House Rules…. Living Close to Family (Again)

“We have freedoms and boundaries; we just have a great family life.” – unknown

“A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.” – Dalai Lama

“Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life.” Oscar Wilde

The holidays are here and many of us will be packed in for holiday dinners, and maybe a few card tables annexed to the dining room table or kids tables back in the kitchen.  But what is life like when you bring a friend or family member closer permamently?  Does it always look like this:

When asked about rules for living close to family, often the first answer given was to respect each person’s physical and personal space. This is a broad answer and all-encompassing answer, though. What does it mean to respect another’s space – especially if it is your family member?
Respecting Each Other’s Physical and Personal Space:
By respecting each other’s physical and personal space, many people can successfully share one relatively small area. For example, we visited meditation centers many times over the years and it was quite normal for eight people to share a room that was about the same size as a two-student college dorm room. There were usually four double deck beds – two on each side of the room. You would not think it would be possible for 8 people to quietly get along in such a small space, but it was usually extraordinarily quiet. It was an amazingly experience. How was this possible? Because each person made a conscious effort to respect each other’s space. Hospitality is actually a spiritual practice. “Treat others the same way you would want others to treat you.”
Physical space is the space between and around you and others. If your grandmother is sitting on the couch watching a television show, she should be given the space that she deserves to watch her show without disturbance – especially if it is her home. In virtually all cultures – particularly Eastern cultures – elders are unquestionably given the greatest amount of respect.
Communicate Frequently with Your Family Members:
When living amongst several family members, it is extremely beneficial to communicate in a healthy and positive manner. Whether you have extended your home and hospitality to others or whether others have extended their home and hospitality to you, communication is key. There are bound to be some miscommunication lapses and misunderstandings. Approach each other with respect. Your parents may have a more difficult time adjusting to their newly crowded home than you. It may sound trite, but if everyone is on their best behavior things will tend to work out better.
Like a Blade of Grass in the Wind – Learn to be Flexible.   Successfully living with others is both an art and a skill:

• Learning to become flexible is actually a great personal and spiritual practice.
• Learning to remain centered in one’s own inner space of calmness is actually a highly advanced state. It takes practice to master. What better time than when you are in the midst of all the commotion at home?
• Keep your sense of humor! Learn not to take everything so seriously! Practice laughing when the going gets tough.
• Being flexible does not mean that you give up your rights or needs. It does suggest, however, that they be respectfully communicated.
Discuss Home Rules Prior to the Move:
If you can have a meeting with all family members before the actual move, you will have the opportunity to create some healthy ground rules and to express your needs and concerns. For example, if you want greater quiet in the house after your bedtime, voice this. Family members can learn to whisper and to keep the volume of the TV low. It’s really not that difficult – it’s just a matter of setting your priorities and having respect for self and others.
Practical Rules from Accessory Dwelling Neighbors
• Visits: Treat each house as a separate home and respect the other as a neighbor, not an extension of your home. This may mean calling before you come over (especially for family)
• Parking: define who gets the best driveway spots or is it first come first served?
• Laundry: Is it ok to just put someone’s unfinished laundry on top of the dryer?
• Entertaining outdoors: We can design two homes to be just 4’ apart but completely separate visually. Sound travels around corners so music and fun might need a curfew.
• Smoking: Thankfully we have gotten to the point where smoking upwind is no longer acceptable. But if you must smoke, then where is it most acceptable?

Please share any ideas or lessons that you have learned and we will keep the list updated.

Berkeley Open House – Almost Completed Backyard Cottage

Email to RSVP and get the address!

Please Join Us for an Open House in Berkeley
Nov. 23rd, 12-2 PM

One of our favorite projects is almost done and we’re opening it up for you to see this Saturday, Nov. 23rd from 12-2pm in Berkeley. We’ll be there answering any questions you have about our process and how projects like this one work. Feel free to share this invitation with your friends and family. Simply email to RSVP and get the address.

This great project is close to completed with mostly just finish work left. The exterior stucco was recently added, as well as tile, lights, radiant heating, and utilities. This is a great stage to visit a work in progress as you can easily see how the space has come together.

Stay tuned for invitations to more open houses and events like this one. Please call us at 510.621.8679 or email with any questions about this project or one you might have in mind for yourself.

Granny Flats: What Neighborhoods Need.

Backyard Cottage Second Unit

The Better Block wrote a great blog post this week about the need for granny flats, or accessory dwelling units, in neighborhoods. They clearly explain how these “tiny homes do far more than increase density for neighborhoods, they also provide much needed affordable housing options for young people fresh out of school, older people looking to scale down their living expenses, or temporary residences for visitors to an area who want to get more of a “local feel” for places they travel to.”

