Stunning Guesthouse: Backyard Transformed into a Modern, Multifunctional Retreat


It’s not easy to turn your property upside down to create a guest house and completely redo the rest of the backyard, especially with two young children at home. For one Solana Beach couple, such a makeover wasn’t their first choice, but the results were well worth it.

“Before starting the project, we searched the neighborhood for a complete turnkey upgrade to our current home, but everything was twice as expensive and would still be a project,” the husband explained. “So we decided to invest in our existing home and really make it ours.”

The two-story, 2,500 square foot home was built in 1960 and features four bedrooms and three bathrooms. The couple, who wished to remain anonymous, bought it in 2016, falling in love with its modern design and openness, not to mention the community. New zoning laws that allowed accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, meant the family could stay put and create a guesthouse for family and friends.

“We wanted to create a space that felt like a ‘mini-home’ for our guests and would allow us to expand when needed,” he said.

The couple hired Jim Dyjak of Dyjak Design Build, who worked with D Scott Hall Designers, Kasey Doyle of Soil and Sea Landscape Design and architect John Mills Davies. The project started in September 2020 and most of it was finished 15 months later at the end of 2021. Doyle is in the process of redeveloping the front yard.

The owners wanted the guest house to be open, modern, low maintenance and consistent with the existing design of the main house. They also needed an office separate from the main house that would support today’s new “work from anywhere” lifestyle.

The project was not limited to the already daunting construction of a new structure. The entire backyard has been redesigned, with a swimming pool, spa and outdoor kitchen. Previously, the rear portion of the 4,200 square foot yard was elevated with a retaining wall. There was already a covered space at the back of the house for an outdoor kitchen with a concrete slab for outdoor furniture. Along one side of the house was a spiral staircase leading to the second floor.

The back of the house itself was a gray stucco monolith – Dyjak said they called it the gray monster – with only the downstairs sliding door and a series of small windows at the top of the house to break down the walls. There was plenty of grass for the 10 year old girl and 3 year old boy to play in as well as old shrubs and trees. But everything was very random.

All that would change.

To begin, Davies designed a new siding that lined the first floor of the rear of the house, as well as the short overhang, in tongue-and-groove western red cedar. Cedar has migrated to the outdoor kitchen. The back of the kitchen is a cedar strip wall to the Uba Tuba honed granite countertops by Artistic Marble & Granite. The new extended cantilever, which allows the family to relax and eat out of the elements, and the columns are gray stucco. The entire outdoor kitchen now extends 23 feet to the lawn.

This concept has extended to the guest house. The 750 square foot ADU has three visually distinct sections. On the left is the husband’s desk, with its two sides exposed in a medium gray stucco Santa Barbara finish. The middle section, which is the main living space, is clad in western red cedar. The right section, which is the kitchen, is a darker gray stucco for contrast, Dyjak said.

Before we even got to that, however, this raised part of the courtyard needed to be removed. Dyjak said he hauled 100 cubic meters of earth and had to re-level the area. The lawn has been removed, as have the tall palm trees and shrubs. A retaining wall was constructed at the rear, and Soil and Sea Landscape Design constructed a 6 foot high stained cedar fence as well as along the sides of the property.

The guest house has been smartly designed to make the most of the small footprint. The living room opens onto a small open-plan kitchen on one side and a hallway with a stackable washer-dryer cupboard, a mezzanine bedroom and a bathroom.

Further down the hall, at the end of the house is the office. Dyjak kept the design simple, clean, lightweight and low maintenance. Rayo Wholesale’s Pro-Tek XL LVT Flooring features 9-inch wide planks and complements the light gray paintwork of the walls. In the kitchen are Metro by Cleaf cabinetry from Imperial Custom Cabinets.

The upper cabinets in the kitchen are in Talco-Total White while the lower cabinets, as well as the vanity in the bathroom, are in wavy beige Pebble Beach. The kitchen countertops are Della Terra Quartz in Haku White by Arizona Tile, while the backsplash tiles, also by Arizona Tile, are Jumbo Hex in Cotton Glossy. The stove and refrigerator are Fisher & Paykel, and a Bosch dishwasher and Frigidaire microwave round out the kitchen appliances.

The small bathroom features a combination of Paloma Cotton Glossy Long Hex and a Paloma Raku in Blue Gloss by Emser Tile in the shower. The vanity is topped with the same quartz counter as in the kitchen.

