Welcome to the world of ADU kitchens, where space meets style. In this guide, we’ll explore how to maximize space and budget in your ADU kitchen, turning a compact area into a culinary haven.

Whether you’re a landlord looking to attract tenants or a homeowner craving a cozy, efficient kitchen, we’ve got you covered. From understanding local laws to choosing ergonomic layouts and space-saving appliances, we’ll dive into every aspect of ADU kitchen design.

Get ready to transform your small space into a stylish, fully functional kitchen perfect for creating memorable meals and maximizing your property’s potential.

Key Takeaways
  • Compliance and Practicality: Adhere to local building codes while maximizing space. The article provides practical design tips within legal requirements for ADU kitchens.

  • Efficiency Meets Style: Small spaces can be both highly functional and stylish. ADU kitchens offer a complete culinary experience in a compact area.

  • Customization for Your Needs: Tailor your ADU kitchen for rental income or personal use. Optimize space with ergonomic designs and multi-functional appliances.

  • Cost-Effective Solutions: Create a beautiful, functional kitchen on a budget. Explore budget-friendly options like creative countertops and repurposed storage.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I can earn commissions. If you decide to purchase through my links, it is at no cost to you.

What is an ADU Kitchen?

An ADU kitchen is a functional kitchen that maximizes space usage, allows for easy mobility, and is designed to be energy-efficient. An ADU kitchen is essential to any ADU project, even the prefab ADU units.

It is a compact yet fully functioning kitchen perfect for meal prep, food storage, and enjoying cozy dinners. The kitchen in an ADU is usually in one living space with an eating area and living room space.

It is usually attached to a house or garage or stands as an independent unit and may include its living area and separate entrance.

Does an ADU have to have a Kitchen?

To answer this, you have to know the laws in your area. Most ADUs will be rentals, so having a kitchen or a kitchenette is likely necessary. Think of what type of tenant you are trying to attract and what the rental income on the property will be.

If your ADU will not be a rental unit and is instead for a guest house, elderly parents, or other family members, you may want to still design around the idea of it being a rental in the event you sell in the future.

You could make accommodations now that serve the immediate need but can also be adjusted for a different purpose when the time arises.

This will help determine what you must put into the kitchen to satisfy future tenants. Remember, kitchens and bathrooms sell – and the same for rentals.

What are the minimum ADU Kitchen requirements?

Understanding ADU kitchen requirements goes a long way in ensuring compliance with state and local laws. These requirements can differ depending on where you live. So, it’s always a good idea to check with your local building codes and regulations to know the specific requirements in your area.

In California, an “Efficiency kitchen” means a kitchen that includes each of the following: (a) a cooking facility with appliances; (b) a food preparation counter or counters that total at least fifteen (15) square feet in area; and (c) food storage cabinets that total at least thirty (30) square feet of shelf space. [1]

If you break down the definition for the food prep space, you need a 7’6″ countertop (bottom cabinets are usually 24 inches deep).

This could be a 4″ by 3’6″ L shape, which is not much space.

It is more of a mini kitchen that won’t fit a ton of stuff, but with the proper organization, you could rival a spacious kitchen.

15 square feet of countertops

Designing a Functional ADU Kitchen

Designing a functional and welcoming space is easy. There are some basics you must have in your ADU kitchen, and depending on who will be staying in the unit, you could sprinkle in a few nice amenities in creative ways.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking about design:

  • Have you heard of the work triangle?

  • What about the appliances that can make your compact ADU kitchen as functional as a full-size one?

  • How do you get the most natural light?

  • How creative can you get on a budget to maximize functional storage?

  • How do you plan a layout that best uses your space?

It’s time to dig deeper into these questions.

