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Petaluma architect, 94, pens book 'Granny Houses By a Granny'Petaluma architect, 94, pens book 'Granny Houses By a Granny'

With the rules for accessory dwelling units being eased in the face of rising demands for housing, more people are looking for ways to tuck one onto their property.

Once called “granny units” - envisioned as a way for seniors to live independently but close to family - these smaller, secondary homes behind homes now meet a variety of needs, from housing caregivers and grown kids who can’t afford places of their own to providing additional income as rentals. Some people are even downsizing into the smaller backyard cottages and renting out their larger houses when their children leave home.

Granny units are also a good, and affordable, alternative for seniors who no longer can or want to manage a full-sized house.

Starting this month, the state relaxed regulations to make it easier for property owners to build them. As a result, cities and counties are retooling their own ordinances to conform.

If you’re thinking of adding a granny unit to your property, who better to ask for advice than a grandma, especially one who’s also an architect and lives in a granny unit she designed for herself?

Snug, flexible space

Petaluma architect Harriet Redlich, 94 going on 95, has created a book, a bound pamphlet, really, called “Granny Houses By a Granny.” It includes practical design ideas and plans, elevations and computer renderings for six snug homes.

There’s a studio that can double as a study, artist’s studio, guest quarters, in-law unit or even dance studio. Another design is for an 840-square-foot bungalow with one bedroom; an open study and a combined dining, kitchen and living room.

Redlich’s ideas come from years of professional and personal experience. A practicing architect for 70 years, she never anticipated that when she designed a little cottage for herself and her late husband behind their son and daughter-in-law’s home in west Petaluma 24 years ago that she would live there for so long.

“When we were building this, I really wasn’t planning on getting old,” she said, flashing a smile. “So probably I should have done some things differently.”

The house has a small kitchen separated from the living/dining room by a counter. High-pitched open beam ceilings make the cottage feel spacious.

Redlich makes the most of her space. A partial privacy wall that doesn’t meet the ceiling separates the combined living/dining room from what was a bedroom. When her husband died, Redlich turned that area into a studio, where she still experiments with computer designs and watercolors. A large walk-in closet has been converted into a sleeping room, and the converted garage room where she once had her design studio has been turned into a junior accessory dwelling studio with a separate bathroom and mini-kitchen for her college-aged grandson.

One thing Redlich might change if she got a do-over is to move the bathroom to the middle, flipping it with the walk-in closet she uses as a tiny bedroom.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m sleeping in the closet. I feel like it’s my bedroom. If I didn’t like it, I couldn’t sleep in that room,” she said.

The bathroom is now at the far end of the 640-square-foot cottage. It’s harder for the nonogenarian to get around than when she first moved in, so making the bathroom closer to the living room and kitchen would be helpful.

At her advanced age, she also finds that the radiant heating doesn’t always take the chill off.

“When I was young and in my 80s, the radiant heat was perfect,” she said, once again offering a smile.

But other design ideas still work all these years later. The step-saving kitchen is designed so everything is within easy reach.

“Storage is located between knees and nose,” Redlich said, her rule of thumb for a good range of motion.

Large glass doors extend out to a patio. Redlich believes one of the best things you can do with a granny unit is orient it facing west to catch the sun in winter. Use overhangs to provide shade in summer. She also recommends facing the house to catch a view. And if there is no view, create one with a nice garden or patio.

Starchitect training

Redlich never formally studied architecture. But she did apprentice in the offices of two of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

While enrolled in a work/study program through Antioch College in Ohio, she served internships with Minoru Yakasaki, who designed the World Trade Center in New York City, and the renowned modernist Richard Neutra.

“I worked in (Neutra’s) office. I was an apprentice, which meant no pay,” she said. “I hitchhiked out from Ohio with a friend to Los Angeles and knocked on doors. He was the only one who answered. He was one of the big ‘starchitects’ in those days.”

An art and engineering major, she learned the most when she got back to Antioch and worked in the office of the school architect, picking up practical skills.

“I worked enough years for architects that I could sit for my license without going to architectural school.”

While raising two children with her schoolteacher husband, Redlich continued to work, mostly on rehabilitation projects in Chicago. After she retired to Sonoma County to be near a son, she began experimenting with accessory dwellings.

Several of her granny units are in the neighborhood. Last year, Sebastopol architect Claudia Cleaver of Morse & Cleaver Architects adapted one of Redlich’s plans to create an accessory dwelling for an older couple who wanted a second home on their Sebastopol property. They had first approached Redlich, who reached out to Cleaver after deciding it was too difficult at her age to take on a new project alone.

