ADU Kitchen: 6 Ideas for Your Comfy Accessory Units

window in the kitchen

ADU kitchen ideas for your comfy accessory units

5min read
by Olesia Chikunova, ADU Specialist.

Building an ADU? Great decision! You will absolutely love your new (and incredibly versatile) living space. 

Accessory Dwelling Units have been known since World War II under different names. You may have heard the term “accessory apartment” or “guest house.” Some were called Granny Flats or Mother-in-law Units to reflect their value as affordable housing for elderly parents. 


Whether you aim to accommodate family members or generate rental income, Accessory Dwelling Units are one of the most remarkable solutions. These are the most flexible spaces we can think of. They expand your living space and give you more usable room — in your backyard, on the same residential lot you’ve owned over the years. 

green and yellow color cabinetry in the kitchen

There are two major ADU types – a junior accessory dwelling unit and a standard secondary housing unit. Both are complimentary to the principal residence. However, a junior ADU is typically under 500 square feet and is converted from existing living space within the existing structure. For example, you may convert a part of your attached garage into a second unit. Junior ADU does not require a separate entrance, and your resident could use the bathroom facilities of the main house. 

Larger standard ADU comes in different sizes. ADUs under 500 square feet are exempt from Impact fees. ADUs under 750 square feet benefit from some fee waivers. Its maximum size in California is 1200 square feet unless you are converting a huge (existing) barn into an ADU. Standard ADU will need its own bathroom and own kitchen. Local jurisdictions may have other requirements, from specific parameters for kitchen appliances, a full refrigerator to energy efficiency. The planning division will enlighten you when you apply for the building permit.

Types of accessory dwelling units - detached, attached, junior.

You must plan your space optimally to make the most of your ADU. This is especially true when it comes to kitchens. Owing to their functionality, the kitchen can easily be called the hub of your new living space. So, invest the time to ensure it offers all required functionality — and is aesthetically appealing — all while adhering to the space limitations.

This article is the ultimate guide to ADU kitchens, so you can plan the heart of your ADU just the right way. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

contemporary full kitchen

ADU Kitchens: Two Extreme Options

When it comes to ADU kitchens, you have various types to choose from. Your final selection depends on how you aim to utilize the space. Are you a part-time chef moving into the ADU? Do you see yourself hosting parties for the family? If you’re team Rental Income, will you rent your ADU to a single student or a small family? Consider your plans, and then decide which kitchens will best suit your Accessory Dwelling Unit.

Full Kitchen

A full kitchen is the way to go if you want a complete culinary experience in your ADU kitchen. This type is similar to traditional kitchens you can find in homes. There will be ample countertop space, with sections dedicated to food prep and serving. The appliances will be comprehensive to cater to all needs. Additionally, there will be plenty of storage space. 

Efficiency Kitchen

On the other hand, an efficiency kitchen is designed with one core principle in mind: space efficiency. While the amenities offered may not be as elaborate as a full kitchen, this type does cover all basic necessities in a more condensed way. The cooktop may be smaller in efficiency kitchens, and the countertop space may be limited. This is the option if you’re looking for a simple kitchen solution offering basic meal prep options.

Analyzing Your ADU’s Future Occupants

We’ve covered the two basic categories of ADU kitchens. But before making your decision, you have to consider a number of factors. For example, your intended use for the space. This, in turn, largely depends on the future occupants, which may be one of the following:

Medium-term renters include, for example, students who are renting your ADU for as long as their program lasts or a traveling nurse who decides to work near your area for a few months. For such medium-term renters, an efficiency kitchen will suffice, especially considering they are mostly solo residents. Whether the student prefers eating out — or the nurse enjoys home-cooked meals occasionally — they will have all the amenities they need while consuming little space in their ADU.

Long-term tenants include entire families, such as those with 4-6 members looking for a two-bedroom ADU. Such tenants enjoy having meals with their loved ones, so they would appreciate extra room for dining and dedicated countertop spaces. Of course, a full range of appliances would be necessary for cooking meals regularly.

Short-term rent is not allowed for ADUs. Sorry, AirBnB.

If your family will be occupying the ADU, the same rules apply. If busy individuals will live in the space, efficiency kitchens are the way to go. Moving in with your whole family? A full kitchen is the answer.

In any new home, a good kitchen makes for a welcoming space. Before making a final decision, look at various floor plans and consider important features for you.

compact full kitchen with dining table

Common Design Features of ADU Kitchens

There are a handful of features all types of ADU kitchens agree on. We’re sharing our top picks (and their reasoning) below — you can choose the ones that suit your ADU kitchen best.

Small Appliances

Choosing the best-fit appliances ensures you can maximize your limited kitchen space without compromising functionality. While choosing appliances, make sure they are small — and essential for a kitchen.

