Home > Design & Decor > Home Tours > This Oregon Family Turned a Falling-Down Garage into a Cool New Guest House

This Oregon Family Turned a Falling-Down Garage into a Cool New Guest House

A newly built structure in this Portland, Oregon, backyard offers its owners extra living and play space and welcomes guests from near and far.

family portrait in front of remodeled garage
The Franson-Timby family pose outside their garage-turned–freestanding guesthouse.

Leighann Franson and Mark Timby’s guesthouse is just as inviting to strangers visiting from China as it is to friends and family. It’s also the first place their eight-year-old son heads to check the glide of his paper airplane after launching it from the bedroom loft.

white modern stairway with yellow chair sitting area
Open space under the stairs serves as a cozy reading nook, and prints by Portland artists add local charm for out-of-town guests.

The versatility of the 515-square-foot structure is just what the couple had in mind when they set out to create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), the official term that cities use to define separate living quarters from stand-alone homes. Leighann and Mark, who live in Portland, Oregon, wanted the place, where a dilapidated garage had stood, to get lots of use. Their goal was to create a space they’d enjoy themselves and use Airbnb rentals to help cover the costs of building (a construction loan of $130,000, plus $30,000 in fees and permits) and the additional property taxes, insurance, and utilities. They also wanted to give back: Guests can donate 2 percent of the rental fees to the local charity of their choice.

“We’ve hosted people from Switzerland, Canada, Korea, Panama, and China. Mark and I used to travel a lot. What we love about the guest house is that it brings the world to us.”

— Leighann Franson

The ADU is just steps from the cozy 1,100-square-foot 1926 bungalow that Leighann and Mark have shared for almost 15 years. When they decided they wanted more space to spread out in, they resisted a straight expansion. “These old homes have such character,” Leighann says. “Our house is just fine. We don’t need a bigger house.”

Mark had been following the work of local expert Kol Peterson, who had blogged about building his own ADU and has since written a book about the process. Once the couple saw they could create a structure where the old garage had once stood, they embraced the challenge. “We enjoyed working within a small space to make it the best it can be,” Leighann says.

They were required by local ordinances to reference the architecture of the original home when building their ADU. “The proportion of the windows had to match the proportion of the windows in the main house, and the exterior siding had to match,” Leighann says. “But the result is a beautiful consequence of our vision plus the constraints the city put on us.” To counterbalance the gray Pacific Northwest winters, they included plenty of windows—21 to be exact—plus three glass doors and skylights in the dormer.

The couple shared photos of inspiring structures with architect Alan Armstrong and builder Joe Robertson to offer some direction. The open steel-and-cable railing, butcher-block countertops, and polished concrete floors were all part of Leighann and Mark’s plan. They even met their goal of shopping locally: Kitchen and bathroom shelves came from salvaged wood, while two-by-fours from a friend’s remodeling project were repurposed into sills for the windows. What was once the garage’s roofing is now an outdoor shower.

After years of studying, planning, and saving, Leighann and Mark finally got their ADU, which has brought them more elbow room, closer relationships with their neighbors, acquaintance with international guests—and a spot to shower on warm evenings under lilac blossoms. “We are so grateful we were able to bring this vision to life,” Mark says.

By Sarah Egge Photographs by Laurie Black | Field Editing by Andrea Caughey | Styling by Janna Lufkin

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Reveal, Drew & Jonathan’s lifestyle magazine.

Love This Item?