DESIGN TRENDS - Narrow Lot Design

In today’s housing market of higher land costs, builders are forced to divide purchased plats into smaller and smaller building parcels, many times requiring a “narrow lot” design to comply with zoning standards for the smaller building lot.  Or, if doing in-fill housing in an older, established urban community, the builder will need to comply with existing zoning conditions, which may very well require a narrow lot design.

Listed below are five narrow lot modular designs that were created for builder/developers and a short synopsis of the design issues particular to each. 

The “Carson.”  One of the major exterior architectural design issues of narrow lot houses is the fact of having to place the garage entrance on the front of the house.  Typically, the garage is a side-by-side, two-bay parking space, with a double garage door that becomes the prominent visual feature of the street façade.  With the “Carson” design, we were able to utilize a two-car, single bay tandem design, which lets us create a design that is more focused on the front loggia (porch) and ascending stairs.  As a tuck-under, tandem garage, the single width garage door is an architectural feature more in scale to other design elements of the front façade.

If you find that you do have to place a two-car garage door on a narrow façade house, try tying a colonnaded pergola surrounding the garage door into an entry porch for the house, creating a larger, horizontal architectural feature that minimizes the visual impact of the garage door and pushing the garage door into the visual background.  Painting the garage door the same color as the house siding will help in making the garage recede into the overall house façade.  Try surrounding the garage door with a pair of columns that tie into a viewing deck for the floor above, aligning the windows from all floors above with the garage door.  This combination of features will create a strong vertical design effect that will lessen the prominence of the garage door.

The “Fiorenza.”   The “Fiorenza” is a design for an in-fill, tear-down lot in San Jose, CA.  Zoning would only allow a single car garage and the clients wanted to maximize living spaces so that the living room, dining room and master bedrooms would not to be reminiscent of a narrow-lot house.  There is a tendency to design rooms front-to-back in space emphasis for a narrow house, but in this floor plan we chose to stress the room emphasis side-to-side, utilizing the total 29-foot width of the main portion of the house by eliminating the interior marriage walls in the individual rooms.  The single car garage was a design bonus for the project, making possible a third bedroom and an addition that added much-needed architectural interest to the overall project.

The “Richmond.”  The “Richmond” is another in-fill design for a project in Louisville, KY.  Typically, a 25-foot wide design would be built using two 12’-6” wide modules.  We found that by using off-set modules of 10-foot and 15-foot wide, we were better able to create rooms of more copious dimensions with the 15-foot wide module while using the ten-foot module for the service areas of the house, i. e., stairs, bathrooms, closets, laundry, etc.  This off-set method greatly reduces the need for front-to-back hallways that take up a disproportionate area of the living space in a narrow lot structure if you are not thoughtful of the issue in laying out your design.

A shared alley-way access allowed for a two-car garage in the rear, and the second floor decks add exterior living space to a restrictive footprint.

Two caveats to consider:  Some modular factories will not manufacture a module as narrow as 10 feet wide, and this structure would require a site-built roof.

The “Ashleigh Court.”  A narrow lot house to the extreme is a “Single House” design from the Historic District in Charleston, SC.  Single houses are so named because they are generally one room wide, front to back.  This design was originated to allow cooler sea breezes to blow through the house in summer to mitigate the hot, humid weather of the area.  Large, expansive “piazzas” (porches) were built on the shady side of the house for the family to use as living areas during the summer. 

The “Ashley Court” is representative of the style genre.  A centrally located entry and stair well from the piazza side of the house is imperative in defining usable space, and much thought needs to be given to the functionality and linkage of rooms to minimize hallways.  Service areas such as the laundry and powder room on the first floor can be placed in one common area.  The central stair well at the second floor logically separates the master bedroom suite from the library and helps in keeping the hallway to a minimum for the third floor bedrooms.

The “Peyton Court.”   Another classic, narrow lot design from the Charleston, SC Historic District is the “End House” design, the progenitor for the “Peyton Court.”  Wider than a Single House, the style genre is typically less than 30 feet wide, but is designed around a side yard courtyard with an on-street entry.  The beauty of this design style is the side courtyard that adds a visual interlude in breaking up the monotonous line of a long, narrow house footprint.  In addition, the enclosed courtyard adds an indoor/outdoor ambience that is wanted in today’s buyers’ market.  

Again, note the central stair well and room placement to eliminate first floor hallways and that the second floor service areas are concentrated in one part of the floor plan to minimize walkways.

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