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Innovative Granny Flats – How To Do it Right

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Today I want to cover what makes an innovative granny flat. Plus how to follow a top Australian designer and craft something truly exceptional on your land.


To get started it’s important to clarify; what makes an innovative granny flat?


  • Design which makes your life easier
  • Gaining benefits from what you already have on your land
  • Making the best use of space
  • Using technology to improve how you live
  • Efficiency in constructing the granny flat


With years of experience in interior architecture and design, I discuss with Pia Watson how anyone can build an innovative granny flat on any budget.

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Pia Watson – Associate at Tom Mark Henry


In today’s article I dive into the points above, share photos and stories on how best to innovate; all while discussing Pia’s personal inner city granny flat below:


Pia’s inner city (Sydney) granny flat. Source: AirBnb



I asked Pia what was done with the original space to make it more “user friendly”.


This was a big question, so I broke down the “pots of gold” from our discussion below.




The original space was actually like an outhouse building with a laundry and the previous owners had it just as a rumpus room. We relocated the front door and reworked the layout of the floor plan subtly”.


Their first priority was privacy. Living so close to the City (Sydney) space is something they wanted to make the most of.


The inner city couple rent their granny flat on Airbnb for short term rental and noticed that their guests would always keep the main blind down as it faced their house.


Pia felt that wasn’t a great option for their guests so as a starting point; they got rid of the block-out blind and added in plantation shutters.


This meant guests could have the privacy and still let in natural light if the shutters were positioned the right way.




In terms of further changes to the space Pia mentions she was lucky enough because there was already a little laundry area in there. So, they kept the laundry cabinetry and that became the kitchenette.


Ensuring to design the rest of the space around the existing fixtures.


Pia mentions you can save a lot when thinking about where your plumbing is or where the pipes will be coming in from. And designing your kitchen and bathroom around this.


It literally costs thousands of dollars to re-dig trenches and to complete roughing in for more pipes and drainage required for kitchens far from their water source.


Fitting out the Interior


I ask Pia a few questions relating to the interior space of granny flats.


In terms of innovative design, is there anything that comes to mind for small spaces?


I think storage in small spaces is, probably one of the biggest things to consider. Obviously you’re limited in space so you want to be able to get as much in there as you can but still not make it feel cluttered either all while making the space feel as big as possible.”


What do you find are good ways of incorporating storage into small spaces?


“I definitely think if you can get under bed storage that is a bonus. Plus, you need to think about where the grocery shopping will go or where a suitcase (for example) will sit for short term stays. you have to think about if… I was coming here to stay and I wanted to unpack my suitcase, where would I put everything?”


Hooks on a wall is always a good choice.


Using wall space makes all the difference to opening up a room


Simple but effective. You can hang your bags, clothes, really anything that keeps things off the floor.


Keeping things off the floor to create more space


This makes the floor space look bigger, is it not so much an illusion to the eye, but literally you have more floor space.


Pia mentions that if you’ve got a full-length mirror, (if it’s not a free-standing mirror) then mount it on the wall so that you’re not having to walk around it or potentially knock it over.


Consider creating an open wardrobe, as opposed to a fully boxed off one. This makes it easier to find what you are looking for and of course creates more space.


Open wardrobes can look fantastic when done right


Pia makes a great point about innovation, in that you have to really focus on who you are designing the space for and how you can make things better for them.


Instead of just innovating for “innovations” sake.


For example; after some time they realised that people weren’t using a large chest of draws that was first placed in there.


In Pia’s words: “essentially we thought, that’s great, people will be able to unpack their clothes in there“.


But then they found that people weren’t using it because they weren’t staying long enough.  And actually preferred hanging space.


So we got rid of that and then we installed a big hanging space, drawer space, shoe space. A big open wardrobe essentially that took up that section of the wall.”


It created more use-able space and made it fit for purpose.


Next and most importantly, when it comes to fitting out a room you can’t get around having to place a bed in there.


Ideally a queen bed is the right bed if you can fit it. But unfortunately the space Pia had to work with was too small. Being dictated by the space they could only fit in a double bed.


The only thing with the double is that it’s shorter than a queen and a lot of people don’t actually know that. So if you have a tall person staying, often their feet will be hanging off the end. Pia explains that you need to work with the space you have and do the best you can as opposed to cramming everything in a granny flat.


If you only have room for a kitchenette then don’t spend time and money cramming in everything a full-size kitchen has.


Instead of adding a stove and full size oven, replace these with appliances such as a:


  • slow cooker
  • electric stove top
  • microwave oven
  • toaster


Consider appliances that you can then put away into the cupboard so you can have more bench space if need be.


Innovative Materials


Each year awards are given to architects who lead the way with innovative design.


This comes down to functionality just as much as looks.


For instance, being innovative in your granny flat could simply mean using the latest insulation or connectors for grey water usage.


There are home shows in major cities which put innovative new products on display each year. And you may be tempted to blow the budget and buy them all.


But remember, a major factor for designers who take home the top prizes are not because they use the “latest fad”.  It is how they make use of their imagination to craft something truly better for people.


Innovative Examples


The key is not always to spend more. What can be reused?


Open up spaces that are normally closed


Find ways to create storage from the space you have




Crafting innovative granny flats is not rocket science.


Nor should innovation be considered something that can only be achieved by Architects and designers with master degrees or Phd’s.


The root of the word innovation is closer to “renovation” rather then the misconception that it is all about “inventing” something new.


By keeping this in mind your philosophy for designing an innovative granny flat should be based on the end result you are looking for.


Are you designing for:


  • Parents?
  • Teenagers?
  • Short Term Rentals?
  • Long Term Rentals?


Then decide to innovate based on your end result – The people who will be living in the granny flat once it is completed.


When crafting your design be sure to understand where you will be pulling in the water, the electricity and where drainage needs to go.


Then all importantly; focus on your environment – Your land, your surroundings. How will you make the best use of mother nature? Or the sun and cross breezes if you live the sea.


Understand what you should protect when a ‘southerly’ wind blows through and how you should best position the clothes line? These fundamentals of innovative design are often forgotten.


When it comes to privacy, how will you best use louvered windows, plants, hedging and fences?


And for constructing the living space; keep things off the floor as much as possible. Then consider how you can flood the corners of each room with natural light if possible. Creating the feeling (literally and through illusion) of space. This does wonders for any granny flat.


And for our emotions as human beings it is important to think about opening up spaces, both inside and out.


I hope Pia’s insights have shed light on what it means to build an innovative granny flat. Now enjoy the process of using your imagination to craft a truly innovative space with your tenants in mind.