Compact dishwasher

No one likes to spend hours washing dishes, so a dishwasher indeed makes your ADU more attractive to tenants. Plus, it can minimize cleaning time when space is already limited. 


Under-the-counter fridge

Such fridges seamlessly fit under your kitchen countertop, so they won’t take up as much room as a bulky fridge. 


Two-range induction cooktop

Whether you’re living in the ADU or renting, cooking is a must. And with an induction cooktop, you can ensure little room is occupied.



A hood helps with odor and smoke control and improves air quality. It can also help regulate the temperature when you’re cooking in the compact ADU kitchen. And because it is wall-mounted, a hood won’t take up any floor space.


Compact microwave oven

Microwaves are great for people on the go, so if you’re renting to busy tenants, adding a compact version is a must. Some small microwaves can even be mounted on top of the oven to free up countertop space.


Toaster oven

A toaster oven is small in size but can still work well for baking and toasting. It can also be utilized for roasting. The plus point? It replaces its full-sized counterpart.

window in the kitchen

Natural Light

While natural light is essential in every nook and cranny of an ADU, it is especially important for the kitchen. This is because ADU kitchens are compact, and natural light can visually open them up.

When light illuminates the space, it appears brighter. This often creates an illusion of more space. To make the most of this property of natural light, use light/neutral paint colors in the kitchen.

Allowing natural light to enter during the daytime can help with visibility, making it easier to see and cook. On top of that, it conserves energy and saves on utility bills. Because it ties the space with Mother Nature, allowing sunlight can also hold health benefits for ADU residents!

For an ADU kitchen, you can either go for a window by the sink, allowing for direct natural light and giving a great outdoor view. However, it can limit cabinet space by taking up a portion of the available wall. Plus, it can compromise privacy.

On the other hand, a skylight (similar to a window on the ceiling) contributes to even natural light throughout the kitchen. It doesn’t take up any wall space. In contrast, skylights give limited outdoor views and may be expensive to install.

under cabinet lighting

Under Cabinet Lighting

Adding artificial lighting is important while setting up your ADU to fill the gap during dark hours. In a typical kitchen, this could be different forms of layered lighting. But in your small ADU kitchen, under cabinet lighting and a fixture for general illumination will suffice.

This is because under-

cabinet fixtures act as task lighting, illuminating the countertops for meal prep. Simultaneously, they work well for general illumination, especially considering the small size of the interior. Toss in another hanging fixture, and you’ll be good to go!

induction cooktop for ADU kitchen


Ensuring optimal storage is a must in your ADU kitchen, so be sure to strategically plan space use. Think out of the box and pay attention to the ceiling height — that’s what you will use for storage. In that regard, shelves and cabinets can help utilize vertical space. Wall-mounted racks are also an excellent option for hanging pots and pans.

Multi-functional furniture provides double-duty, such as dining tables with hidden storage compartments. Additionally, consider deep drawers instead of regular ones. Corner cabinets also provide extra storage — use rotating mechanisms for easy access.

Kitchen Island

Consider installing a kitchen island in your space for additional benefits. For example, you get extra countertop space for meal prep and storage in the island’s drawers. It acts as a subtle room divider if your area has an open-plan layout. Plus, well-designed kitchens almost always have islands as the focal point.

However, it’s important to note that your island will take up valuable floor space in the already small kitchen. This can hurt traffic flow, leading to limited mobility. Plus, installing a kitchen island can incur extra costs.

If you’re leaning towards an island, consider an island on wheels. You can roll it in when you need extra countertop or storage space — and remove it when space constraints kick in.


Integrating a laundry area in your ADU kitchen is another possibility often seen in European apartments. Combining the kitchen and laundry allows space efficiency, so you don’t need to allocate a separate area for both. It also means you can efficiently multitask (cooking and washing the clothes simultaneously). A hidden benefit is reduced — and optimized — plumbing costs. Not to look down upon with current construction costs. 

However, remember that having a laundry machine in your kitchen can reduce space in the already small kitchen. The laundry odors can also mingle with kitchen smells to create an unpleasant ambiance, and the machine’s noise is an added con.


Designing an ADU kitchen is more tricky than a regular one because of space constraints. Similar to tiny homes, your square footage is limited, but there should still be no compromise on functionality. We try to jam all best practices into the ADU kitchen design process.

While this may seem challenging, a little forward planning can go a long way! California State Law is trying to make the development process of ADU projects easier.

Let us make accessory dwellings great places to live in with intelligent interior design. Check out our our ADU Kitchens Pinterest Board for more ideas.

kitchen island

Related Posts

Leave a Reply