Small Space Home Design Tips

North Vancouver's "urban longhouse" showcases how a tiny home on a tiny lot can be designed for maximum space

Credit: Pam Chilton

After city zoning bylaws were applied to this 25′ lot, the resulting house was only 15’ wide

Vancouver homes may be shrinking, but this skinny 15-foot wide house was designed with space in mind

Vancouver lots can be cramped for space at the best of times, but when it comes to designing and building a home on a super skinny lot, certain design strategies can create a feeling of more space than you really have.

A recent project we completed in North Vancouver involved a new house built on a 25’-0” wide city lot. After all the city zoning bylaws were applied to the design, the resulting house was 15’-0” wide – and those were the outside dimensions! So how did we make this narrow little house appear much bigger?

Framing with Smaller Lumber

It started with the framing. We framed the walls with 2×4 lumber instead of 2×6 to gain an extra 4 inches on the interior width. That may not seem like much, but in this situation, every inch counted.

Despite using smaller lumber, we were still able to achieve the minimum insulation value required by the BC Building Code as we filled the walls with high-density rigid insulation. The cost difference between this and regular insulation was minimal, but the increased interior width made a big difference.

Exterior Finishes Reduce Long, Skinny Feel

Exterior finishes also helped to visually enlarge the building. Where the siding would normally run the length of the building, we broke up the horizontal length with vertical elements to visually reduce the distance end to end.

Vertical stone elements were added at intervals along the horizontal cedar siding, visually reducing the length of the building.

Interior Space Opened Up

The way we divided up the interior spaces really affected the sense of how big the place is. We put up walls where necessary—for privacy or holding up the building—but left the floor plan as open as possible.

The kitchen became one open space with cabinets along two walls and a large work island as the focal point of the room. It flows into a combined sitting and dining area with a vaulted roof, which opens up the space as it extends to an exposed timber frame roof.

A floating wood staircase constructed of solid, straight grain Douglas Fir runs between the main and second floors. It is hung off the wood frame structure within the exterior wall.

The stair is separated from the adjacent hallway by a vertical wood slat screen, also constructed of straight grain Douglas Fir. The screen runs from the top of the opening around the basement stairwell, up the interior side of the stair, extending past the floor opening on the second floor, and becomes the guardrail in the hallway on the second floor.

The openness of the screen allows light through to the stair, and opens up the interior space to mask the narrowness of the house. It also acts as a guard around the stairwell, a safety item required by the BC Building Code.

Keeping in mind that most rooms in a typical house aren’t more than 15’-0” wide, once the space was functional, it really felt spacious, and was easy to forget the building is less than what is considered normal width.

We have dubbed the house “the urban longhouse” due to its length, its West Coast ambiance (the stone, lumber and timbers were sourced locally and the landscaping is all native to the West Coast of BC), and the simple fact that it has become a gathering place for family.