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Curtains, The Drape; Paint, Portola Paints; Bedding, The Citizenry; Floor Tile, Fireclay.

Claire Thomas, ​​the creator of The Kitchy Kitchen blog and cofounder of Sweet Laurel Bakery, gets asked all the time if she wants to sell her Los Angeles house, and the answer (so far) has always been no. “Because you realize you can’t buy anything…it’s a hot market; our dollar wouldn’t go very far,” she says. Instead her approach to her own space—and her advice for her design clients—has been to maximize whatever it is you’re working with. “The idea of a starter home doesn’t really exist anymore. It’s more, how can you make it work for as long as possible and build equity?” she continues. One way Thomas has learned to help others in the Southern California area do that? Convert their garages into accessory dwelling units (ADUs). 

The garage, before.
The garage, before.

Not only can you add livable square footage to your property this way, but you can rent out the bonus space. That’s the exact idea behind the Ocotillo Oasis, a casita vacation rental in Joshua Tree that Thomas recently designed for a fellow Airbnb host, Cherish. The roughly 20-by-25-foot garage started out as your standard cement-clad box. Now it looks like a villa you’d see at a fancy hotel in Mykonos. 

Create Flow From Scratch

Curtains, The Drape; Paint, Portola Paints; Bedding, The Citizenry; Floor Tile, Fireclay.

After gutting the entire space, Thomas focused on creating a sense of geography versus embracing the inherent open-plan studio layout. “I hate walking into a basketball court,” she describes. “I like the idea of turning a corner and discovering something new.” Using microcement, a composite coating Thomas got familiar with after covering her own Yucca Valley kitchen in the material, she constructed an adobe-inspired bedroom nook within the 500-square-foot space. An oversize archway partially encloses the sleeping spot, but there are heavy curtains that can double as a divider when true privacy is needed. 

Let It Purple Rain Tile

Faucet, Signature Hardware; Countertop, Fireclay.

Naturally, being in Joshua Tree, Thomas leaned heavily into Fireclay’s Desert Collection, swathing the once-concrete floor in its soft lilac tile called Adobe. Not only does all the tile help keep the space cool underfoot, it serves a practical purpose in the kitchenette area as a countertop surface. “We didn’t want a bottle of red wine to spill over and ruin the microcement were we to use that as the counter,” notes Thomas. The recycled clay squares (seen here in Dawn) are easy to wipe down and maintain, making them renter-proof. 

Soak in the Sun

Sconce, CB2; Tile, Fireclay; Sink, Signature Hardware.
Tub, Signature Hardware.

For guests, the ultimate surprise awaits in the backyard, where a Japanese-style copper soaking tub sits, surrounded by tile. “From day one, my pitch was an epic bathroom,” says the designer. Thomas achieved just that with the Signature Hardware piece and Fireclay’s Painted Sky squares. A simple corrugated fence from Home Depot, painted a matching purple color, promises privacy. 

Forget Furniture Shopping

Ceiling Light, CB2; Paint, Portola Paints; Rug, The Citizenry; Floor Tile, Fireclay.

In both the bedroom and living area, Thomas opted for saturated limewash paint from Portola and let her painter go for big, textured brushstrokes. “The more movement the better,” she says. She learned the hard way in the past that when you want to construct a built-in sofa, you need to accommodate for the cushion depth and, in general, how someone might lounge on the couch. “We basically built the structure without the pillows, so it had to be quite deep and lower than you would expect,” she notes. The base of the piece is only around 15 inches high to account for the 5-inch-thick cushions a local seamstress crafted out of deadstock fabric. “That way when you sit, you can squish into it,” she says. “It’s very comfortable and easy to sleep on.”

Round It Out

The key to making a garage look like a real guesthouse is to combat its boxy nature with lots of curved edges. Thomas did this not only at the end of the kitchenette counter, but with the wall niches in the dining area, now filled with faux nopales cactus paddles, and the living room shelving. “You get some really interesting shapes,” she says. It’s come a long way from its car-park days.

Floor and Countertop Tile, Fireclay; Dining Set, Anthropologie.