Ergonomically Designed Work Triangle

A kitchen work triangle is integral to efficient kitchen design, even in a smaller kitchen. It’s a guideline for the placement of the three primary kitchen tasks:

  • cooking (stove)

  • cleaning (sink)

  • food storage (refrigerator)

These three points form a virtual functional triangular work area in the layout of the kitchen, optimizing movement and reducing the need for unnecessary steps. (You may have to find another way to get your steps in!)

kitchen triangle

This may not be a huge deal in a small space because you may not be as spread out, but it could be a factor when figuring out the layout of the space of larger ADUs.

Space-saving and multi-functional Appliances

Reality check – not all ADU kitchens in accessory dwelling units are spacious. But does that mean you have to compromise on functionality? Nope!

Three words – Creative Functional Storage – and the right appliances. Many small appliances are designed to fit in smaller spaces.

A small induction cooktop with two burners may just be what your space needs instead of one of the four burner stoves. There are built-in ones and portable ones.

A convection bake microwave with an air fryer feature can replace an oven, microwave, and air fryer. This could save you a ton of space.

Single basin sinks with a built-in cutting board can save counter space. Do most people need two sinks, even in a standard kitchen?

A narrower refrigerator instead of a full refrigerator may be an option if you are short on linear footage.

A small stand-up freezer could offer an as-needed serving area or counter space.

If a dishwasher is necessary, you could opt for a portable one on a counter or shelf.

How about a griddle, coffee maker, and toaster all in one? This could help you pack some functions into one device.

A nice blender serving as a food chopper or smoothie maker would be an excellent addition to a kitchen space.

Layout Options

The layout of your ADU kitchen plays a significant role in maximizing space and ensuring functionality.

Kitchen layouts w names

Here are some popular kitchen layout ideas to consider:

  1. L-shaped kitchen: This layout gives ample room for upper and lower cabinets.

  2. Galley-style kitchen: This layout features two parallel walls with a walkway in between, maximizing efficiency in a small space.

  3. One-wall kitchen: This layout saves space and creates an open floor plan.

  4. U-shaped kitchen: This layout takes the L-shape and give a bit more storage and prep space and is usually considered the most efficient layout.
Interior Design Tip

A great example of a layout hack is how you can affordably take an L-shaped kitchen and add some 6-9″ shelving on the opposite wall to create the functionality of a U-shaped kitchen.

Cost-Effective Choices for ADU Kitchens

Building your dream kitchen in your ADU doesn’t necessarily require a hefty budget.

Believe it or not, plenty of cost-effective choices can help you design a welcoming and full kitchen without stretching your budget or having a larger kitchen space.

Consider the following design ideas to create a beautiful and functional kitchen without overspending:

  • Choose energy-efficiency appliances

  • A large stainless steel backsplash could create magnetic storage space.

  • Opt for budget-friendly materials yet still have an upscale look, such as using remnants for a granite countertop.

  • Get creative with countertops. Utilizing epoxy can be a cost-effective way to create a beautiful countertop.

  • Pay attention to the smaller details and find cost-effective options. Things like cabinet knobs can make a big impact on style and design.

  • Many flooring vendors have small lots of discounted flooring.

  • Some opt to stain and seal the concrete to save money.

  • Small kitchens may only need a few cabinets that could be found at discount stores or a marketplace.

  • Open Shelving is usually cheaper than upper cabinets.

  • Repurpose items for storage, such as a dresser or side table.

  • A multi-functional rolling kitchen island can give you additional storage and counter space and create an eat-in kitchen when needed. There are really affordable options.

  • Baskets are an excellent way to create a cohesive look on an open shelf

Storage Solutions for Small Kitchens

In ADU kitchens, maximizing square footage is crucial. And when it comes to storage, it’s all about making the most of your space. Here are some storage solutions and ideas for small kitchens:

  • Floating shelves instead of extra upper cabinets

  • Deep drawers

  • Pull-outs

  • Wall-mounted racks

  • Utilizing shelving suspended from the ceiling

  • Use 24-inch-tall cabinets that go to the ceilings.

  • Over-the-door storage racks

  • Hanging fruit and veggie baskets

  • Lazy susans

  • Magnetic shelves

  • Matching Container set

  • Shelf risers

Not only do these options offer efficient storage solutions, but they also add a touch of style to your kitchen.

