6 Best Secrets from Frank Lloyd Wright for Smallest ADU homes

picture windows in ADU homes

Six Best Secrets from Frank Lloyd Wright for Smallest ADU homes

7min read
by Olesia Chikunova, ADU Specialist.

A typical accessory dwelling unit is smaller than a standard multi-family apartment or any single-family home; ADU architecture can be tricky and challenging at times. Limited square footage, design constraints, and stringent code requirements make it difficult to figure out the best ideas to optimize the space without compromising comfort and aesthetics while staying within the budget. 


Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most iconic architects in history with over 400 residential properties spread across the US, left an applaudable legacy in the design world. His works provide valuable lessons for ADU construction. We have studied features from Frank Lloyd Wright homes and noted what we should borrow today for the smallest ADU homes.


This article rounds up the best design features inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright homes to help you set up a unique and welcoming tiny home interior that works for any function you choose — read on to learn more! 

Introduce Natural Light

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #1
picture windows in ADU homes

When working with small spaces, natural light is your best friend. “More and more, so it seems to me, light is the beautifier of the building,” states Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Maximizing the light levels in ADU homes can make a massive difference to how the overall space feels. This is especially important when the unit is tucked away in a backyard surrounded by neighboring homes, fences, and trees. Optimizing light will not only make the interior feel brighter and airier but will also create the illusion of a bigger and more spacious area. 

There are multiple ways to introduce natural light to your ADU. Start by incorporating the concept from day One of the construction projects. Windows are the easiest way to add extra space without adding extra square feet. Make sure each room receives lighting from 2 different directions. This can include interior openings to brighter areas within the ADU, two exterior walls, windows, and skylights.

However, when installing windows, make sure to decide on the placement wisely according to the area’s climate and how the space will be used. South-facing windows, for example, provide a warm and ambient glow but bring in additional heat during hot months. North-facing windows reduce glare and provide a cooler and softer glow with much less direct light.

Remember to consider the right window size. California State Law allows this secondary housing unit to be as high as 16 feet for a one-story structure. Imagine what you can do with a ceiling this high. FLW had extensively used varied ceiling heights, often with vaulted high ceilings.

Other ideas that can help maximize natural lighting in an ADU include: 

  1. Picture windows to add style 
  2. Floor-to-ceiling windows for a luxurious feel 
  3. Clerestory windows to improve ventilation while illuminating the space 

Note: Pay attention to where the window is looking out towards – to make sure you preserve the privacy of the main house.

smallest ADU homes

Leverage The Use of Eaves

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #2

Eaves are the overhanging parts of a roof that offer added protection and extra visual interest to the exterior of your ADU. They can be designed in multiple widths and styles, including boxed, decorative, or open. Moreover, you can even paint or stain them to create a cohesive look with the overall exterior theme.

Eaves will also provide shade to the exterior walls and windows, reducing the heat load entering the interior. Quick Tip: Install a minimum of 3-foot eaves for efficient shading, but more extended eaves are even better to enjoy shading from the midday and early afternoon Sun. 

Another important feature provided by eaves is their fire resistance. California has strict building regulations and codes for fire safety — which also require the building plan of an ADU to include fire-resistant features, like boxed eaves. They are constructed with non-combustible materials to prevent the fire from spreading to the interior from the exterior. 

Design Leisure Spots For The Outdoors

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #3

A separate entrance is a must for an accessory dwelling unit. Having a beautiful garden or a covered patio, porch, deck, or balcony for the outdoors is an underrated factor that can enhance the space dramatically.

If you are building this ADU for rental income, a little effort to spruce up the outdoor area can double the income you will generate. If you’re using it for personal use or for family members, a beautiful outdoor view can definitely multiply the joy of living there by making it a more luxurious experience. 

Below is a list of exterior design options you can customize and try in your ADU to make the exterior more attractive and relaxing. 

  • Decorating a garden. Plan a layout to maximize the limited space available, select plants with sculptural qualities, and arrange plants into naturalistic groups. As Frank Lloyd advises, “group together foliage according to its true nature — that is, as it naturally grows best to show its full beauty as a lilac, a syringa, an elm, an oak, or a maple.” Make sure to use local plants, and don’t forget to replicate the same colors and fragrances in the interior of the ADU. 
  • Decorating a patio. Add heaters, a firepit, good lighting, and comfortable furniture for year-round patio enjoyment. Roll out a rug and toss in a few throws and cushions for extra comfort. Stage the space for happy days.
  • Decorating a balcony. Hang your favorite plants, decorate with fairy lights, and invest in privacy with privacy screens made of bamboo or metal. You can also add furniture for lounging or create a cozy reading nook. 

