Lilypad Homes Converts Spare Bedrooms into Tiny Houses

What if a person wants to take advantage of the benefits of a tiny house, but wants to keep their own home? A junior second unit might be the answer. These tiny studio apartments are built out of spare bedrooms in an existing house and contain everything needed for small, simple living. Rachel Ginis of Lilypad Homes owns a LEED and general contracting business in Marin County, Calif. and lives in her own 230 square foot junior unit—built out of the master bedroom in her home.

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Rachel’s own tiny apartment includes an alcove for the bed, a desk and dining area, a tiny kitchen and a small deck.

“After my daughter went off to college and I started Lilypad I decided to cut my overhead by moving into the efficiency apartment I created from the master bedroom in my home,” Rachel said. “To develop the apartment I converted a walk-in closet into a small kitchen and added an exterior door leading out to a deck that looks out to the wetlands and Mount Tamalpias. The apartment is laid out so that it feels like a diverse collection of rooms all in one. There are five distinct areas: the kitchen, the bathroom, the seating/sleeping area, the office/dressing area and, what I call with amusement, the great room.”

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According to Rachel, Lilypad helps to create more efficient, sustainable and affordable homes in one of the most expensive places in the U.S. Rachel also mentioned that these types of apartments help to empower other people, particularly women, who are struggling to meet expenses.

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Other benefits of this type of tiny house is that existing homes already have the infrastructure required to serve the needs of their designed occupancy. In the case of creating a Lilypad apartment, all the water, energy, parking, road use, etc. for the home has already been calculated in the original permit.

“By efficiently utilizing the spare bedrooms in homes we use resources more efficiently and do not create an additional burden on the existing infrastructure,” Rachel said.

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Various challenges do come along with this type of construction including the permitting expenses and county requirements associated with converting spare bedrooms. This can make the process four or more times as much the cost of new construction. The Lilypad Flexible Housing Initiative is in the process of creating a simple and inexpensive permitting track for the creation of second units made specifically from repurposing spare bedrooms. LilypadFHI is also creating a portfolio of lending partners who will provide funding for the development of this type of second unit.

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For Rachel, the process, the simple living aspect and the sense of community has been worth it.

“It has been an amazing experience pairing down my life to fit into a much smaller space,” she said. “The exercise deciding what was truly necessary and important to me was both insightful and freeing. I left my home furnished for renters, so not only did I create a wonderful small home for myself, but also I left a charming home behind to share with others. It is a truly rewarding experience to create affordable housing for people.”

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Photos by Jocelyn Knight and Lilypad Homes

By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Joyce - March 30, 2015 Reply

A lot of older stately homes have been converted into mini apartments or student housing near colleges. Even some older hotels and motels have been converted into similar micro apartments for income purpose. Learning to live simply in small spaces is key. Now if only we can keep the rent affordable in major cities or states.

Pat Dunham - March 30, 2015 Reply

I was able to design a similar space for a client to rent located in the breezeway area which is the area located between the main house and the garage. Access to this unit is through the garage and is constantly rented at a premium amount. You also made a good point, that being that your prospective rental is in an area that is in demand, whether a college town, or a tourist area. More and more people are taking advantage of tiny spaces and I actually recommend renting a space like this in preparation for possibly building your own tiny home.

Lisa E. - March 30, 2015 Reply

She did a really good job with this, but I would never do it. When I purchased my current home, it had a contiguous (via a breezeway) cottage with a tenant. I was put through hell with it. I rented it out several times and got nothing but headaches in return. Many renters are hostile toward their landlords and don’t consider that they are being given a nice home to live in. Instead they take out all of their resentments toward any and all authority figures on the landlord and the property. I was stolen from, they went off for two weeks at a time leaving every utility in the rental on full blast to run up the utility bill, they put snot on the ceilings, urinated down the walls… and more. I know Marin Co., is an upscale place (having lived in both Novato and San Rafael for years,) but too many people these days have bad manners and bad boundaries; they aren’t appreciative or grateful for a nice place to live. Maybe some people can make things like this work, but to me, it’s more headache than it’s worth. (I eventually stopped renting and moved my Mom into the cottage. One of my previous renters demanded I move her out, or rent him the main house… if you can believe such gall.)

    Christina - March 30, 2015 Reply

    Thank you for your story, Lisa. What a mess! Yes, rentals are a challenge and sometimes may only work out if you rent to family, friends or people you truly know to be responsible.

    Marie DeBello - March 30, 2015 Reply

    Renters on property where you also live NEVER works. The renters get the attitude that you have money to spare because they are paying you rent. They don’t consider the upkeep of the property and the cost of utilities. I actually had renters ask to live in my unit for free because it was empty, anyway. They did not consider the cost of my having to evict the last tenant and do thousands of dollars in repairs.

Amber - March 30, 2015 Reply

I’d love to do something like this for a mother-in-law style apt. My mother needs some help but is mostly independent. Something where she could have her own space that she could manage while sharing the amenities of the larger family home when desired (the large kitchen or family room for a party, a guest room, etc) is just about ideal. Really, I’d love three or four units like this with a couple of community rooms and could live happily with a few other people in a shared home that way.

Hugo Walker - March 30, 2015 Reply

As fantastic an opportunity as tiny homes, Granny flats and “Junior ADUs” have become for landlords across the country, they are having the exact opposite affect on affordability in some towns. By my unscientific polling of one neighborhood in Austin,TX 27 of 36 garage apartments and granny flats were being rented out short-term on airbnb.com. Terrific investment for several months of hard remodeling work and the folks at the above website but for folks looking for an affordable rental longterm. I’m sure there are still some student rentals of “mini” apts to be found in some neighborhoods, but my personal experience is that the only downsizing being done is by tourists! Most frustrating dilemma.

Hugo Walker - March 30, 2015 Reply

SHR above” but for folks looking for an affordable longterm rental TERRIBLE!!”

linda - March 30, 2015 Reply

weird, my husband and I were just talking about this. we already have a small house, but only use maybe half of it. Connecting two bedrooms, would give us just the right amount of room.I think its a great idea!

alice h - March 31, 2015 Reply

We converted a ridiculously large for one family home into 3 separate units for 4 generations of our family. If we were allowed to convert the garage to another apartment we’d have space for one more but alas, not allowed. A group of friends also bought a house together and did something similar.

Renting part of our home has always been something our family did and we usually ended up with really good tenants that became life long friends even if they moved on to other places.

You need to make sure tenant and landlord are a good fit when you share a home. Expectations should always be clearly stated and agreed to and terms and conditions spelled out in a contract. It’s not rude, it’s to protect both parties.

Barney - April 1, 2015 Reply

If it’s not free-standing, it’s not a house. Duh.

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