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.
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.”