Pool! Firepit! ADU! How This Designer Tripled the Function of an Encinitas Backyard

Tile is a part of it all.

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chaises next to pool

Interior designer Abbie Naber can be patient. When she first met Gordon and Maryanne, the owners of this Encinitas, California, home, they thought that overhauling the backyard and constructing an ADU would be part of the entire renovation. But that was before the work got started. “There were some permit issues with the city, as these things sometimes go,” Naber says. Her solution: Divide the project into two parts.

Naber saw the continuation positively; a sequel that may be as good or even better than the original. She spent last year working closely with the couple, who have three young sons, to turn their 1970s property into a modern hideaway without losing the earthy casualness that defines both eras. Between them, architect Paola Benzoni, and Michael Celis at Oregon Trail Remodeling, Naber felt as if the second phase of the project had something the first phase lacked: familiarity. 

pergola and tree in yard
The yard, before.

“We spent so much time together that I knew Maryanne’s style well,” she says. “You can save a lot of time guessing about something when you have a good idea of what someone is going to choose.” Here’s how they tied up loose ends by making a promising backyard fulfill a Southern California fantasy. 

Take Advantage of an Existing Tree

side pool deck
pool with side deck

One of the main attributes of the original yard was that it had the type of friendly, primed-for-climbing tree that the couple’s three kids would appreciate. No one wanted to touch its established roots, since re-creating the same atmosphere would either cost a lot of money or at least two decades of time. “The tree provides a lot of shade for the main house and creates this natural division between it and the ADU,” Naber says. “The pool was placed beside it to add to that division.”

tile around hot tub

Naber sought to make the pool almost fade into the background and chose a zellige Burnt Sugar square from Zia Tile to give it a natural edge alongside a custom pebble-packed bottom that makes the water appear darker from the surface. The caramel shade matches the wood walkway that leads to the exterior of the ADU, which is clad in hemlock like the main home. “If you look closely at the entire project, we used a lot of browns,” Naber says. “An earthy palette runs through.” 

tiled firepit

For an unexpected design detail, Naber opted to tile the firepit beneath the tree in those same shiny brown squares, just to give it its own moment. “Firepits tend to all look similar, and Maryanne liked the idea of doing something different,” Naber says. “It was probably less expensive than if we bought something premade at the same size.” 

Make Strategic Budget Moves in the ADU Kitchen 

green kitchen cabinets

After two years of working together, the couple was naturally overwhelmed by decision fatigue. “I accepted this as a challenge. I had to figure out how to make the ADU have character and whimsy without equating that to dollar signs,” Naber says. The 1,384-square-foot structure has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an office as well as common areas that open to the yard. And because the full kitchen was bound to get a lot of attention—either from visiting guests, during the workday, or maybe by a future renter—Naber wanted it to feel intentional yet budget-friendly. 

green kitchen cabinets

Her cabinetmaker, Brad Adelsman, suggested using prefabs from StyleLite rather than committing to a custom-build and paint match, and then customizing the hood with a fluted detail to offset the surrounding flat panels. Forgoing a backsplash and installing a continuous open shelf makes the space look airier without additional funds, but Nader did invest in a custom wood and stone island that also serves as seating. “Accessories help a lot in this situation, too,” Nader says. “For instance, choosing only one sconce from Cedar and Moss adds some interesting asymmetry, while the vase and artwork coordinate.”

Speak to the Main House Through Color

white and yellow bathroom tile
pink shower tile

The bathrooms in the main house make use of colorful tile, and the ADU’s duo are no different. In fact, Naber played the spaces off each other. The white zellige tile across one bathroom’s wall matches the material of those used by the pool, but the ochre-hued squares lining the floor riff on their shape. Meanwhile, the primary suite’s shower is outfitted in rectangular tile, and the ones in the ADU office’s pink bathroom have the same look. Oh, and Nader didn’t forget to bring over a proliferation of skylights from the main house, too. 

yellow office
purple bunk room

“The pink bathroom’s shower tiles are these really thin glazed bricks,” she says. “They have a beautiful variation for being at a lower price point, and you can see a lot of dimension when light pours down onto them.”

If there was one color Nader had to be talked into using, it was the purple shade that Maryanne suggested for the bunk room. “It was the first time I had ever used this type of purple, but Maryanne wanted somewhere fun for the cousins to stay,” Nader says. “We found this large-striped bedding and played off that.” She had custom bunks bolted to the studs to safely float above the beds beneath, and let the natural plywood shine to reference the wood details of the nearby office. And yes, hemlock was used on the back wall in that room for Zoom meetings, just like in the family’s front entry. “Of course, I had to call that back in,” Nader says. “I had a lot of reference points to work with.” Consider it proof that slow and steady can indeed win the race.

outdoor sofa