Make Creative Use of Natural Materials And Neutral Colors

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #4

Frank Lloyd Wright often incorporated aspects of nature like plants, water, and natural light into the design concept of buildings. Apart from being a sustainable option, they can uplift your interior and help you feel closer to nature, positively impacting your mood. 

The best part is that using natural materials in an ADU is a super simple task with tons of cost-effective ideas — all you need is a bit of planning and creativity. Using brick as a focal wall, limestone for kitchen countertops, and cork as the flooring for every room will do great. Other ideas like bringing in plants and flowers, using furniture made of natural material, and installing an indoor water fountain are fun to try too.

While these are literal ways to introduce a touch of nature, decor pieces that “reflect” nature will also do the trick. Stick floral wallpapers, roll out furry rugs, adorn cushions with animal-print covers, hang floral and animal wall art, install lighting fixtures with feather details, position a fish tank at the entrance — you name it! 

Decorating With Neutral Colors 

“Colors require the same conventionalizing process to make them fit to live with that natural forms do, so go to the woods and fields for color schemes. Use the soft, warm, optimistic tones of earth and autumn leaves in preference to the pessimistic blues, purples, or cold greens and grays of the ribbon counter; they are more wholesome and better adapted in most cases to good decoration,” says Frank Lloyd Wright. But that doesn’t mean the interior has to be plain and boring.

Put in some artistry and innovation with the following ideas, and you’re sure to end up with a lovely home in neutral colors that is still inviting and aesthetic. 

  1. Add a punch of personality by adding meaningful decor pieces, such as books, souvenirs, and heirlooms. 
  2. Incorporate accents in your favorite bright and bold hues with cushions, throws, rugs, lampshades, and artwork. 
  3. Create a focal point by adding a vibrant sofa and hanging interesting artwork to create a nook that attracts the eye. 
  4. Play around with lighting with sleek fixtures, such as metallic-finish pendant lights or a rod chandelier. 

Introduce texture to add dimension and depth. Smooth surfaces like metallic finishes will create a modern look. In contrast, rough wooden surfaces will bring in a rustic ambiance. The two will then combine to alleviate the neutral color scheme being used.

maison de character with statement pieces

Incorporate Built-ins

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #5

Whether it’s the kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom, including built-ins to ADU homes is always a great idea. To help you decide on the best choice for your space, we’ve rounded up a list of optional features you can choose from. 

bathroom with corner shower


  • Linen closets with storage shelves on the inside of the doors
  • Shower niches
  • Built-in wooden shelves
  • Over-the-toilet recessed storage
  • Fancy bathtub
  • Dual-flush wall-mount toilets
compact kitchen for granny flats


  • Floating shelves
  • Cabinetry
  • Small kitchen island
  • Under-counter cabinet for microwave
  • Recessed cabinet for a small wine fridge


  • Set of drawers
  • Built-in single beds or bunk beds
  • Wall unit
  • Recessed niche over the headboard
  • Floating desk
  • Built-in nightstand

Plan A Flowing Floor Plan

Smallest ADU Homes Secret #6
windows in tiny house design

Work on the layout of the rooms and the positioning of furniture within these rooms to design a flowing floor plan (an essential feature of Frank Lloyd’s architecture). 

The 5 basic rules for the flow in the smallest ADU you should follow include: 

  1. Keep sight lines unimpeded 
  2. Utilize hallways to the fullest 
  3. Match the flow according to the shape of the house 
  4. Keep the public spaces closer to the entryway and the private spaces further into the ADU
  5. Avoid dead ends and steps inside the living area
built ins in smallest ADU homes

With maximum natural light, wise usage of eaves, availability of leisure spots, incorporation of natural materials, and inclusion of built-ins, the final result will make for a wonderful backyard home. 

There are many building plans available for an easy start. Let us get started on the design for your ADU home now and get to work with the practical and tested principles and suggestions contributed by Frank Lloyd Wright! 

Your ADU will be at its best without requiring expensive design services — regardless of whether it’s a basement conversion ADU, garage conversion ADU, detached or attached ADU. 


generating interior design ideas

Backyard cottages are fun to design and are a long-term benefit for any residential lot and a source of additional property value to property owners. Many local communities have started to appreciate the flexibility of these tiny houses. Urban areas starved for affordable housing welcome ADU units but prohibit short-term rentals to promote the communal feeling in the residential neighborhoods.

Smaller dwellings are also a great choice for an elderly parent – the reason these housing units were known as granny flats and mother-in-law units for many decades.

We have written extensively on the construction of ADUs and what is required for a building permit. Construction of an ADU is the same as for single-family houses. Make sure you follow a proven construction process. ADU design is the first step toward your ADU permit.

Importantly, this step includes a site assessment visit from a general contractor you trust or a certified ADU professional. Missing a detail during the pre-construction phase will cost you extra dollars during a construction project and add weeks to project timelines. 

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