The couple bought almost all of the furniture themselves from RH (formerly Restoration Hardware). In the living room is a Parisian Track sectional upholstered in mist-colored performance fabric in a textured linen weave. It sits with a reclaimed gray oak coffee table. Two round Heston side tables in light pine and a round 16-inch light gray concrete table comprise other living room furniture. Opposite the section is a Heston console table, also in light reclaimed pine, with a 72-inch-long light gray concrete top.

The bedroom has a queen-size bed, but the deep loft above, inspired by friends of the owners, contains two twin mattresses – a kid’s paradise. Because space was as tight as you imagine on a houseboat, a small shelf was built on either side of the bed in place of the bedside tables. Recessed lighting is integrated at the bottom of the loft and above the bed as well as in the ceiling above the twin mattresses. The bedding is in light fabrics punctuated with navy blue and brown striped pillows.

The tiny house is raised a few steps from the main courtyard, but is on the same level as the 15ft by 34ft swimming pool next to it. Porcelain tiles line the pool and a wall at the back of the pool with the retaining wall behind creates a super-raised bed in which Doyle has planted several large thorny aloe “Hercules”. Between them are the “Blue Glow” agave and the blue cycads Encephalartos arenarius, known as the South African cycads. The owners purchased an unusual gray, oval, handwoven Cayman daybed with an open weave canopy and plush padding from RH that sits alongside the pool.

Instead of grass, the owners opted for a natural-looking artificial grass. “They have young kids, and due to the proximity to the pool and the splashing water, they didn’t want to have a muddy mess,” Dyjak said.

Dyjak and Doyle also created a seating area next to the outdoor kitchen, complete with a concrete fire pit, surrounded by a few Adirondack chairs and benches.

The outdoor kitchen is an entertainer’s dream. The area used to have a basic gas grill, but is now fully equipped with not only a built-in DCS gas grill and sink, but also a beer tap, ice machine, fridge – also from DCS – and an Ooni pizza oven. Above the counter is a large screen TV. The owners purchased a Marbella teak sofa and matching rectangular coffee table for the space. The family dines on the Crate and Barrel teak dining set they had purchased several years earlier.

“We like to entertain in a casual environment and prefer to be outdoors,” the husband said. “The outdoor kitchen is now the best room in the house.”

Where the spiral staircase was, the couple had an outdoor shower built, concealed by other cedar fences. They also added an outdoor sauna and cold plunge near the outdoor kitchen.

The harsh landscape – concrete slabs surrounded by river rocks – is complemented by a wide array of succulents, cacti and tropical plantings, strategically placed by Doyle. In front of the guest house is what is sure to become the outdoor focal point – an Euphorbia ammak, commonly known as the desert cactus. It is surrounded by Sansevieria zeylanica, or string hemp, zamia furfuracea Cardboard Palm and Casuarina glauca “Cousin It”.

Opposite the guest house and near the main house is a garden which Doyle filled with herbs such as Lomandra ‘Platinum Beauty’, Asparagus Fern and Queen Emma Crinum Lily, known as the Giant Spider Lily . In front of the nearby air conditioner condenser, Doyle has planted Melaleuca densaflora, which will eventually block the unit from view. A side walkway on the other side of the house houses a superb collection of plants, from palms that are shaped like elegant bamboo to the much smaller Philodendron Xanadu and a variety of ferns, bromeliads and succulents.

Dyjak said he was pleased with the ease with which the project was executed. He said the customer was accommodating when he and his colleagues needed something. Dyjak felt responsible for the design-build business model, and that added pressure to complete the project and keep it within budget.

“I like to think that we’re in a mini wedding and we’re going side by side,” he said. “My biggest compliment is that I have satisfied customers.”

The owners said they enjoyed working with Dyjak and Doyle.

“I’d like to think it was a collaborative process, but Jim and Kasey really took a rough sketch, created a 3D render, and then agreed on a hands-on design that incorporated all of our best ideas,” said the husband. “Truly a team effort led by Jim. We wanted to stay informed, but left all the details in their capable hands.”

He added that the incorporation of the cedar fence and siding really changed the vibe of the property — and said the landscape lighting was “groovy.”

As for the guest house, it is a huge success.

“We had a lot of guests and a few small meetings,” the husband said. “The guest house has proven to be a good way to host family and friends for long periods of time. Lots of privacy, space and amenities for everyone.”

Caron Golden is a freelance writer.


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