Countertop with kitchen utensils and the caption "Ideas for your ADU Kitchen"

The kitchen is the heart of your home. And an ADU kitchen is no different. Whether you are building your ADU for your elderly parents or for a rental unit, you want to design a welcoming space.

An ADU Kitchen will have all the components of a normal kitchen–places to cook, wash up, and store food. However, it does feature some unique demands in terms of design. You will want to make sure your kitchen maximizes space, is easy to navigate, and is energy-efficient.

So let’s look more closely and what your ADU kitchen will need and where to look for design inspiration.

What Does An ADU Kitchen Need?

The first thing to do when designing your ADU kitchen is to check what your municipality requires. Some cities have minimum square footage requirements for the kitchen; others require certain appliances. For example, in Santa Clara County, California, an ADU must have a full kitchen, while a JADU only needs to have an efficiency kitchen.

Once you know the exact requirements in your area, you can start the design process. While every kitchen will be unique, there are certain elements that are important to consider for all ADU kitchens.

User Friendly

Because of the types of folks likely to stay in your ADU, you want to provide a user-friendly kitchen experience. I mean, think about it. Who is likely to be living in your ADU? Whether you have short term renters, elderly parents, or college age children, none of them are looking for a complicated dining experience. (Further reading: Do ADUs Work Well as Rentals? Consider These 4 Factors.)

What these folks want is easy-to-use appliances that don’t require a lot of specialized knowledge. And if you think about it, so do you. Imagine showing up at a rental property, and there is some high-tech espresso maker with lots of knobs and dials. It doesn’t matter if the instruction manual is there. You just want to make a cup of coffee before you have to read the book.

Now imagine your elderly mom trying to make coffee with that high-tech espresso machine.

Your ADU guests are probably going to be in your kitchen drinking your coffee before you have even finished your first cup.

A basic coffee maker for an ADU kitchen beside a complicated-looking espresso machine with the caption "This, not this" and an arrow pointing to the simple coffee pot.
Do your tenants (and yourself) a favor. Keep it simple!

But this can all be avoided by choosing easy-to-use appliances. Simple coffee makers, standard stoves, and plain toasters will suit the ADU best. Keep the high-tech appliances in your own home, if you’re into that.

Designing your ADU kitchen in such as fashion that items are easy to find and accessible is also important. Open shelving can help make it easy to see what is available and where it all is. That will also keep your ADU residents from wandering over to borrow something out of your kitchen because they couldn’t find it in theirs.

Space Saving

Since ADUs are smaller than the average American home, their kitchen areas are smaller as well. They also generally house only one or two people rather than a whole family. That means when you are looking at appliances and cabinetry, you want to look at space-saving options.

Look at it this way–your main house may have a refrigerator that is anywhere between 20-25 cubic feet. And that’s perfect for a family of four to five people. But it takes up almost 3 feet of space. If you put that in a tiny ADU kitchen, there wouldn’t be room to move. And with only one person in the home, it would be sitting empty most of the time–taking up unnecessary space and using energy. (We’ll talk more about energy efficiency in a minute).

Instead, you can buy a smaller refrigerator. Now, don’t go thinking I’m talking about a dorm style mini-fridge. There is a whole range of fridge sizes between tiny and enormous out there to choose from. Pick one that’s appropriate for the size of the space.

And fridges aren’t the only appliances out there that come in smaller space-saving sizes. There have always been smaller options for RVs and boats, but as tiny homes and ADUs are becoming more popular, we are seeing more and more products like this in-sink dishwasher by Fotile.

There’s no bending to load and unload this space-saving dishwasher, which could be really helpful if the occupants of your ADU are elderly. Image courtesy of Fotile.

Choosing space-saving appliances allows you to get the most out of your kitchen square footage.

Energy Efficient

Not only do you want space-saving appliances, but you want energy-saving appliances as well. There are several reasons for this–the most obvious being that energy saving appliances are better for the environment. But there are other reasons efficient appliances are important in an ADU.

