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Backyard Cottages Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

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Not outlaws anymore these tiny houses are having a big impact on families

TYPE OF PROJECT: new backyard cottage
PROJECT SIZE: 384 sq. ft.
ARCHITECT/DESIGNER: Bruce Parker/Microhouse

Three generations of Mary K’s family live in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. Until recently she lived a number of hours drive away and had hoped to move closer to her new great granddaughter. How much closer? Into her daughter’s back yard. Seattle’s backyard cottage ordinance allows her to do just that.

She worked with a firm specializing in backyard cottages, microhouse, to design a cottage to live where she can be a more prominent part of her family’s life. Her new kitchen window looks out on a garden shared with her daughter and her cottage features a loft for her great granddaughter to play in. She looks forward to taking her great granddaughter to the nearby woodland park zoo.

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Micro Backyard Cottages

Above is Mary K’s Cottage Nears Completion. Her cottage measures a mere 16ft x 24ft.

Her family appreciates her help as well. Raising a child is expensive in no small part due to the cost of child care. Many parents scramble to keep up a juggling act of work and child care schedules that result in children being raised by caregivers outside the family. In this day and age it seems the lucky exceptions that have family close enough to help out on a regular basis.

Interior of Mary Ks Small Backyard Cottage

Abundant windows add natural light and make the living room feel bigger than it is.

Financing for the cottage came from retirement savings so every square inch and dollar counted. Having at one time lived on a boat Mary K Knows exactly how many inches of shelf space she needed for her bath shelf, thirteen, and how many feet of rod space for her closet, five.“It was challenging for me to participate in the design process from out of town. I had the contractor leave out some items like the kitchen counter so that I could hand pick the tile and backsplash after I moved in.” Said Mary K.

Interior of Micro Backyard Cottage

A loft above the living room and kitchen will be a reading room and play house for Mary k’s great granddaughter.

Bruce Parker the lead designer used a couple of strategies to make the cottage feel larger. “Our primary strategy was to incorporate the landscape into the project through the abundant and careful placement of windows. We have also added a vaulted ceiling over the main living space and exposed the ceiling joists in the bedroom and kitchen to make those ceilings seem higher.”

Bathroom of Backyard Micro Cottage

The accessibility strategy used in the bath is to make things small so that those with mobility impairments will be able to move from support to support easily. (grab bars too be added)  The toilet doubles as a shower bench.

The cottage has been designed to be accessible for Mary K as she ages. Because it is small grab bars and surfaces will enable one with mobility impairment to navigate throughout the cottage with a degree of comfort. “In the bath we again took the approach of making things smaller rather than larger so that grab bars are always within easy reach. The shower is incorporated into the main space so that one can bath while sitting down on the toilet,” said Parker.

Backyard Micro Cottage Floor Plan

Backyard cottages are allowed in an increasing number of municipalities. For more information about backyard, cottages visit the Seattle Backyard Cottage Blog.

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More Like This: Tiny Houses | 13 Year Old Teen Builds Debt-free Tiny Home | THOW

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Cindy
    November 10, 2012, 1:25 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. I’m totally sold on the idea of living small and a stationary home is what most interests me. It’s good to know that there are states that are becoming more accepting of this type of living concept.

  • November 10, 2012, 4:18 pm

    Not a bad lookin’ place- decent layout too…. best of luck with your endeavors Bruce! -deek

  • November 10, 2012, 5:41 pm

    I love the idea of making the bathroom smaller, in order to make any future grab bars easy to grab, no matter what you’re doing. And the toilet doubling as a shower bench? Brilliant! I personally won’t need any of that for decades, but I love seeing ways to make smaller houses work for everyone!

  • November 10, 2012, 8:11 pm

    That is a very appealing cottage Mary K and Bruce! I like the corner windows and the efficient layout, using the kitchen as a corridor to the bedroom. Nice job!
    – Frank

  • Carolyn B
    November 12, 2012, 9:25 pm

    I want to know more about Mary’s brilliant, ingenious bathroom layout. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of using the toilet as the bench before.

