See more of the story

Less is more. That's the philosophy that wife/husband duo Alyssa Meyer and Bryce Caldwell set out to follow. They decided to adopt a lifestyle in which they lived abroad part of the time.

And while they loved their south Minneapolis home, they didn't need all 2,200 square feet when they were traveling so much. That's when they brought in Christopher Strom Architects to rebuild their shed-like garage and add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) above it.

"We wanted something that was more tailored to us and we wanted to rent out our main house," Meyer said. "We wanted a really beautiful design full of light. We wanted a tropical Scandinavian vibe with tile and butcher block."

The challenge: While they were up for living within a smaller blueprint, the 550-square-foot space would need to comfortably accommodate the entire family — the couple, their dog Pippa and cat Penny. The location, above their garage and next to an alleyway, also needed to feel tucked away.

The team: Christopher Strom Architects' Elizabeth Akkerman, project manager/AIA, and Christopher Strom, architect/AIA. Collaborators include Über Built general associates and Bunkers and Associates structural engineers.

The solution: With such a small space, a few custom pieces were key. A slope in the roofline allows for custom shelving and storage, including a large slide-out cabinet near the entryway for shoes and kitchen items such as slow cookers and blenders.

"It's as deep as the couch," Akkerman said. "Every square inch was used for decorative and storage purposes."

They also built a special cabinet with a cat entrance for the litter box.

"The door to the side opens completely so you have very easy access by just sliding it out and cleaning it. But it's very out of sight and self-contained at all times," Akkerman said.

Full potential: To further maximize space, a double sliding door was installed for closing off the bedroom and the main space.

Still, a smaller footprint didn't mean the house is without amenities. The ADU has a walk-in closet, a full bathroom with a soaking tub and a shower with wall-spray jets. There's also a full laundry room.

Thanks to an upper deck that was integrated into the design, it also boasts outdoor living space.

Finishing touches: The homeowners love plants and gardening, and that became part of the design. A large catalpa tree in their yard serves as a canopy for the house.

Windows and skylights were strategically placed to connect the outdoors and create spaces for plants to grow. That includes a large picture-frame window in the kitchen, which was made from the same butcher block material as the counter.

"The wood butcher block adds warmth to the space," Akkerman said. And "we really wanted to frame that window in a way that would pull the light in, so if you were washing dishes or prepping food, you would capture that feeling of being outside, being pulled into a large space. We were trying to blur the lines between outside and inside."

The reward: An ADU with a "tropical Scandinavian" feel and a place where the entire family can exist comfortably.

"It's been a great space full of light. We call it the treehouse because the canopy of the tree is fully covering it," Meyer said. "Both of our animals love it because they can be with us all the time and that's all they want, anyway."

During the pandemic, the couple stopped traveling and have been home full time. They recently transitioned back to the main house for now and are renting out their ADU as an Airbnb.

And for a couple who love to travel, they're happy to provide a space for others to rest their head while in town.

"We've met so many guests from all over," Meyer said. "It's been great."

Everyday Solutions showcases projects by members of the Minnesota chapter of the American Institute of Architects that solve a homeowner's everyday design challenge.