Slim Is in For These 10 Skinny Homes

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By Wright / Published by Dwell
As cities grow denser, the popularity of infill development rises. These homes, built to be tall and narrow, are otherwise known as skinny houses. Limited land, though, is only one of the reasons skinny homes are trending.

While the most common reason to build upward is a compressed lot, sites in larger cities are also becoming more irregularly shaped as urban areas grow more complex. Residences in expanding communities often straddle mixed-use areas where homes may be next to retail or fabrication shops, which often means designing around local setbacks and easements. The benefit of these urban locations, though, is living closer to the amenities a city provides like mass transit, shopping, and dining—a trend popular with young professionals. 

Of course, if you have a more traditional site that isn't driving your layout, you may opt to build skinny to take advantage of views or counter a steep site. Common to areas with sensitive water sheds or flood plains, the ground floor is elevated with piles allowing the water to flow beneath, thereby driving a taller design. 

Likely, the most beneficial reason to go for height is a reduction of site work. By minimizing your home's footprint, more of the site can be left in its natural state, which saves money and reduces water runoff.  Whether you are challenged with a tight site or your dream home resembles a tree house, this roundup of homes highlights the many reasons to consider building up rather than out.  

Selected homes were submitted by members of the Dwell community through our new feature, Add a Home. Add your home to Dwell.com/homes today.

1. A-to-Z House

Architect: Spiegel Aihara Workshop

Location: San Francisco, California

From the architect:  "The A-to-Z House proposes an alternative to conventional approaches for expanding an outmoded San Francisco home. Perched on a hillside in Golden Gate Heights, a modest single story 1934 developer vernacular structure had limited space and failed to take advantage of expansive views of Sutro Tower, Golden Gate Park, Sausalito, and the Bay. But rather than replacing or merely attaching to the existing structure, the A-to-Z strategy seizes upon the existing forms—scaling, repeating, and manipulating found objects into a contextual collection of structures comprising a dynamic home immersed in its surroundings."

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From Back Patio

2. Tower House

Architect: Gluck+

Location: New York

From the architect: "This small vacation house is designed as a stairway to the treetops. Keeping the footprint to a minimum so as not to disturb the wooded site, each of the first three floors has only one small bedroom and bath, each a tiny private suite. The top floor, which contains the living spaces, spreads out from the tower like the surrounding forest canopy, providing views of the lake and mountains in the distance, virtually the entire Catskill mountain range. The glass-enclosed stair highlights the procession from forest floor to treetop aerie, while the dark green enameled back-painted glass exterior camouflages the house by reflecting the surrounding woods, and dematerializing its form."

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3. Totem House

Architect: rzlbd

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

From the architect: "A totem is sculptures within a sculpture. The totem in Totem House is a vertical gallery that exhibits John and Robert’s souvenirs from around the world. Each piece has been carefully measured and placed in a designated niche inside the Tower. An open wooden staircase connecting the three stories of the house gently circulates around the totem allowing one to observe the artworks from many different angles. During the day the skylight above the staircase naturally illuminates the totem, and at nighttime dedicated LED lights installed inside the niches light each piece. The totem naturally becomes the focal point in the house, as it is visible from every corner on all levels."

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main elevation

4. Sugar Bottom RVA

Architect: 510 Architects

Location: Richmond, Virginia

Located in the historic neighborhood of Church Hill, these skinny infill homes offer close proximity to walkable amenities and views to a wooded valley between Libby Hill and Chimborazo Park.

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5. Williams Avenue Modern

Architect: Works Progress Architecture

Location: Portland, Oregon

Located on Williams Avenue, a bustling, energy-filled neighborhood where the new melds with the existing character of the vintage homes. This modern home features a great livable layout where natural light floods in through the massive windows.

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6. Woodard Residence

Architect: archimania
Location: Memphis, Tennessee

From the architect:  "This urban residence is situated within a mixed-use development between the South Main Historic Arts District and the Mississippi River bluff. The small lot was carved from a recently completed development including a re-purposed warehouse into offices and four attached townhomes. The 3,750 sf home consists of four levels—a ground floor garage/office, a second-floor suite for the client’s mother and her caregiver, living and kitchen on the third, and a master suite on the fourth floor. The compact site exists between a railroad overpass to the North and an alley to the East, allowing shared vehicular access to the home. The overall massing is broken down using durable and low maintenance materials."

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7. Lola House

Architect: mossArchitects

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Lola House is a new single-family home on a once vacant, infill urban lot. The house reflects the industrial and working-class evolution of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood. With modern accents of red, the home features corrugated metal and cedar siding, a nod to the industrial heritage of the area.

Slim Is in For These 10 Skinny Homes - Photo 7 of 10 - The structure features exterior materials that directly illustrate the dichotomy between Lawrenceville’s industrial heritage and Lola House’s residential nature. Here, corrugated metal siding is balanced with the warmth and softness of cedar siding, which was selected to emphasize the vertical circulation of the home. Red accents of cement board and steel bring a modern touch to the building’s exterior.

The structure features exterior materials that directly illustrate the dichotomy between Lawrenceville’s industrial heritage and Lola House’s residential nature. Here, corrugated metal siding is balanced with the warmth and softness of cedar siding, which was selected to emphasize the vertical circulation of the home. Red accents of cement board and steel bring a modern touch to the building’s exterior.

8. Hartanov House

Architect: nystrom + olson

Location: Spokane, Washington

From the architect: "Located adjacent to a wetland conservatory this residence is anchored to the hill and juts out to the park below. At 1,500 square feet, the simple form and taut metal skin houses a two bedroom two bath living space with a two car garage. A north facing inset deck area opens off the living room to bring the outside in with a view of the tree canopies beyond."

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9. The Beach House

Architect: Francisco Garcia

Location: San Diego, California

This unique home takes advantage of its compact lot by building tall. The third floor's unique boat-bow balcony off the master suite offers a bit of whimsy overlooking this beachy neighborhood.

Slim Is in For These 10 Skinny Homes - Photo 9 of 10 - Three stories of ocean views, and a unique boat-bow balcony offers a bit of humor to this beachy neighborhood.

Three stories of ocean views, and a unique boat-bow balcony offers a bit of humor to this beachy neighborhood.

10. Modern Infill

Architect: BONE Structure

Location: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

From the architect: "Designed and built using an industrialized process inspired by the aerospace industry, BONE Structure homes offer unprecedented precision, architectural freedom, and energy efficiency. They produce minimal waste on site, are Net-Zero Energy ready and can be assembled within days."

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