Portrait of a Santa Rosa ADU: The Nortons

When Flannery and Andrew Norton moved into their Santa Rosa home two years ago, they weren’t quite sure what to do with their backyard. “I was thinking of putting in a tiny home in the back as supplemental income or for guest quarters,” Flannery says. “Or maybe it was something Andrew and I would use later in retirement. I had all these thoughts.”


Enter Andrew’s parents, Sarah and Nile Norton, a couple in their 70s who’d traveled from their Seattle condo to visit their California family for the holidays. “Sarah turned to me and said, ‘What if we were your first renters?’” Flannery recalls. “And the conversation went from there.”

The advantages of a backyard home


The benefits of a backyard guesthouse for the elder Nortons were clear from the get-go. Along with Andrew and Flannery, who are both in their 40s and have a nine-year-old daughter, Sarah and Nile have another son with two teenagers living in the South Bay. A backyard home would let them be close to family, plus there would be outdoor space for gardening—which they didn’t have at their Seattle condo—and better weather for riding their bicycles.


Initial plans for a tiny home, however, were quickly scrapped. “We realized that a tiny home was not practical at all,” Flannery says. “When you’re getting on in years, climbing into a loft would not be comfortable.” Then a gorgeous photo of a Villa prefab ADU popped up in her Instagram feed. She visited the website, was impressed by all the options, and then called and “had a great talk with the reps,” she says.


Were they concerned at all about buying a prefab versus a traditional home? On the contrary. “The prefab was really enticing, because we wanted less construction on-site,” Flannery says. “We wanted to have the least amount of interruption.” And there were many design options, Nile adds. “It gave us a lot of freedom to choose the options that would work for us,” he says.


“The one that we chose was a nice wide-open space,” Sarah says, “with the bedrooms we need and all the essentials, and a nice living area where we can spread out.” Having plenty of room in living quarters away from the main house was ideal for everyone, it turns out. “We like the idea of being really close but then all having our separate places,” Flannery says. “We don’t have to be together all the time unless we really want to.”

Appreciating an all-in-one ADU builder


The Nortons value how easy the company made the process of designing and building their new home. “It’s an end-to-end package deal,” Sarah says. “From getting acquainted with the design, you get helped through the design, then they do the permitting and building. We were taken care of at every step of the way.” Andrew especially appreciated the frequent communication. “I always felt comfortable, because every time there was something that needed a decision or us all to put our heads together, it happened,” he says. “And it happened frequently.”


“The people have been amazing—and fun,” Flannery adds. “We all have friendships now. It feels like we’ve known each other a long time.”


But a smooth building process, great communication, and a terrific team would mean little if the finished ADU didn’t live up to expectations. So how does it measure up? “We feel really good about the quality,” Flannery says. “They’re very skilled craftsmen. You can tell the experience is there.” Nile adds, “We’re very happy with it.”


Surprisingly, even the neighbors are happy. Flannery sent them a note about a month before the installation work started “just to give them a heads-up and let them know what was happening,” she says. “We got very positive feedback—and a couple of people came by to check it out, wanting to do a walk-through because they’re interested in doing it on their property.”


If you talk with the Nortons about working with Villa, you’ll hear words like “easy,” “informative,” and “super helpful.” It’s safe to say the most important thing for them, though, is just getting to be together as a family, sharing lives and building memories.


“For my daughter to grow up with her grandparents just across the backyard,” Andrew says, “is a beautiful thing.”

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