Top Tips for Designing a Functional Furnished Income Suite

As mortgage rates increase, some of you are choosing to renovate your home and add a furnished income suite (sometimes known as an in-law suite) to offset housing costs. Builders and contractors write plenty of articles about building these independent rental units. They include lots of valuable information for you to consider. For example, Bob Villa suggests that before you think about the costs of modifying your home, you should familiarize yourself with the legalities in your municipality and consider the effect of rental income on your taxes.

If you decide to go ahead with the renovation, there are key functional elements you need to consider. Whether you are building the suite yourself or working with a contractor, paying attention to design details can vastly improve the likelihood of renters choosing your space and giving you rave reviews (even from your in-laws!).

What to Include in the Kitchenette

One of the reasons people choose a furnished income suite over a hotel is so they can prepare their own food, so functional food storage and preparation areas are essential. Include a sink, fridge, microwave, kettle, and toaster oven; they are necessities. Other items to have are:

  • Dishware
  • Cutlery
  • Cooking utensils, including knives and cutting boards
  • A few small, microwave-safe casserole dishes
  • Dishcloths, tea towels, and dish soap
  • Paper towels
  • Placemats
  • Garbage and recycling bins and a few garbage bags. (Also, consider providing a list of recyclable items because each city’s collection system differs.)

Many guests will also appreciate having a coffee maker (and some filters). It is a nice touch to provide coffee, tea, milk/creamer, and bottled water as well. A few snacks for your guest’s arrival are also a thoughtful gesture but certainly not required.

view of a kitchenette in a furnished income suite
The Kitchenette

Key Elements of the Living and Dining Area

When designing your furnished income suite, include a comfortable sofa with durable fabric that is easy to clean. If there isn’t room for a sofa, choose plush chairs and an ottoman for relaxing. A coffee table for holding snacks and drinks and adequate lighting for watching television are important features too. And adding an area rug can pull the design together, make the space much more comfortable and dampen the noise.

If there is enough space for a dining table and chairs, go for it. If not, a small mobile kitchen island with a couple of stools will do the trick.

Entryway Storage is Essential

Guests always appreciate adequate entryway storage, but this element often gets missed in a small space. Fortunately, in my client’s furnished income suite, they installed the door in precisely the right spot to allow for some entry storage. In a small entryway, a coat rack with a bench and shoe shelves is a great solution (as seen in the photo below). In fact, this coat and shoe storage unit from IKEA is even more compact.

dining, living, entry area of a small rental apartment within a home
The Dining, Living, and Entry Area

Bathroom and Laundry Storage and Organization

Small bathrooms can still be super functional. Obviously, a shower with enough room to move and a shelf for holding personal bathing items is essential. (I once stayed in a hotel where the shower was so small you could barely turn around – not fun!) Please include a vanity with storage and counter space rather than a pedestal sink. And if there is room, add a medicine cabinet and wall cabinet for even more storage. Remember, you will need somewhere to store extra towels and toilet paper. Including a hand towel ring, a space-saving towel bar, and a hook or two on the back of the door and next to the shower is helpful.

If you can provide laundry facilities, it will elevate your space above many others. For instance, install your laundry room next to the rental suite so you and your renters can use it. However, access to laundry is certainly optional.

Bedroom Design Elements

A comfortable sleeping area can make or break your furnished rental suite, so please invest in a decent bed and mattress. My client chose a Simmons Beautyrest mattress for their furnished income suite because it was affordable and comfortable. When shopping for bedding, be sure to purchase a washable, breathable, waterproof mattress cover to protect your investment. Additionally, provide pillows of two different comfort levels (medium and firm) and cover them with waterproof covers as well.

Two of my pet peeves are beds without a headboard and a lack of night tables on each side of the bed. Yet, there are many cost-effective, space-saving solutions for those problems. The bedroom should also have a small amount of hanging space for clothing and perhaps a few shelves. If you don’t have room for a dresser, consider a small drawer unit in a closet, such as this compact, aesthetically pleasing chest of drawers from IKEA.

view of cozy comfortable bedroom in furnished income suite
Cozy and Comfortable Bedroom

Final Thoughts on Your Furnished Income Suite

One thing I learned from my own income suite experience and from speaking with friends and colleagues is that the turnover between guests is a lot of work. Ideally, you want renters to stay longer, so include some comforting details throughout the space. For example, add artwork by local artists, accent pillows, a soft throw blanket on the sofa, and a “Welcome to the Neighbourhood” binder. They can be just the touches you need to make your furnished income suite feel like a home away from home.

If you’re considering a renovation to include a short or long-term independent rental unit in your home, book a consultation. We can design and organize your space to ensure referrals, repeat business, and positive reviews.

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