Floating Shelves

Floating shelves offer extra storage and don’t take up any floor space! They are such an excellent option for a small kitchen.

They also give the space a modern feel and allow you to display your favorite dishes, beloved coffee mugs, or your collection of spice jars.

Interior of modern white room with shelves with flowers and plants in pots at soft daylight

Deep Drawers and Pull-Out

Deep drawers and pull-outs efficiently store pots, pans, and other kitchen items.

They optimize every bit of available storage space and make it easy to access items stored in the back of cabinets or drawers. The best part?

When pulled out, they bring the storage area right before you so you can see and use it more easily.

pull out deep drawers

Ceiling or Wall-mounted racks and Door-Mounted Storage

When it comes to small kitchens, thinking vertically can open up a whole new world of storage possibilities. Ceiling or Wall-mounted racks and door-mounted storage can save cabinet space and create more functional storage.

These solutions can help you make the most of your wall space, from hanging pots and pans to storing spices. They can turn your ordinary kitchen into a stylish and functional space.

Ceiling Shelf Wine Rack Hanging Bookcase Ceiling-Mounted Floating Shelves

This design hangs from the ceiling and gives space to store items. This can replace an upper cabinet, which would close off the space.

This design hangs from the ceiling with 3 shelves. This can replace an upper cabinet, which would close off the space.

Ceiling Mount Industrial Black Iron Pipe 3 Layer Kitchen Storage Shelf
3 Layer Ceiling Mount Black Flat Pipe Shelf Bracket Industrial Rustic Black Kitchen Shelf

This design hangs from the ceiling with 3 shelves. This can replace an upper cabinet, which would close off the space. Add small books on the bottom shelf for even more storage options

Stackable wall mount units take items off the counter. The units are perfect for fresh fruit and veggies. The unit also has hooks for things like bananas.

Stackable Wall Mounted Fruit Basket of Smooth Wood Lid with 4 Banana Hanger Hooks, Metal Kitchen Counter Organizer for Snack, Fruit and Vegetable Storage,
Hanging Fruit Basket, 3 Tier Over the Door Organizer, Handmade Woven Jute Wall Baskets for Organizing, BOHO Decor, Storage for Kitchen, Living & Bathroom Bedroom.

This stylish fruit and veggie storage unit offers wall storage. This set brings a natural element to the space for flexible storage.

Another flexible storage unit will take more items off the counter and utilize available wall space. This unit hangs on a hook so it is perfect for more unique kitchen layouts.

3 Tier Hanging Fruit Basket with Banana Hook, Heavy Duty Wire Hanging Baskets for Kitchen Storage, 36 Inch Hanging Vegetable Produce Basket Organizer
Simple Houseware Over The Cabinet Door Organizer Holder, Silver

Capture unused space inside the cabinets with this over-the-door storage unit. This is perfect for holding items we often lose in the back of the cabinets.

Lazy Susans

Sometimes, we have awkward corners or deep cabinets that make it harder to reach things. A lazy suzan can be placed on a countertop or refrigerator to help remove the depth issue.

Lazy Susan 2 Tier Spice Rack Organizer, Height Adjustable Turntable Seasoning Organizer for Cabinet, Metal Spice Holder for Kitchen Pantry Storage Cupboard Table,

This Lazy Susan has an adjustable height, making it flexible in all spaces.

Magnetic Shelves

The refrigerator often has unused space that can be utilized with magnetic shelves. Spices or other frequently used items can be housed and handy.

4 Pack Magnetic Spice Storage Rack Organizer for Refrigerator and Oven,

This set of four shelves is magnetic to fill the space on the side of a refrigerator. The extra hooks give you flexible storage options.

Matching Container Set

If you have open shelving and need to store food items on it, consider a matching container set that gives the space a more cohesive look.

