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Nix the oven? A skinny fridge? Tips on designing a tiny kitchen in your ADU

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Unlike European kitchens, which are designed for efficiency rather than luxury, American kitchens often emphasize open-concept designs simply because they are larger.

But now that people are adding accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in their backyards to house family members and generate passive income, the European model is becoming more attractive to homeowners struggling to fit everything they want into a tiny footprint.

“I wish appliance companies made cooler and more compact appliances,” says designer Samantha Karim, who added an ADU in her Mid-Wilshire backyard. “This is especially true as people are trending towards smaller living spaces.”

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Los Angeles architect Bo Sundius agrees. “No one is making an inexpensive small refrigerator,” he says. “You have to go with European models. I would always do under-counter fridges and freezers if I could, but there’s nothing on the market that’s affordable.”

Designing a kitchen for an ADU requires careful planning, says designer Kirsten Blazek, author of the new book “A 1000 X Better. A Rebel by Design.” “I like to start by really thinking about the main purpose of the space and plan accordingly,” she says. “Will there be long-term guests there? Who would benefit from a full kitchen? Is this more of an overflow, entertaining or work space? Space planning and functionality are important, so don’t forget to get the correct-sized appliances. Measure everything carefully. Also, give the same attention to design details as you would in a full-size kitchen.”

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Blazek is not alone in wanting her kitchen to be efficient. Here, architects and homeowners share their small-space tips for ADUs to help you maximize your space and living experience.

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Sunny, open kitchen with clerestory windows

An open kitchen with black and white marble backsplash, white cabinets, oven and a black faucet.
This bright open kitchen in a Highland Park rental is a simple custom design with clerestory windows that let in light.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Plants line a shelf below clerestory windows in an open kitchen with a refrigerator flush with the wall.
The barely visible handle of a refrigerator door, right, sits flush with a wall of storage.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Project: Two-bedroom rental on a dense lot in Highland Park

ADU size: 850 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $250,000

Kitchen details: This rental includes a full kitchen with custom cabinets and standard, full-sized appliances, including a refrigerator and a 30-inch range. There is no dishwasher, but there is room for one. Clerestory windows bring in light and make the space feel bigger. Despite the small footprint, architects Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki of Bunch Design added a tall cabinet opening for storing a large Kitchen Aid mixer, shown above, top right.

The architects dislike upper cabinets because they are inefficient. “Don’t do upper cabinets,” Sundius advises homeowners interested in adding an ADU. Instead, add a wall of storage. “You can hide a cheaper standard refrigerator because it is in plane with the cabinets. If the cabinets and refrigerator are white, it will look integrated.”

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Pro tip: “People are always obsessed with picking out the countertops,” Sundius says. “They believe that Caesarstone never stains or scratches. That’s not true. They always choose white Caesarstone and then are disappointed when it stains. Granite and quartzite are always going to be the best-performing stones. Pick something with movement in it — darker stone will hide stains.”

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Glamorous chef’s kitchen with high-end appliances

Two barstools tuck under a kitchen countertop bar, which also features a sink with a gold faucet.
In addition to an ILVE range, the kitchen features a terracotta Clé tile backsplash, gray millwork and a marble-topped island.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Looking through a kitchen with green-gray cabinets, gold hardware and a white oven toward an ADU's backyard.
The marble-topped island includes a sink and can accommodate cooking and dining.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Gold faucets and handles accent a kitchen's marble countertop.
Terracotta Clé tile and lacquered brass accents add warmth to the tiny studio.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Project: Studio garage conversion in Pacific Palisades

ADU size: 290 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $250,000

Kitchen details: Homeowners Nicole Fitzgerald and Rick Steil wanted a full kitchen in their former one-car garage, despite its small footprint.

“We imagined the space as a multi]purpose room for multiple tenants,” says Fitzgerald. “So we thought a full kitchen would be an important functional feature. In addition, we love to cook and entertain and spend a tremendous amount of time in our current kitchen.”

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Pros: “We love the Arabescato stone — it’s absolutely gorgeous and strikes a perfect balance between elegance and playfulness,” says Fitzgerald. “The blue-green cabinetry color (Portola Half Moon Bay) really drives the personality of the entire space while enveloping the beautiful ILVE range and custom plaster hood as a beautiful focal point for the entire room.”