Cleaver said the still-active seniors were looking ahead, eyeing the project as a home for a future caregiver if they were to eventually need help. In the meantime, knowing many fire victims needed housing, they figured they could rent it out, which they have.

“I think they really appreciated Harriet had designed it as an older person,” Cleaver said of the 1,000-square-foot cottage, complete with front porch for sitting and small deck off the back bedroom for sunning.

Easing rules

A new state law went into effect this month, aimed at easing restrictions on accessory unit construction and continuing a trend of developing more affordable housing.

Among the changes is a reduction from 5 feet to 4 feet in the minimum required setback from the back and side property lines. Cities and counties also may no longer require property owners to replace onsite parking if they convert a garage into a second unit.

Previously, many local ordinances required a property owner to live in one of the dwellings on their site. Now they can rent out all dwellings on a site and live elsewhere. Also, minimum lot sizes have been lifted for granny units of 800 feet or smaller.

Cities and counties are changing their ordinances to meet the new state measure.

Residential property owners now can build two accessory dwellings on their property - a detached cottage up to 1,200 square feet and an attached apartment up to 500 square feet with a separate entrance, kitchenette and bathroom.

Amy Nicholson, a senior planner for the city of Santa Rosa, is working on new policies to bring to the city council. Sonoma County has set a goal of adding 30,000 housing units over five years.

“In many ways, the city already was forward-thinking and had relaxed a lot of standards, and it increased the number of applications we received,” Nicholson said.

These smaller homes can allow older people to live independently longer and can be an alternative to costly assisted living. Redlich has a caregiver, Betty Ortiz, who comes by daily to help with small tasks.

Redlich stressed that granny units should not be confused with tiny houses, which are typically 400 square feet or less and built on wheels.

A granny unit is not just a tiny structure that looks like a house. They are real cottages or bungalows of 400 square feet or more.

Redlich said she’s been comfortable for more than two decades in her cottage. She recommends anyone considering second units to make them accessible to disabled and older people.

That means wide doors and halls, easy-to-use door knobs, plywood backing in bathrooms to accommodate future grab bars, easy-to-reach electrical outlets and cabinets, sufficient space for wheelchairs and low concrete floors for ramps.

Granny Houses by a Granny is available at grannyhouses.net

With the rules for accessory dwelling units being eased in the face of rising demands for housing, more people are looking for ways to tuck one onto their property.

Once called “granny units” - envisioned as a way for seniors to live independently but close to family - these smaller, secondary homes behind homes now meet a variety of needs, from housing caregivers and grown kids who can’t afford places of their own to providing additional income as rentals. Some people are even downsizing into the smaller backyard cottages and renting out their larger houses when their children leave home.

Granny units are also a good, and affordable, alternative for seniors who no longer can or want to manage a full-sized house.

Starting this month, the state relaxed regulations to make it easier for property owners to build them. As a result, cities and counties are retooling their own ordinances to conform.

If you’re thinking of adding a granny unit to your property, who better to ask for advice than a grandma, especially one who’s also an architect and lives in a granny unit she designed for herself?

Snug, flexible space

Petaluma architect Harriet Redlich, 94 going on 95, has created a book, a bound pamphlet, really, called “Granny Houses By a Granny.” It includes practical design ideas and plans, elevations and computer renderings for six snug homes.

There’s a studio that can double as a study, artist’s studio, guest quarters, in-law unit or even dance studio. Another design is for an 840-square-foot bungalow with one bedroom; an open study and a combined dining, kitchen and living room.

Redlich’s ideas come from years of professional and personal experience. A practicing architect for 70 years, she never anticipated that when she designed a little cottage for herself and her late husband behind their son and daughter-in-law’s home in west Petaluma 24 years ago that she would live there for so long.

“When we were building this, I really wasn’t planning on getting old,” she said, flashing a smile. “So probably I should have done some things differently.”

The house has a small kitchen separated from the living/dining room by a counter. High-pitched open beam ceilings make the cottage feel spacious.

Redlich makes the most of her space. A partial privacy wall that doesn’t meet the ceiling separates the combined living/dining room from what was a bedroom. When her husband died, Redlich turned that area into a studio, where she still experiments with computer designs and watercolors. A large walk-in closet has been converted into a sleeping room, and the converted garage room where she once had her design studio has been turned into a junior accessory dwelling studio with a separate bathroom and mini-kitchen for her college-aged grandson.

