Living in a 1,400-square-foot home, Xiyin Tang and Paul Laskow wanted more space for their growing family. Now, they have it: A 320-square-foot prefab accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, that extends their floor plan while preserving their historic 1936 Streamline Moderne home.
The couple purchased the historic-cultural monument in the Fairfax District for $1.5 million in the summer of 2020 after it had sat on the market for several months.
The three-bedroom, two-bath home was designed by architect William Kesling as a Hollywood hideaway for actor Wallace Beery and was problematic for several reasons, including that it was tenant-occupied and has historic status, which could prove challenging for future renovations. And to top it off, it was small.
However, small-space living was not a deal breaker for the former New Yorkers, who had rented an 850-square-foot apartment in Dimes Square before moving to an apartment in West Hollywood.
“It was big for two people by New York standards,” says Tang, 35, a professor at UCLA’s School of Law, about the house.
When the couple and their 2-year-old daughter, Catherine, finally moved in, Tang was pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Suddenly, with another baby on the way, the couple worried they couldn’t accommodate visits from their greatly missed parents who lived on the East Coast.
“We felt like we needed more space,” says Tang. “We intended to build something in the back, but the timeline changed when I got pregnant. We needed to build something very quickly.”
Because of the home’s historic status — it was designated a historic-cultural monument in 2018 after a developer purchased it and filed plans to build condos on the site — the couple was required to work with the Cultural Heritage Commission on exterior and interior alterations.
They loved the home’s Streamline Moderne details and decided to preserve the house with minor changes, including a new roof and kitchen. They added the ADU behind their home on the spacious 7,000-square-foot lot.
Working with Los Angeles-based Cover, which specializes in one-story prefabricated ADUs manufactured in L.A., the couple wanted to install a custom ADU (priced between $275,000 and $295,000, depending on site-specific conditions) before Tang delivered their second daughter, Maggie, in November 2021.
For its part, Cover offers fixed pricing upfront and manages all aspects of the building process. But it could not contain the issues that arose during the pandemic.
“One of the advantages of a prefab ADU is that it can be built more quickly than a traditional ADU,” Tang says. “Unfortunately, we tried to build an ADU at the worst possible time because of COVID. There was a lumber shortage. Permitting took a year. Everything was back ordered.”
After the permits were finally issued, the ADU was installed on site in 43 days using a panelized building system manufactured in Los Angeles. Seven months later, the permits for occupancy for the ADU were completed in time for Maggie’s first birthday party.
“One thing that is different about our prefab system is that we ship flat-packed panels from our Gardena factory rather than shipping large room-sized parts that require a massive crane,” says Alexis Rivas, co-founder and chief executive of Cover. “Overhead power lines and trees can prevent you from building with a big crane.”
The steel studio comprises an open-plan bedroom, kitchen and living area with a small desk between the kitchen and full-height built-in storage. A bathroom with a walk-in shower faces a stacked washer and dryer that is a hit with guests. A floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door allows easy access to the backyard, and narrow floor-to-ceiling windows look onto the main house and the pool, connecting the two homes. There are also integrated wall-mounted LED lights that add illumination and help keep lighting things simple.
“The main house has a lot of windows, and you can see people coming and going to the back house,” Tang says. “It’s nice to talk to your friends and family through the doors and windows.”
Tang, who loves to cook, was drawn to Cover because of its high-end kitchen appliances, including an under-counter Sub-Zero refrigerator and a Wolf induction cooktop, oven and hood.
Sitting side by side, the austere square-box ADU, with its warm oak floors and white composite exterior, complements Kesling’s curved walls and ocean liner details.
“The main house is so distinctive,” Rivas says. “I think it’s much better to contrast it than try to match it.”
In an ideal world, one home would be able to accommodate multiple families, but that’s not always possible. Tang says one of the hardest things about moving to L.A. was leaving family. Now, the ADU allows everyone to stay close.
“Our parents have come out to stay with us multiple times,” she says. “The ADU allows us to put them up in the back, and everyone can go their separate ways. Catherine loves going out back and waking up our guests. Recently she went outside early in the morning in her rain boots and umbrella and brought my mom an umbrella to ensure she didn’t get wet. It’s a wonderful image in my mind. It’s so nice to be able to share those moments.”
“About a third of our customers have put them in for their family members to live in full-time,” says Rivas, who lived in one of Cover’s 450-square-foot ADUs for a year.
Tang and Laskow also have a lot of friends from New York who come to stay in the ADU, which is in use every month. “This past month, we’ve had one friend, their dog and 2-year-old stay for a week — and another couple stay for three weeks,” says Laskow, 35, who heads transportation at online resale site the RealReal. “Our friends from New York always say, ‘Wow, this is so big. This ADU would be a covetable apartment in New York.’”
Despite the many challenges and delays because of COVID-19, the couple is happy with the outcome. Their modern ADU blends well in the historical context and allows them plenty of room to accommodate their family and work-from-home needs.
“It’s such a wonderful change,” Laskow says. “And not just the house. We love having outdoor space. We are so happy we could add the ADU and retain some patio space and grass for the kids.”