Cons: In retrospect, Fitzgerald believes they could have gone without the dishwasher. “I believed that a dishwasher would add important functionality for hosting and entertaining groups of people, but in reality, the space is more suited for one to two people,” Fitzgerald adds. “If I could tweak the ADU, I might opt for more storage/pantry space instead of the dishwasher.”

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Clean-lined efficiency for a flexible studio

Looking into the kitchen from outside the front door, one sees white barstools at a wood countertop and white cabinets.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

White cabinets fill this tiny kitchen with a silver microwave and dishwasher.
The tiny kitchen has no oven and is easy to clean.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Project: Multipurpose garage conversion in Mid-City

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ADU size: 300 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $180,000

Kitchen details: The studio’s kitchen consists of a full-sized narrow fridge, a single sink with garbage disposal, two countertop gas burners, a counter microwave and a narrow dishwasher.

“So far, it has been the right decision for us to have a microwave and a stovetop as both get used,” says homeowner Nicole Lemoine. “We generally just use the stovetop or microwave when we stay in other homes. We also have an Instant Pot and toaster in the unit, but I don’t think those have been used yet. Maybe for someone staying longer term, but for now, our guests have picked up easy-to-heat-up items from local stores, leftovers while out, or used the stovetop for easy meals.”

Pros: “It’s easy to clean,” says Lemoine’s husband, Alex Mason.

Cons: No oven. “Our tiny space invites people to cook if they want, but since you can’t really host a gathering, not many singles or couples want to make full-on roasts and such,” Mason says. “If someone wants an oven, there’s always the option of a toaster oven.”

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Old-school kitchen designed to accommodate full-time living

A blue tablecloth with black stripes covers the kitchen table in the foreground, with fridge and countertops beyond.
A view from the living room/dining room through the kitchen of the ADU in Eagle Rock, formerly a two-car garage.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Light shines through skylights above a kitchen table with tall houseplants in the background.
Two skylights illuminate the dining room next to the kitchen.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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Project: Garage turned ADU rental for a family of three in Eagle Rock

ADU size: 825 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $220,000

Kitchen details: Mona Field transformed her garage into a two-bedroom ADU for her daughter, Nadine Levyfield, son-in-law and grandson. (They recently switched and the young family is now in the main house and Field is living in the ADU.)

Pros: “For our ADU kitchen, we were most excited about getting a dishwasher, which we had never had before,” says Levyfield. The family wanted a fully functional kitchen, so they installed “a full-size fridge, stove, dishwasher and large farmhouse sink.” They got the Frigidaire appliances during a Black Friday sale at Lowe’s, and were happy with the purchases until the fridge needed an expensive repair out of warranty. “We thought cohesively about kitchen and storage for our ADU entry and kitchen area.”

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Cons: Now that Field has moved into the ADU, she jokes that the large kitchen is more than she needs. “I will never fill the gigantic fridge, and I still can’t figure out how the washer and dryer work,” she says. “My lifestyle simply doesn’t support using the dishwasher at all. It’s all way too fancy and high-tech for me.”

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Bold bright blue kitchenette

A small table sits next to a kitchen countertop accented with teal cabinets.
Exposed beams give low ceilings the illusion of height. Custom cabinets by Omar Avalos add color and a sense of fun.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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A brown-tiled backsplash below teal cabinets with an orange rim and open shelving filled with cups and bowls.
The first floor of the two-story dwelling includes a dining nook, kitchen, bathroom, laundry and multipurpose room.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Project: Two-story multipurpose guest house in Mid-Wilshire

ADU size: 600 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $186,000

Kitchen details: Architect Barrett Cooke of Arterberry Cooke designed the ground floor of the ADU to include a tiny banquette for eating meals, a kitchen with a stackable washer and dryer, bathroom and living space. Simple concrete floors allow a smooth transition from the pool to the unit and easy indoor-outdoor access for guests and pets.

Pros: “I love the bright blue color — it makes me happy every time I see it,” says homeowner Samantha Karim. “Sometimes it is easier to go bold and take risks in smaller spaces than your primary residence. I love the inset drawers and cupboards that show off the 9-ply birch plywood. I love how the stripes frame each cabinet door or drawer. This plywood trim is replicated in all the built-in furniture to give the living space a cohesive look. Inset kitchen cupboards are more expensive to build than overlays, but I think it’s worth splurging in a small area like a kitchenette.”

