How a Struggling Single Mom Built an ADU, Without Killing a 60-Year-Old Tree

When Chantal Arnoult moved with her family to France in 2008, she had no idea she would return to Los Angeles four years later, divorced and unable to afford the house she and her then-husband had bought. for $395,000 in 2002.

“I was broke, with two kids and out of work,” she said. “I had a long-term tenant, so I stayed with my sister, then I rented another place. When I refinanced the house, I still couldn’t pay the mortgage, so I rented my house on Airbnb for five years. My kids and I moved seven times. It was a constant juggling.

When a new series of California laws passed in 2017 To facilitate the construction of secondary suites, or ADUs, Arnoult decided to relocate, withdraw his retirement funds and build a 650 square foot income property in his Mar Vista backyard.

Raised windows maximize privacy and light.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Conceived by his sister, the Venetian architect Isabelle Duvivier, the ADU stands as a case study in the efficient use of space and a thoughtful approach to preserving the tree canopy.

“We are losing our canopy due to development,” said Duvivier, who sits on the city’s city council. Community Forest Advisory Committee. “People sacrifice every ounce of open space to make these big boxes. It’s OK to build, but build with nature. Ninety percent of our canopy is on private property. Trees provide shade, purify the air, collect rainwater and connect us to nature. As our city heats up, it’s even more important to save the trees. I’m a building designer, but I feel like a building is meaningless without a connection to the outside.

The house is also an inspiration to anyone trying to balance the economic struggles of trying to live, work, and raise a family in Los Angeles.

A living room, photographed from the kitchen

Sunlight streams through the windows and patio doors of the ADU.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

“I worked hard to make it affordable,” Duvivier said of the ADU, which was completed in 2019 for around $225,000, including pavers, landscaping, fencing and a conversion of attached garage which shares a wall – and can also be rented. “Most of my ADUs are over $300,000. This is the cheapest I’ve built, partly because Chantal chose the cheapest offer. But I think it’s a nice unit.

ADUs are complicated, Duvivier said, because they’re on small lots and “everyone wants a rooftop terrace and two bathrooms in a tiny space.” They are also complicated by things that people often overlook, such as the fact that new homes must sit five at six horizontal feet power lines. “ADUs are often closer to power lines, so you have to get LADWP approval, and they’re currently overwhelmed with ADUs. It used to be that new buildings had to be 15 feet from power lines, but now it’s five.

A woman sits on a couch with a tree visible through the window behind her.

Architect Isabelle Duvivier with a view of the Chinese elm she has worked to preserve over her right shoulder.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Despite its two stories, the ADU is dwarfed by a massive 60-year-old Chinese elm tree that the sisters have worked hard to preserve. “I like to use two floors because you can never get the dirt back,” Duvivier said. “We had to prune the Chinese elm slowly, then when we were finally ready to build, we gave it a good cut. Now it improves his garden.

It also enhances the ADU, which is airy and bright, thanks to its southern exposure and high 18-foot ceilings that make the interior feel larger than its floor plan. “It looks bulky even though it’s tiny,” Duvivier said. “I pay attention to the orientation of the sun to ensure buildings maximize the free energy they get from the sun and stay cool with south-facing windows.”

Because Arnoult cared about the privacy of his neighbors, Duvivier designed the building with raised windows that overlook Chinese elm and other trees and provide light and privacy. “You don’t see, you see,” Arnoult said. “I actually call the ADU ‘Window to the Trees.’ The beauty of these tall windows is that you get light and nature.

A Chinese elm tree is seen through the square windows of a living room.

A Chinese elm tree is visible through the ADU’s living room windows.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Another ecological touch signed Duvivier, whose own The Venice house has won a LEED Platinum ranking, is the addition of a 400-gallon cistern located behind the house so her sister can use harvested rainwater to water the lush landscape. “We always collect stormwater on site and collect more than the city needs,” she said. “I try to incorporate it into the design so people can actually use it and not just have rain barrels because the city needs them for new buildings.”

The rental unit has two small bedrooms upstairs, one of which has a half wall that overlooks the living area. On the ground floor, there is a bathroom, a laundry room and a kitchenette (with cabinets and miniature appliances from Ikea) which open onto the living room. Oversized French doors let in more sunlight and provide easy access to a private patio and garden hidden behind a fence that separates the two homes.

Interiors feature durable, pet-friendly concrete floors (making them perfect for renters), and Arnoult reckons she’s on her way to repaying the ADU with proceeds from short- and long-term rentals. term. She furnished the space simply with an Ikea sofa bed and chaise longue with built-in storage; bar stools found on Nextdoor; a sculptural fiddle leaf fig tree; and sale accessories and Wayfair.

A kitchenette with miniature appliances.

The kitchenette is equipped with miniature appliances.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Looking back, Arnoult said she regrets hiring the contractor who offered the cheapest deal because she ended up having to hire sub-contractors to install central air conditioning and heating, gutters, landscaping, stair railings and fencing and building the kitchenette. “It might have been less stressful if I had everything included in a higher offer,” she says now.

A sink, toilet and shower

Even the bathroom has a view of the trees.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

And while she has no regrets building the ADU, she admits she was surprised when her taxes jumped from $6,000 to $9,000 a year. She also thinks it’s important for people to understand LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which regulates rent increases and evictions in a city with some of the highest rents in the country.

Due to COVID-19, Los Angeles landlords are prohibited from increasing the rent for rent-stabilized units until 2023. the main house or the entire property depending on the configuration, in an RSO [rent stabilization ordinance] goods. It should be more transparent.

Looking at the living room from a half-wall bedroom/attic.

Looking at the living room from the second floor bedroom.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Like many LA stories, Arnoult’s ADU is a saga of economic hardship intertwined with valuable real estate.

“I don’t know if I could have kept my house if I hadn’t had the additional income from my ADU,” she says. “I feel so lucky to own this house. I will not sell it. I have two children, and now I have two houses. If something happens to me, my two children will have a place to live. I don’t think my kids could afford to buy a house in LA”

Recognizing how difficult it is for so many people to find affordable housing in Los Angeles, the renovation, she said, left her humbled and grateful.

“When I was at the plan check, I was queuing up with single mothers and retirees who were building ADUs because they needed the extra income. Short-term rentals change people’s lives. This gives them the financial freedom to live in Los Angeles. I was lucky. I owned a house. I had money in the bank. My house saved me.

A bed and a side table.

Raised windows in each room overlook the trees.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

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