We agree completely and applaud The Better Block’s effort to promote backyard cottages.

About The Better Block: The Better Block project started in April, 2010, when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners gathered together to revitalize a single commercial block in an underused neighborhood corridor. The area was filled with vacant properties, wide streets, and few amenities for people who lived within walking distance. The group brought together all of the resources from the community and converted the block into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination for people of all ages complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting. The project was developed to show the city how the block could be revived and improve area safety, health, and economics if ordinances that restricted small business and multi-modal infrastructure were removed. Since that time, Better Block projects have been developed throughout the World with many of the temporary infrastructure improvements and businesses made permanent.

Custom 1,500 Square Foot 2 bedroom 2 bath Home in Berkeley, CA

Size: 1100 square feet on the ground floor, 400 on the second floor
2 stories
2 bedrooms, plus a playroom and office
2 baths.

This home in Berkeley’s historic Elmwood neighborhood has both a colorful past and future. When the owners purchased their main home they inherited a dilapidated house in their backyard that was built in 1908. This house was most likely an earthquake shack that was thrown together after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906

A New Avenue partner architect and local contractor worked with the owners to bring a new future to this collapsing backyard cottage. The new home was designed in compliance with the zoning rules and kept some of the original walls. The owners both have a great eye for style and a mind for sustainability. Some of the original redwood was salvaged and used in the new home and sustainable and alternative options – like spray foam insulation, metal roofing, cement siding and radiant floor heating – were used in the new construction.

The new home is now almost 1500 square feet. There are two bedrooms and a bath on the first floor and two rooms and a bath upstairs. The upstairs rooms could be a 3rd and 4th bedroom but instead are currently used as an office and a playroom.

This home was built with sustainability in mind and also serves as an investment strategy for the owners. The home is located just up the street from several coffee shops, restaurants and stores on College Avenue. With a BART station and all these amenities nearby the neighborhood achieves a perfect walk-score of 100. It is a prime rental apartment for UC Berkeley students or young professionals, and it is in an area where rental for homes like this range from $4,500-$5,000. The monthly financing cost for this home is just over $1,500 per month. For this family, the cottage is a great annuity that is paying the tuition bills for two daughters who are in college.

Living room
Living room
Stairs to loft
Stairs to loft
Living room
Living room
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Loft office
Loft office
Living room
Living room

Backyard Cottage in Albany, CA

Judy, Jessie, Karen and Family,

This cottage is part of a much larger plan for a growing family as it allows three generations to share this cute Albany, California home. Judy has lived in the main home for over thirty years and raised her daughter Jessie here. Judy gave the main home to Jessie and her partner a few years ago to raise their kids. The whole family wants to stay in this home as it is in a great neighborhood, near a BART station, and close to little shops, a pub, a grocery store and other conveniences. In a few years, the great Albany school district will be a big benefit for the grandkids too.

Jessie and her partner did what many new homeowners do and completed a fairly major remodel to the main home with electrical upgrades, new plumbing, new windows, a new kitchen, and a new bathroom. Once that was completed Judy was ready to build her backyard cottage. She plans to use the cottage when she retires in a few years, but, until then, the family is renting the cottage to generate returns on their investment.

They were focused on sustainability throughout the project and used recycled and reclaimed materials, non-toxic paints, and solar panels. The home has Marvin Integrity windows, stained cedar siding, bamboo flooring, IKEA kitchen cabinets, a flush bathroom floor, and an exposed wood ceiling. It is positioned on the lot to have a private garden for the cottage and a larger open area that’s shared between the two homes.

Many clients ask for references, and this is Judy’s response to a number of questions from one potential client in Oakland

Recommendation Message:

1. How did you find New Avenue Homes and what made you hire them? “We had looked for a while for help with a backyard cottage. New Avenue was the first company that said they could meet the city’s requirements and make it happen. They were right!”
2. Did the project stay on course/time and/or were you updated appropriately if timelines changed?
“Absolutely! We have been on schedule.”

3. Did you check credentials of contractors or subcontractors?
“We interviewed potential contractors (not subs) but New Avenue only brought reputable choices whom he had already evaluated for us to interview.”

4. What was it like working with New Avenue Homes and their subcontractors?

“New Avenue and their team has been a real pleasure to work with.”

5. Did the job come in on budget?

6. Did you get the results and end product you expected?

“It is really beautiful and I am very happy.”
7. Would you hire New Avenue again?


8. Anything else you’d like to share?

“It is great having New Avenue oversee all aspects, from permits to design and through construction. Their project administrator has been very available and completely trustworthy.