When under-the-counter appliances proved too costly, Karim settled on an extra slim, tall refrigerator. The Summit counter-depth fridge with icemaker “provides a ton of vertical space.”

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The unit also features an 18-inch dishwasher. “The only issue with these appliances is that they are more expensive than standard-sized appliances,” says Karim.

Cons: “We squeezed every inch out of the floor plan,” says Karim, comparing it to Tetris. She wishes they could fit an oven, but that would squeeze out the seating nook. When the microwave dies, she plans to replace it with a toaster oven/microwave combo. She also regrets the unglazed Zellige tile backsplash. “I would use a glazed tile if I had to do it again because the unglazed is harder to clean.”

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IKEA kitchen designed with disability in mind

A kitchen with green cabinets on the left, a sink with black faucets below a window, and a round table with chairs.
The IKEA kitchen of Andrea Villicana-Chavez and her husband, Joey Villicana, encompasses two walls.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

A silver microwave below a green cabinet sits next to a door.
Olive green cabinets are paired with cream-colored countertops.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Project: New construction ADU designed for family member with a disability in Culver City

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ADU size: 500 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $260,000

Kitchen details: The IKEA kitchen includes an electric stove, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher and sink.

“We love our ADU kitchen,” says homeowner Andrea Villicana-Chavez. “The architect suggested we get the kitchen from IKEA, and it’s larger than I thought it would be, with ample countertop space. It takes up two walls; it could have been smaller, taking up less space, but as it turns out, it’s better this way.”

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Pros: Villicana-Chavez is pleased with the kitchen’s design and overall price. “It was very affordable compared to other kitchens,” she says.

Cons: “The only con I see is the electric stovetop. It’s hard to clean at times with just soap and water. I just ordered some cleaner for glass-top stoves to see if I can remove the burned food that doesn’t seem to come off.”

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Modern minimalism in a one-bedroom rental

Square white tile backsplash and blonde wood cabinets accent this kitchen.
A 24-inch Bertazzoni oven range fits into a small ADU with wood cabinetry.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Open shelving mixes with wood cabinetry on the top level of storage for this kitchen.
Douglas fir cabinets and white tile make the tiny space look bigger.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Project: One-bedroom predesigned rental in Fairfax District

ADU size: 400 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $400,000

Kitchen details: The former one-car garage turned rental includes a panel-ready Fisher and Paykel refrigerator, a 24-inch Bertazzoni oven range, a sink and a dishwasher. “We like panel-ready appliances because when you reduce clutter, it makes the place feel bigger,” says architect Sundius, who also designed the Highland Park rental. The washer and dryer are in the bathroom.

Pro tip: Although ADUs are a modern solution to the housing shortage, Sundius notes that it is “still a suburban model, and everyone wants a laundry machine.” He prefers to house the laundry in the bedroom or bathroom, not the kitchen. “Even a studio has a bathroom, and it’s nice if you have a slight vestibule so the door is not right there. We’ve also done the laundry machine combo under the vanity in the bathroom, but people complain that [compact appliances] break.”

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Country kitchen for prefab rental

A white island sits in the middle of a kitchen bookended by cabinetry and a kitchen table.
A prefab kitchen in the South Bay.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Windows and high ceilings open up the small space.
Windows and high ceilings open up the small space.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Project: Prefab ADU rental for family members in the South Bay

ADU size: 850 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $475,000

Kitchen details: The prefab ADU from Villa Homes came with standard, full-size appliances: an electric range/oven, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave and washer and dryer.

“The kitchen appliances are all Whirlpool by default and have a coordinating stainless-steel style, which was fine with us,” says Melanie Guevara, who lives in her parents’ backyard with her husband, Devon Hollowood. “Devon and I had spent so much of the last decade, while in college and graduate school, living in student-grade apartments with shared laundry rooms and no dishwasher. So it was important to us to have our ADU feel like a fully functional and comfortable home.”

The ADU is fully electric. “We did have the option to run a gas line during construction and have a gas stove instead. While I prefer cooking with a traditional gas stove, we decided it was not worth the extra expense and potential health and safety risks. We hope to install solar panels someday so our home is as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible,” says Guevara.

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Pros: The couple love their refrigerator, which conveniently dispenses filtered water and ice, and their giant farmhouse-style apron sink. “We love our kitchen island, which provides extra counter space, storage and electrical outlets.”