One thing Redlich might change if she got a do-over is to move the bathroom to the middle, flipping it with the walk-in closet she uses as a tiny bedroom.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m sleeping in the closet. I feel like it’s my bedroom. If I didn’t like it, I couldn’t sleep in that room,” she said.

The bathroom is now at the far end of the 640-square-foot cottage. It’s harder for the nonogenarian to get around than when she first moved in, so making the bathroom closer to the living room and kitchen would be helpful.

At her advanced age, she also finds that the radiant heating doesn’t always take the chill off.

“When I was young and in my 80s, the radiant heat was perfect,” she said, once again offering a smile.

But other design ideas still work all these years later. The step-saving kitchen is designed so everything is within easy reach.

“Storage is located between knees and nose,” Redlich said, her rule of thumb for a good range of motion.

Large glass doors extend out to a patio. Redlich believes one of the best things you can do with a granny unit is orient it facing west to catch the sun in winter. Use overhangs to provide shade in summer. She also recommends facing the house to catch a view. And if there is no view, create one with a nice garden or patio.

Starchitect training

Redlich never formally studied architecture. But she did apprentice in the offices of two of the greatest architects of the 20th century.

While enrolled in a work/study program through Antioch College in Ohio, she served internships with Minoru Yakasaki, who designed the World Trade Center in New York City, and the renowned modernist Richard Neutra.

“I worked in (Neutra’s) office. I was an apprentice, which meant no pay,” she said. “I hitchhiked out from Ohio with a friend to Los Angeles and knocked on doors. He was the only one who answered. He was one of the big ‘starchitects’ in those days.”

An art and engineering major, she learned the most when she got back to Antioch and worked in the office of the school architect, picking up practical skills.

“I worked enough years for architects that I could sit for my license without going to architectural school.”

While raising two children with her schoolteacher husband, Redlich continued to work, mostly on rehabilitation projects in Chicago. After she retired to Sonoma County to be near a son, she began experimenting with accessory dwellings.

Several of her granny units are in the neighborhood. Last year, Sebastopol architect Claudia Cleaver of Morse & Cleaver Architects adapted one of Redlich’s plans to create an accessory dwelling for an older couple who wanted a second home on their Sebastopol property. They had first approached Redlich, who reached out to Cleaver after deciding it was too difficult at her age to take on a new project alone.

Cleaver said the still-active seniors were looking ahead, eyeing the project as a home for a future caregiver if they were to eventually need help. In the meantime, knowing many fire victims needed housing, they figured they could rent it out, which they have.

“I think they really appreciated Harriet had designed it as an older person,” Cleaver said of the 1,000-square-foot cottage, complete with front porch for sitting and small deck off the back bedroom for sunning.

Easing rules

A new state law went into effect this month, aimed at easing restrictions on accessory unit construction and continuing a trend of developing more affordable housing.

Among the changes is a reduction from 5 feet to 4 feet in the minimum required setback from the back and side property lines. Cities and counties also may no longer require property owners to replace onsite parking if they convert a garage into a second unit.

Previously, many local ordinances required a property owner to live in one of the dwellings on their site. Now they can rent out all dwellings on a site and live elsewhere. Also, minimum lot sizes have been lifted for granny units of 800 feet or smaller.

Cities and counties are changing their ordinances to meet the new state measure.

Residential property owners now can build two accessory dwellings on their property - a detached cottage up to 1,200 square feet and an attached apartment up to 500 square feet with a separate entrance, kitchenette and bathroom.

Amy Nicholson, a senior planner for the city of Santa Rosa, is working on new policies to bring to the city council. Sonoma County has set a goal of adding 30,000 housing units over five years.

“In many ways, the city already was forward-thinking and had relaxed a lot of standards, and it increased the number of applications we received,” Nicholson said.

These smaller homes can allow older people to live independently longer and can be an alternative to costly assisted living. Redlich has a caregiver, Betty Ortiz, who comes by daily to help with small tasks.

Redlich stressed that granny units should not be confused with tiny houses, which are typically 400 square feet or less and built on wheels.

A granny unit is not just a tiny structure that looks like a house. They are real cottages or bungalows of 400 square feet or more.

Redlich said she’s been comfortable for more than two decades in her cottage. She recommends anyone considering second units to make them accessible to disabled and older people.

That means wide doors and halls, easy-to-use door knobs, plywood backing in bathrooms to accommodate future grab bars, easy-to-reach electrical outlets and cabinets, sufficient space for wheelchairs and low concrete floors for ramps.

"Granny Houses by a Granny" is available at grannyhouses.net.

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