Daily Archives: October 23, 2016

project addition: carriage house plan

Carriage House tour, continued.

Yesterday’s post focused on the garage portion of the building, and this post will highlight what’s happening 10′ up from the alley level.

Constructing a two story-garage was really a no-brainer for several reasons. First, we have a four foot grade change at the rear of our property down to the alley, so the height of our garage will already appear 4′ shorter from the house. Second, a large portion of the cost and the complexity is in constructing any sort of building here – so if we’re going to go to the trouble of constructing the foundation and framing for a garage – floor, walls, and roof – why not extend the walls a bit more and get a living unit above? It’s a significant value add to our property, much more than just the additional square footage of the dining room addition on the house. So it helps to “earn its keep” a bit by merely existing. Third, we’re already zoned multi-family, and so it’s nice to be able to take advantage of that zoning. For now, we plan to use the apartment as a guest suite for visitors, but also a flex space for our family – like a big project space that doesn’t clutter up the main house, or a place to host a fun sleepover party, or even the occasional family “staycation” – because, why not? In the future, the girls could live there over their summer vacations from college, or we could host a foreign exchange student, list the space on airbnb, or we could rent to a student for a semester, or even longer. All those options are available to us. Down the road, if we were to sell the house, it could be used for an au pair or an in-law suite.

So we’re trying to design the space with all those options in mind – which really means that we’re not OVER-designing the space at all. We want to create a very simple, open space, with lots of daylight, ventilation, views into the garden, access to outdoor space, and basic living functions covered (or roughed in for future installation). And we need to watch costs in the space, focusing our dollars on an energy efficient building envelope and choosing materials with an eye for sustainability and ease of maintenance.


To orient you in the plan above, north is up, and up is also the backyard. The alley is on the south side of the garage.

Cross Ventilation – you’ll notice this theme in the house addition as well. We’re being careful to include features that provide a comfortable living environment year round with as little dependence on heating and cooling as possible. That means thinking seriously about the wall, floor, and roof sections – how they are insulated, venting requirements, moisture mitigation, etc. 

We talked about many different window options on the alley side of the building – it’s the tallest wall elevation, and windows would certainly look better above the garage doors versus a big blank wall of brick. But security is in issue, as well as privacy – there is a house directly behind us across the alley, and so we’d likely have curtains or blinds drawn across those windows at most times anyway, and the windows would also rarely be open. We decided that operable skylights would be a much better choice here. They will allow for cross ventilation – drawing air from the north wall of windows through the space, and they will also have motorized sun shades to block light if necessary.


Here’s the roof plan, oriented the same direction. The carriage house has a flat roof, but there’s still a lot of complexity to the roof pitches of a flat roof and all of the penetrations. The roof will slope to the alley, and we’ll have two scuppers and downspouts on the alley side to carry water from the roof. You’ll also see something that looks like a third skylight – that’s actually a roof hatch.

Access to Outdoor Space – the apartment will have great views into the courtyard, but we also wanted to provide access to private outdoor space, so we’re structuring the roofs of both the addition and the carriage house to accommodate the weight of a roof deck and a “green / food roof” – we want the ability to create green space and living space on both. Here’s the apartment plan again:


If you look at Door #11, that’s the door into a room that will contain a ship’s ladder to the roof hatch. It’s located over the stair down to the garage level, and will be a little more comfortable to climb than a straight ladder would be. We’ve dashed in the future roof deck and railing for now on the plans – this might be a project that we complete at a later date. But we will already have power and a hose bib on the roof, so we’re planning ahead for that installation.

Keep it Simple – The apartment layout is fairly simple – one open room with a large expanse of north facing windows, all operable. There will be a small kitchenette that will be installed using salvaged cabinets and sink from our current kitchen – refinished – and a simple, tiled bathroom. The dashed lines just in front of the kitchen are the skylights above. There’s a nice sized landing at the top of the stairs, plus a space just inside the door for a suitcase stand and hanging rod for clothes. We’ve also included an “away” space on the opposite side of the kitchenette / bathroom – we might build in some bunks there for visitors, but it could also make a nice storage closet for a future resident.

Natural Light – So much glass! Fingers crossed we don’t choke on the window bid, because I seriously love the window wall in this place. Five window bays across, with operable awnings at the floor, and operable casements above. We may switch to fixed casements for cost reasons, but even if we do, there will be a large amount of glass that can be opened up, drawing in cool air down low and expelling hot air through the roof. I also think this space will make a cool painting studio – so it might be that we have a few easels up, and our work becomes part of the space, always changing.

Modest Materials Done Well – The roof insulation is on top of the structure, so all of the roof joists will be exposed in the space, and we’ll paint everything out clean and white, with some plywood finishes. Simple materials, clean lines, a little modernist escape.

Here are a few inspiration photos to give you an idea of the general look of the space we’re going for, although our space will be more modest.




It may not be a large space, but I think the high ceilings, the wall of windows, the future roof garden – all of these things will certainly up the “cool” factor. And then you can all plan your visit to our fair city!

P.S. Question on yesterday’s post about alley access – yes, we will have to go through the garage to get to the alley – no gates on the side fences because they go directly onto the neighbor’s properties. Feel free to ask any other questions, and I’ll try to answer them in the following post.