Site_yard Floorplan Accessory Dwelling Albany CA Bay Window Guest House Albany CA Small Kitchen Fireclay Tile Guest House Albany CA Kitchen Small Hosue Guest House Bathroom Tile Guest House Albany

Susan’s Cottage in Berkeley, CA

Susan Entry


This little cottage is all about bringing family together.
It is located on a quiet East Bay block that is lined with cute California bungalows. Susan, the owner, will initially use this as extra space when her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild, are visiting from their home in Israel. Susan’s daughter is contemplating moving back to the Bay Area. If that is the case, this cottage may become Susan’s home while her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild move into the main home.

Susan has entertained renting her main home while she travels to Israel, but for now she is using her main home just as she always has. Currently she’s running the cottage as a busy bed and breakfast that is generating up to $3,000 per month in rent!
This cottage was designed for two people. It has a separate loft and tons of built-in storage. It was oriented to face a shared backyard patio for outdoor dining, and it’s just a few steps from the big kitchen in the main home. Most importantly, there is an area that can hold a big enough table for weekly dinners that have been a tradition for the family and the family’s friends for decades.

Susan DoorSusan Floor PlanSusan LivingSusan Loft

Accessory Dwelling Mediterranean Design in Orinda, CA

Size: 674 square feet
1 story
1 bed
1 bath

At the end of a long narrow driveway this Spanish-style cottage is tucked between twisty old oak trees and towering redwoods. Spring’s new cottage is a beautiful 674 square foot home that has a double-sided glass fireplace that faces both the bedroom and the living room, large windows that overlook the Orinda hill, and a brick courtyard that connects to the main home. Extra storage is tucked in out-of-the-way places with a coat closet at the main door and extra linen storage in the bathroom and a kitchen that will make almost any homeowner jealous. You should see the soft-close drawers. 🙂

SmartPlanet covered the home in this video: Click to watch it!

The original plan was to fix up a cute little guesthouse that was built with the main home in 1932. Spring interviewed a number of local architects and hired her Ron Klemmedson directly before engaging New Avenue to manage the bidding and construction administration.

The lack of a foundation, a sewer line, and asbestos made it necessary to demolish the guesthouse. After interviewing a number of contractors and receiving inflated quotes that were way out of Spring’s price range she contacted New Avenue. One of our local contractor partners worked with Spring and the architect to figure out how to build the house she wanted at a cost that was reasonable.
The heart of the story is about the three generations that share this big, hillside lot in Orinda. Before building this cottage, Spring was living in a much larger home in Southern California while her daughter, son-in-law, and their two boys owned a tiny house in Oakland. With school starting for the elder of the two boys, space running out and housing prices being out of control in the Bay Area, this family joined forces to create a living arrangement that benefited all of them.

This cottage is much more than a home, though. It is a different lifestyle for the entire family.

Now, Spring only has to pop across the yard to see her daughter and, for the two boys, their grandmother isn’t just someone they see around the holidays for a few hours but an integral part of their daily lives. This is a change that most any grandparent would enjoy. Having an extra adult around means there’s often a babysitter or summer camp chauffeur available, and that’s a lifesaver for two young working parents.

Spring made the following references the following about New Avenue:

“I talked to at least half-a-dozen contractors, all of whom gave me ridiculously inflated quotes – way out of my range. Then I talked to New Avenue, and they worked with me and my architect to figure out how we could build what I wanted at a price I could afford.
I think one of New Avenue’s main strengths is dealing with planning departments – they are absolutely amazing. Orinda told them this would have to be considered a new build, not a remodel, which would have bumped the fees up to about $50,000. They found a document showing that the house and the guest house had been built in 1932 (long before Orinda existed) and that the guest house was an independent dwelling, with kitchen and bathroom. So the city had to accept that. They brought up one idiotic quibble after another, all of which was dealt with with astonishing patience and we got the results we wanted.
The team New Avenue put together for me is terrific, friendly and hardworking. I couldn’t ask for a better crew. When they were almost finished the forms for the foundation I was very impressed with the meticulous placement of each plank, the careful bracing, the minute attention to each detail. I had never considered how important this part of a building was, but this cottage won’t go anywhere for centuries!

All building projects seem to come with unexpected problems. We discovered that we would have to put in a new sewer line and a new water line, both having deteriorated with age.
One thing I really appreciate about New Avenue and their partners is that they are very flexible, willing to work with me on ways to cut down on costs, etc. They are perfectly happy if I want to do the painting (or anything else) myself, buy the materials (using their contractor’s number), and even offered to pick up heavy stuff that I can’t transport easily. They really seem to care about me and my budget, and I feel very fortunate to have found them. And of course their green philosophy is a huge plus.”

This project won an award from the City of Orinda! Click to read about it!