Building a great neighborhood, hamlet, village, or town requires a toolbox full of useful building types… a toolbox that has sadly been almost empty in the American planning of recent decades. A number of factors have conspired to rob our newly-built places of the vitality and sustainability that were once taken for granted, leaving us with little more than McMansions, Sweet Spot houses, strip centers, shopping malls, and the big boxes of retail and office parks. It’s high time that we restock the building types toolbox. This will be the first of several posts where we re-load the tools that were so useful for so long.
Let’s begin with the simplest housing types: the Edge Yard dwellings. They are so named because an Edge Yard dwelling has a yard all around the edges of the building. We’ll look at edge yard types in a few days that have special shapes, but we’ll focus today on the ones with the simpler shapes that are basically rectangular, single-family detached dwellings. Because they have no signature shape, they are named by their sizes: the cottage, the house, the large house, and the mansion.
A cottage is a dwelling of up to 2,000 square feet that is either single-story or that has a second story tucked up under the eaves, which is often lit by dormers. Because they are the smallest edge yard dwellings, they are usually more affordable than larger dwellings. This, plus their yard all around, makes them suitable for young families with children. If you fence the lot, you can let the kids out to run around the yard and burn off some of their excess energy while you’re getting dinner ready. People once thought that the yard needed to be all grass to facilitate all of that running and play, but it turns out that kids have a lot more fun playing in a more interesting landscape filled with many types of plants… because when you think about it, grass is the most boring of landscape materials to a kid. Yards should be full of trees to climb, bushes to hide behind, and thick plantings where you can build a fort or an entire pretend world. Oh, and as strange as it sounds, grass is actually the least green thing you can plant in your yard.
A house is a dwelling larger than 2,000 square feet, but not larger than 3,200 square feet. It can be either one or two stories, or even taller if needed. But be careful with houses, because they have a problem: in the US, we have entirely too many of them. Builders all over have been on a decades-long quest to build what they call the “Sweet Spot house” that is at the “sweet spot” of the market. We all know the drill: it's 3 bedrooms, 2-½ baths, and around 2,400 square feet. And the problem with them is that the market has been flooded with them for so long that there are far too many of them, and not enough of the other types. So build some houses in your neighborhood, but realize that they have their own unique brand of real estate value challenges simply because there are so many of them out there.
A large house is a dwelling larger than 3,200 square feet, but not larger than 4,800 square feet. Like a house, a large house can be either one or two stories, or even taller if necessary. The real estate value upside of a large house depends in part today on the types of rooms that it contains. Large houses with lots of living spaces but just a few bedrooms are like a neighborhood with lots of stores but few homes… they are out of balance. But with enough bedrooms designed into the plan in clever ways, you have places for a boomerang kid, or for your parents when they’re no longer able to live on their own. We see a bright future for large houses that can open their arms to muti-generational families like classic American homes once did.
The mansion is the largest edge yard dwelling type, with over 4,800 square feet. And to really be called a mansion, it should be two stories… at least at the front. Don’t confuse a mansion with a McMansion. While a McMansion tries to look really big and important by loading the front of the house with seven gables and a two-story arched entry, it’s really just an overgrown Sweet Spot house that is so impoverished by the show it has to put on to gain "street appeal” that there’s no budget for anything more than sheetrock on the walls throughout the house. A real mansion, on the other hand, is well-designed and well-appointed throughout, with quality matching or exceeding its quantity.
PS: Here are the other building types I’ve blogged about so far: the Rear Lane Cottage, the Carriage House, and the Sideyard. I’m also blogging about some really rare but inventive types as I find them. The first is the Mayfair Lane type I found in Buffalo. Finally, I’m blogging about some types we’re developing as well, including the Dream Suite at Mahogany Bay Village.