Airtight Food Storage Containers with Lids, 24 pcs Plastic Kitchen and Pantry Organization

This set of storage containers can create a cohesive look and flexible storage options for open shelving.

Shelf Risers

There is usually extra space in cabinets that can be utilized. A shelf riser could be the perfect accessory to capture the usable space.

Set of 2 Kitchen Cabinet Organizer and Storage Shelves Stackable Expandable Storage Racks with Anti-slip Liners for Cabinet Pantry,

This set of two shelves is perfect for capturing extra space in cabinets. The shelves are stackable to offer more flexibility.

Lighting and Natural Light

Proper lighting and natural light are crucial in enhancing visibility, creating an illusion of space, and boosting mood.

Whether it’s task lighting for that precision cutting, cabinet lighting to brighten up those countertops, or natural light from large windows and skylights, a well-lit kitchen can make a world of difference.

Large Windows and Skylights

Natural light can be your kitchen’s best friend. Large windows and skylights can bring in significant natural light, transforming your kitchen into a bright and inviting space.

Pendant Lamp Over a Table Setting

A window by the sink can offer direct natural light and an outdoor view, while a skylight can provide even natural light throughout the kitchen without taking up any wall space.

Island kitchen in contemporary minimalist style apartment

Task Lighting

Task lighting ensures proper illumination for cooking and other kitchen tasks. Some great options for task lighting in ADU kitchens include:

  • Under cabinet lighting

  • Pendant lights

  • Track lighting

  • Recessed lighting

Wooden cupboards with stove placed near gray counter in modern kitchen with light decoration on wall and table in apartment

Combining all types of lighting will create layered lighting that adds to your kitchen’s aesthetic appeal. Whether it’s the warm glow of under cabinet lights or the stylish pendants hanging over your kitchen island, task lighting can be a great way to combine functionality and style in your ADU kitchen.

Final Thoughts

Designing an ADU kitchen is like crafting a masterpiece – every detail matters, from the layout and appliances to lighting and storage solutions. It is essential to know what needs to be put into it and how the space may be used.

It’s about creating a room that’s functional, stylish, and compliant with local regulations and zoning requirements. It’s about making the most of every square foot and lighting up every corner.

It’s about turning a small space into a cozy and welcoming kitchen that you’ll love to cook in.

So, remember, whether you’re a part-time chef or a home cook, a well-designed kitchen can transform your ADU into your own space.


  1.  https://library.qcode.us/lib/buellton_ca/pub/municipal_code/item/title_19-chapter_19_06-19_06_180

Frequently Asked Questions

What does ADU stand for?

ADU stands for “Accessory Dwelling Unit,” a smaller, self-contained residential unit on the same lot as an existing single-family home. It contains basic facilities such as a kitchen, sleeping area, and a bathroom and is sometimes referred to as an accessory apartment, secondary suite, or granny flat.

What is an efficiency kitchen in a jadu?

An efficient kitchen in a jadu typically requires a reasonable size food preparation counter, storage cabinets, cooking facilities, and appliances with 240-volt outlets. Waste-line diameter is not restricted.

What’s an ergonomically designed work triangle?

An ergonomically designed work triangle is a kitchen design concept that positions the stove, sink, and refrigerator in a triangular layout to maximize efficiency and minimize steps.

What are some examples of space-saving appliances for small ADU kitchens?

Compact dishwashers and under-the-counter fridges are great options for ADU kitchen design, allowing you to maximize space while meeting your needs.

  • Erin Hybart

    Meet Erin, a real estate enthusiast with a wealth of knowledge and an insatiable curiosity for all things Real Estate and living with intention. She passionately advocates for alternative, affordable, and eco-friendly housing solutions. She believes in pushing the industry's innovation boundaries and thinking outside the box. As a licensed real estate agent in Louisiana, Erin dedicates herself to assisting clients in buying and selling properties and mentoring fellow agents to succeed in their own Real Estate businesses. In addition to her professional pursuits, Erin channels her expertise into captivating house-flipping adventures.

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