    Seriously, where does one place toilet paper and other essentials like deodorant, tampons, bath linens, air fresheners in order to be handy from the toilet? My thought was to have 1-2 shower curtains: one behind the toilet seat to cover a space saver cabinet area and one to the side of the toilet opposite the wall to protect everything else such as a wheelchair or walker.

    I will definitely look forward to any answers or updates on this tiny home. Thanks so much for sharing and posting, Mary K and Alex.

    • Carolyn B
      January 26, 2013, 2:50 pm

      Hey Alex, Have we heard anything as to how Mary is keeping everything dry but handy around the toilet/shower? Thanks so much in advance of any reply.

    • July 1, 2013, 7:44 pm

      I should visit Alex’s blog more often. Mary K carefully measured how many inches of shelf space she needed for toiletries (13). They (toiletries) are housed on a shelf below the bath mirror. A wall mount medicine cabinet would also work. During design we talked about putting a can over the toilet paper next time I’m over I’ll have to look and see.

  • November 13, 2012, 1:48 pm

    Wouldn’t it be her granddaughter if she is moving in her daughters backyard? The article keeps saying, “Great granddaughter”.

    It’s very nice except I don’t like the bath. I need a tub so that is what I am always looking out for in these tiny/small homes.

    I’m curious if the daughters taxes will go up now.

    • November 13, 2012, 1:51 pm

      I’m also curious about the exposed ceiling joists…how about insullation?

    • November 13, 2012, 1:52 pm

      I’m also curious about the exposed ceiling joists…how about insulation?

      • Rebecca
        June 16, 2013, 10:56 pm

        If you have lived in Seattle, you know that insulation isn’t primary… very mild climate.

      • Rebecca
        June 16, 2013, 10:56 pm

        If you have lived in Seattle, you know that insulation isn’t primary… very mild climate.

    • July 1, 2013, 7:49 pm

      Her daughter’s backyard, her granddaughter and great granddaughters live near by.

      In King County DADUs are considered an addition to the main house for tax appraisal purposes.

  • Kat
    January 26, 2013, 11:20 am

    I think this is the first floor plan I have seen where I did not want to change the placement of anything! Guess that makes this one a total winner!! The only thing I would do different is putting a wood stove insert in the fireplace area… which isn’t much of a change!
    That bathroom is fantastic! What I have heard of as a “wet-room” by using the entire room as the shower. The kitchen has a nice layout as well, and love the great room feel of the living/dining area.
    Yes, I really like this! Now I am wondering if this can be built outside of the Seattle area ~ wondering if I could get approval for this on some acreage here in middle Ohio. I am so glad to have found this one!! Cheers to the designer!

  • Schneb
    June 16, 2013, 5:35 pm

    I’m wondering about HVAC, water heater, etc. I don’t see then in the floor plan–a detail perhaps, but also maybe the lack of such indicates some new approach for providing such, or some way that this works for it’s location but not for other climates?

    • July 1, 2013, 7:56 pm

      Our hope was to use a natural gas fireplace as the primary heat source but, for budgetary reasons, we used electric wall heaters. The water heater is under the sink.

  • Kim
    October 8, 2013, 5:42 pm

    I love the idea behind the bathroom but having lived on a boat for summers over many years, I did not like having the toilet in the shower area (as our boat did). It is difficult to dry off and then the floor is wet. You cannot keep your clothes in the room with you when showering so need to go nude through the area to were your clothes are. Even if hung on the outside of the door you cannot get dressed on the lower half unless you take the time to dry the floor completely. I would not mind the area if there was some type of curtain or area where I could at least stand to dry off and dress.

  • Kalex
    February 11, 2015, 4:47 pm

    I love everything but the bath….there should be a separate shower area with seating, and a separate toilet/sink area. I tend to splash a bit when showering (don’t we all?) so, the toilet is always going to be wet/slippery. Not good if you’re elderly and happen to slide off and fall. All the grab bars in the world aren’t going to help in that case

  • Marcia
    July 21, 2019, 1:57 pm

    my concern is the loft area. If great-grandma needs so many grab bars now then how is she going to get and keep the great-granddaughter “corralled” and get her safely up and down? Especially if the family is looking to lower child care costs, is “Great” going to be the main caregiver?

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