Cons: “I am not a fan of the glass cooktop on our electric oven; it scratches easily and requires a lot of maintenance to keep it looking clean,” says Guevara. “The stainless steel faces of our appliances also take more cleaning than I expected to eliminate water streaks and small rust spots.”

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Streamlined modern European-style kitchen

A small, white kitchen on one wall of an ADU, with a bed and a dining table nearby.
A prefab ADU by Cover in West Hollywood.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Project: A prefab ADU by Cover in West Hollywood

ADU size: 450 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $295,000

Kitchen details: The appliances in the studio are all by Sub-Zero and Wolf. There is an induction cooktop and hood by Wolf and a Sub-Zero under-counter pullout refrigerator and freezer that look like two drawers.

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“I love that the kitchen blends seamlessly into the decor of the ADU,” says homeowner Xiyin Tang. “Since the ADU is a studio, it’s important that the kitchen is unobtrusive in the space — the fridge/freezer blends in with the rest of the cabinetry; the induction cooktop is almost unnoticeable as part of the countertop. And yet, it is a full kitchen (rather than a kitchenette). You can have four pots going on the induction at the same time, and when we have parties, we often have all four induction burners being used.”

Pros: “The hood, being Wolf, is high-functioning and draws any odors right out of the studio,” Tang says, an important attribute since one sleeps right next to the kitchen. “Guests are always surprised and delighted when they pull open the drawers to reveal the under-counter freezer and refrigerator.”

Cons: Tang only has one complaint. “The induction top makes weird beeping sounds if you place items on it but don’t actually have it on,” she says, an annoyance when she runs out of counter space and items end up on the induction cooktop when it’s not turned on.

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No-nonsense kitchenette for studio rental

A compact home office wedged between a door and a galley kitchen in an ADU.
Architects Jefferson Schierbeek and Su Addison lived in the 300-square-foot ADU above their garage for more than a year before renting it.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

An induction stove sits above the microwave and near the small sink in the kitchen.
One sink serves both the kitchen and the bathroom.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

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Adam Mefford stands in the galley kitchen.
Adam Mefford in the kitchen of his rental.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Project: Above-garage studio rental in Mar Vista

ADU size: 300 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $200,000

Kitchen details: Architect and homeowner Jefferson Schierbeek describes the kitchen in the ADU he and wife Su Addison designed, and lived in for more than a year, as “an attempt at what we might consider the elegant minimum. You can get everything done in a very small space, and it has all the required items. Sink, under-counter refrigerator, cooktop (electric), and oven (convection/ microwave).” They now rent the ADU.

Pros: “Higher ceilings always make a space feel more generous,” Schierbeek says. “We made the compact kitchen feel larger by placing ample windows near and in the space and wrapping the rubber/cork composite floor surface up the wall for continuity with the living space.”

Cons: “It is a challenge to cook complicated meals, but the space works reasonably well for its size and has everything you need. The biggest challenge might be storage. ... We designed as much storage as we could. Winnowing down to the basic pots, pans, utensils and service wear was necessary, and using open shelving does allow for some flexibility.”

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Modern minimalist galley kitchen

A person cooks in a galley kitchen with light wood cabinetry
Gail Otter inside her kitchen in Echo Park.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Project: Second-floor permanent residence located behind a rental in Echo Park

ADU size: 740 square feet

Total cost of ADU: $575,500 (the site is on a hillside, so the foundations were more costly)

Kitchen details: Homeowner Gail Otter’s chic galley kitchen includes a Liebherr 24-inch-wide refrigerator, GE Profile 18-inch dishwasher and Hallman range.

Pros: “I love the refrigerator because it’s tall and narrow, plus counter depth. I love the size of the dishwasher, 18” versus 24”, which is standard. For one person, it’s perfect. I chose this model because it was white and, at the time, the only white option,” says Otter.

Cons: “I wish I would have bought a Miele or Bosch dishwasher as they have the top cutlery drawer instead of the cutlery basket,” says Otter. “I didn’t buy either because they only come in stainless steel. I like the controls hidden at the top and the built-in handle instead of a handle that sticks out. For me, it’s more visually appealing.”

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She’s also less excited about the range and wishes she had more options in the European style in white. “Bertazonni made a white option, but it didn’t get great reviews. After purchasing [the Hallman oven], I found a Viking range in white that I wish I had bought. The Hallman oven is complicated to use, and I had to laminate the instructions to keep them handy, so I always pull them out when I need to use the oven. Silly!”

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