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Lafayette In-Law

(Beyza Demirtas photographer)(Beyza Demirtas photographer)(Beyza Demirtas photographer)

Lafayette In-Law, a 2013 AIA East Bay Home Tours house
Completed: 2005
Architect: LDA Architects, Thomas Lee, AIA
Photographer: Beyza Demirtas

In Lafayette, California, the Buller-Lee family presented Thomas Lee, AIA of LDA Architects with a challenge – to create a new, free standing in-law unit in a contemporary style, while respecting community design guidelines. The site is an exposed hillside behind the family’s suburban ranch style home, overlooking Happy Valley. The owners asked only for abundant space to display their eclectic collection of art.

The architect designed a gracefully transparent solution that captures broad views across the valley and makes this modest building feel much larger than its 750 square feet, reminding us all that it is possible to live very well in a space this size. Floor to ceiling glass comprises the eastern face of the home, which is shaded by a trellis that appears to extend through the glass. The interior portion of the trellis acts as a shelf for the owner’s art. Outside, the trellis supports flowering vines. The result feels like an inviting nest cut into the hillside.

The in-law unit is a model of sustainable design. The rear side of the building is dug into the earth to minimize the impact of the structure and gain natural insulation value. The east-facing windows allow for early morning warmth while the trellis screens out the midday sun to reduce cooling loads.

Though the project was originally conceived as an income producing opportunity, the clients so loved the new residence that they moved into it themselves, choosing instead to rent out the main house. Thanks to their architect, this small project intended as a financial venture resulted in an abundance of clever design that captivated the owners beyond their expectations and became their home.

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