright," said Erickson of their choice. "I kind of freaked out at first. But it has grown on me."
For the interior, the couple had some definite color preferences.
"We wanted a '70s rec room feeling," said Erickson. "I know white interiors are super on-trend, but I find them sterile and boring. I wanted to go bold without looking like a kindergarten classroom with all primary colors."
The walls in the living space are a warm orange-red, while the bedroom and bathroom are wasabi green. The flooring is low-maintenance luxury vinyl tile that looks like stained ash, said Strom.
There's a partial kitchen with grayish/turquoise Ikea cabinets and a laminate countertop in a slate hue, also from Ikea. The kitchenette includes a refrigerator and a bar for entertaining with a sink.
"People ask, 'Where's the stove?' " said Erickson. "It was never intended for full-time living. We do frozen pizzas in the toaster oven."
The couple had a tight budget for the project, and staying within it was a challenge, Strom said.
"There aren't a lot of high-end materials" in the ADU, he said. "The embellishment comes out of color choices."
He varied the exterior siding width, using wider siding at the bottom "for some heft," and narrower siding on the gable. "You work with what you have to give it distinction."
The couple did splurge on the ceiling, which is clad in lodgepole pine. It's a type of pine tree that grows tall and straight, allowing for 16-foot lengths and minimal seams. The wood extends up into the skylight.
The project cost about $210,000, which included price incentives from the builder, who is no longer in business. But to build a comparable ADU would cost about $280,000, according to Strom.
People often assume that because they're small, ADUs are inexpensive, he said, but "it's still new construction of a small single-family house," with heating and lighting, and cost-intensive kitchen and bathroom fixtures. "It's not a tricked-out garage."
Some wish-list features were eliminated to curb costs. "We were going to do windows in the garage," said Strom. "We were going to do a window seat under the picture window. We were going to do more cabinetry. It wasn't in the budget."
The project makes a strong design statement while still complementing the main house and the homes around it.
"What I'm most proud of is that it threads the needle," said Strom. "It's a really unique standout building on the alley that fits with the neighborhood — a balance of context and boldness."
For Erickson and Pfund, their ADU has delivered just what they were seeking.
"We've had a lot of fun out there," said Erickson. Pre-pandemic, they held a holiday gathering in the ADU and hosted visiting grandparents in the guest suite.
"In the summer, it's nice," she said. "There's a patio between the house and the ADU, a nice common area."
The pandemic has changed how they use the ADU. "We haven't had anyone in it," said Erickson. "We haven't had the grandparents stay there since the pandemic. It's easier for us to travel to them."
But the ADU still serves many uses. Pfund is now working from home, so he works in the ADU, while Erickson works in the main house.
And it's still a getaway spot for the family, which includes son, Quinlan, now 2 ½.
"Early on during the pandemic, our Friday tradition after work was to cook a pizza and have a picnic on the floor," Erickson said.
It also functions as "a sanctuary," she said. When she has an intense morning, she sometimes takes a nap there in the afternoon. One night, after a poor, interrupted sleep, she slept in the ADU. "I woke up, and it felt like a little hotel. It's an escape. We can't go far but we can go there."
The couple look forward to the day when they can again share the colorful space with friends. "We're not using it how we thought we would," she said. "But we're really glad we did it. It was a big project to take on. We'd do it again."