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guest house outbuilding shed

A guest space separate from your main house adds function, comfort, and value. Here are some ideas for rentals and functional longer-term guest homes.  

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When I bought my current house, there was a shed, maybe 250 square feet, at the far end of the property. It was sturdy enough to be fixed up as a guesthouse, but being me, I filled it with gardening tools and supplies. I did briefly think about turning it into a home office, but as a guesthouse, it would have been as cool and quirky as some of my past summer residences!

I have had temporary digs in some pretty unique settings, far from conventional. One summer in college, I threw my bed into a barn loft behind an old Colonial New England house. I used the kitchen and bathroom in the main house, which was full of college students.

In transition a decade or so later, some friends offered me their shed while I looked for a place to live. It was nicer than the run-down adobe house! Being brand new and 700 square feet, it was, thankfully, not full of junk yet. Some boxes were piled up in one end, and I flopped my few belongings down in the other. It was summer time, and I was fancy camping. Another year, I stayed in a small travel trailer with all the amenities. It was less than 200 square feet, but plenty of room for just me.

tiny home as guest house outbuilding

You can see that guest spaces can take on many forms, particularly when separate from the main house. Here are some of the basics to get your own thought process started on a small guesthouse on your property.

Creating a guesthouse of your own

A guesthouse does not have to be as rustic as the places I’ve stayed, but old outbuildings do make great conversions. Decide on its purpose before you do any remodeling. Summer guesthouse? Airbnb offering? Year-round rental? Check with your local building codes and your neighborhood covenants to find out what is allowed.

If the shell of your building is sturdy, new siding, sheetrock and paint would spruce it up. Bring in electricity, if it’s not already in place. Add a couple of windows for natural light, and invite your far away friends and family for a summer visit!

Insulate the walls to make a year-round shelter. Add a kitchen and bathroom so it is an independent structure to rent out. I have several friends who live in their guesthouses and rent out the main houses, which bring in more money.

main house with guest house outbuilding

New construction

Again, check codes and covenants to see if you can build on your property. There might be restrictions for setbacks and number of buildings or occupants.

Hire an architect for design work. Consult with a builder at the same time to talk about site work and bringing in utilities. It will be like building a new home, so you need to go through all the proper steps. A landscape designer can seamlessly blend the new environment into your existing yard.

Consider a prefab building. They come fully built and ready to be installed on your foundation, or you can buy a kit. Great project and money saver if you are a DIY-er! Otherwise, hire a contractor to put it together.

Inspiration

As always, your needs and budget will determine what you do, but a guesthouse can be big or small, traditional or contemporary, rustic or formal, and anything in between. Here are five ideas to spark your imagination.

Tiny homes make excellent guesthouses.

A bright, light and colorful conversion is fun!

Consider a treehouse!

This vintage travel trailer is nicer than the one I stayed in!

Beautiful gardens surround this traditional design.

Have fun, and happy entertaining!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.