Budget Breakdown: An Architect Builds a 14-Foot-Wide House in Atlanta For $332K
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Budget Breakdown: An Architect Builds a 14-Foot-Wide House in Atlanta For $332K

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By Melissa Dalton
The skinny house, which resides on an “unbuildable” lot, stretches three stories high in the gabled rear.

After deciding to transition into residential architecture from a large, international design firm where he’d focused on higher education buildings, architect Alex Wu made himself his first client. He opted to build a spec home on a so-called "unbuildable" lot in Atlanta, Georgia’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. 

Wu recounts his line of thinking: "How could I compete for lots against developers with deeper pockets and much cheaper construction? My answer was to look for a project with so many constraints that a typical developer would avoid it because they would need the expertise of a good designer." He sought out small, narrow lots as a result. "Fortune led me to a 20-foot by 75-foot lot that met my financial model requirements," says Wu.

$5,308
Permits & Fees
$1,650
Design Fees
$13,845
Site Work & Utility Connections
$10,659
Footings & Excavations
$5,659
Steel
$27,146
Framing
$20,235
Plumbing
$11,792
Electrical
$9,584
HVAC
$13,776
Roofing & Gutters
$17,416
Masonry
$34,780
Windows & Doors
$6,654
Insulation
$17,994
Siding & Exterior Paint
$10,595
Drywall
$11,645
Hardwood Floor
$8,824
Interior Trim
$31,176
Stairs
$8,028
Ceramic Tile
$26,485
Cabinets & Wood Ceiling
$6,353
Appliances
$3,164
Plumbing Fixtures
$1,553
Electrical Fixtures
$9,447
Interior Paint
$11,055
Landscaping
$2,941
Driveway
$3,529
Masonry Fence
$918
Miscellaneous


Grand Total: $332,212

Note: Since Alex Wu designed A Mews House as a personal project, architectural fees are not included in the grand total. 

The front of A Mews House was allowed a 10-foot setback, similar to existing homes on the street. A utility pole proved too expensive to relocate—it would have cost $18,000 to do so. "That pole dictated the way a car would access the property, thereby dictating the car pad location and eventually heavily influencing the location of circulation in the house," says architect Alex Wu.

The front of A Mews House was allowed a 10-foot setback, similar to existing homes on the street. A utility pole proved too expensive to relocate—it would have cost $18,000 to do so. "That pole dictated the way a car would access the property, thereby dictating the car pad location and eventually heavily influencing the location of circulation in the house," says architect Alex Wu.

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Still, Wu’s 20-foot-wide lot presented numerous challenges. First, Wu had to get a variance to increase the house’s allowable size and decrease the setbacks, which ultimately expanded the house’s footprint from a six-foot-wide house to one that could be 14-foot-wide. "From a design perspective, a 14-foot-wide house, like any narrow house, is a challenge to make into functional space," said Wu. 

Rather than max out all of the available space with a rectangular box, Wu divided the house plan into three parts. Now, a white brick-clad box fronts the street, stepping down from a more traditional, gabled form at the back. These sandwich a glass "spacer" in between, which houses the entry and main stairs. Standing three stories high in the back, the home hosts two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a bonus office, and is a comfortable 1,650-square-feet despite the constraints at the start of the process. "Often when people visit, they don’t even notice that the house is so narrow," says Wu.

The solution to the problem of the telephone pole was to place the entry at the side. "Putting the home entry on the side allows one to create full rooms at each end of the house without running a hallway through them," says Wu.

The solution to the problem of the telephone pole was to place the entry at the side. "Putting the home entry on the side allows one to create full rooms at each end of the house without running a hallway through them," says Wu.

The front of A Mews House is clad in Boral Brick’s Magnolia Bay brick, while the gabled form at the back is sheathed in vertical, board-and-batten siding. 

"As its name implies, the project is inspired by thoughtful mews, or carriage, houses that have been converted to residences in London," says Wu. "The project also plays off the clichéd farmhouse modern style prevalent today." Wu also cites Mews House by Russell Jones and House Bäumle by Bernardo Bader Architekten as influences on the design.

Tall glass windows on either side of the house flood the entry and staircase with light.

Tall glass windows on either side of the house flood the entry and staircase with light.

Wu brought the exterior materials inside, combining the maple plywood on the stairwell with the brick and board-and-batten.

Wu brought the exterior materials inside, combining the maple plywood on the stairwell with the brick and board-and-batten.

This view shows the hall that connects the dining room at the front and the living area/kitchen at the back. 

This view shows the hall that connects the dining room at the front and the living area/kitchen at the back. 

Double-height ceilings increase the sense of space in the living room. For continuity, the maple plywood was used for the kitchen cabinets and ceiling, as well as an accent wall.

Double-height ceilings increase the sense of space in the living room. For continuity, the maple plywood was used for the kitchen cabinets and ceiling, as well as an accent wall.

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Cravings by Chrissy Teigen Stoneware Dessert Plate Gray/Gold Swoosh
Cravings by Chrissy Teigen Stoneware Dessert Plate Gray/Gold Swoosh
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Linie Design Maltino Rug
Linie Design Maltino Rug
A rug that begs for bare feet. The Linie Design Maltino Rug uses fine polyester yarns and a lengthy pile to create its luxurious, toe-caressing texture. The silky material--available in an array of colors--also has a subtle sheen to add glamor as well as comfort to pretty much any living space.
CB2 Black Wire Side Table
CB2 Black Wire Side Table
Retro lives modern in this wire cage side table design from the bright minds at Berlin-based design studio Hettler.Tüllmann. Inspired by '50s and '60s wire rod furniture, open iron frame powdercoated matte black looks sleek on the patio to perch drinks and magazines.
A niche makes for a comfortable reading spot in the living room. All of the flooring is white oak.

A niche makes for a comfortable reading spot in the living room. All of the flooring is white oak.

At the second floor, a view into a bedroom with built-in storage.

At the second floor, a view into a bedroom with built-in storage.

Natural light pervades the home, from the stairwell at the center to the living room’s vaulted ceilings, which are seen at the end of the hall. 

Natural light pervades the home, from the stairwell at the center to the living room’s vaulted ceilings, which are seen at the end of the hall. 

In the bathroom, a wall-mounted vanity saves floor space, and charcoal penny tiles sync with the dark-hued trim found throughout the house.

In the bathroom, a wall-mounted vanity saves floor space, and charcoal penny tiles sync with the dark-hued trim found throughout the house.

At the end of the hall, a landing overlooks the living room, which has access to the backyard. The stairway leads up to the third floor, which has a bedroom and bonus office.

At the end of the hall, a landing overlooks the living room, which has access to the backyard. The stairway leads up to the third floor, which has a bedroom and bonus office.

The office has a smaller footprint than the bedrooms, but windows capture city views.  

The office has a smaller footprint than the bedrooms, but windows capture city views.  

A decorative cinder block wall edges the property and provides a sense of enclosure without hemming in the yard too tightly.

A decorative cinder block wall edges the property and provides a sense of enclosure without hemming in the yard too tightly.

A Mews House floor plan

A Mews House floor plan