The main reason you want energy-efficient appliances is that in most municipalities, your ADU will be connected to the same electric meter as the main house. So, if the folks living in your ADU aren’t particularly conscious of their energy usage, you wind up paying for it.

Your college student may not be so good about remembering to turn the lights out all the time. (I mean, that’s the reason they are still staying close to home, right? To learn more responsibility.) But you can make sure the ADU has super-efficient LED bulbs that use a fraction of the electricity. That way, it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg as they learn financial responsibility. The same goes for kitchen appliances–the more efficient, the better!

person turning off a light switch
And maybe one day, they will learn to turn the lights off, after all.

Let’s Get Inspired!

Now that you know some of the unique challenges you will face while designing your ADU kitchen, let’s talk about the next steps.

This is the fun part. Or at least I think so.

There are lots of different ways to start to get inspiration for your ADU kitchen. You can look through magazines and design books,  search the internet, or check out specialty shops.

The Old-Fashioned Way

Before I could spend hours looking at cool designs on the internet, I used to pore over catalogs. While I very rarely bought anything from them, I looked at them for ideas.

Catalogs, magazines, and design books are all great places to look for kitchen designs. Professionals have spent hours making sure every photo looks perfect. When you find something you like, mark the page. Or better yet, collect them in a scrapbook or old-fashioned pinboard.

If you don’t want to invest in a lot of expensive design books for your project, check out your local library. They probably have a selection of books you can use to get started. This can be a great way to get a feel for the style and layout you want in your ADU kitchen.

Woman looking at pages in a design book in front of a shelf full of books.
There’s something satisfying about flipping through a physical book instead of just scrolling websites.

Design Websites

While catalogs and magazines are great, as I mentioned, they are a little old-fashioned. Or maybe you don’t have time to spend at the local library. That’s okay. The internet is there to rescue you, as always. Websites like Pinterest and Houzz are two great examples of design websites that can help you find inspiration for your kitchen.


If you don’t already know Pinterest, be prepared to lose yourself down the rabbit hole your first time. Designed to work like a virtual pinboard, lets you save images from websites you search or view images other people have saved–or “pinned,” as they say.

Like other social media platforms, you can follow others and see what they are pinning, or you can search by specific terms. You can then organize your saved pins onto boards organized by topic.

Start a Pinterest board for your ADU kitchen. As you search for design ideas and appliances, you can save them all there in one place. You can even share your board with others to get their ideas.

Create an account and check out this Pinterest Board for some super cool ADU kitchen ideas to get started.


Houzz is a design website full of photos for inspiration, articles, professionals, and even products. Their search function makes it easy for you to find exactly what you are looking for.

Simply type “ADU kitchen” into the search bar, and you will be amazed at how many different styles and designs come up. You can refine your search as you begin to get a better feel for whether you are looking for modern, traditional, or perhaps another style for your kitchen.

screenshot of the search "ADU kitchen" on
“ADU kitchen” had more than 11,000 results in photos alone.


Specialty shops like Ikea that focus on efficient use of space are a great place to shop for your ADU kitchen. If you have an Ikea near you, you can visit their showroom and actually get a feel for different size living spaces, including kitchens. And even if you can’t make it in person, you can visit virtually on their website.

Their affordable cabinetry can all be customized to the needs of your specific design, making it a popular choice with builders and clients alike.

Ikea KNOXHULT Kitchen cabinets
You can purchase these components for your ADU kitchen from, ready to install.

Final Thoughts

Just like in any home, you want your ADU kitchen to be a warm, welcoming, comfortable space. By taking into account who is going to be using it and how, you can design an easy-to-use, energy-efficient space.

Take advantage of your local library, websites like Pinterest, and design centers like Ikea to refine your sense of style and inspire your build. Before you know it, you’ll have more ideas than you know what to do with.

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