Say “attached row home,” and “dark” may well be the next thought that comes to mind. There are good reasons why. The typical plan allows for few entry points into the house (a front door and maybe a garage). There’s a small amount of exposed wall (front and back). Sightlines from the house and within the home are limited. A long, narrow lot provides barely enough space to design rooms that make sense. The row house ends up divided—front to back, or side to side—making it hard for light to travel through it. Standard-sized windows with a traditional mullion design don’t help.

But attached row homes needn’t be dark and cave-like. The plans above show tricks we’ve learned to make row houses feel and live as much like detached houses as possible, while taking advantage of the space-efficiency typical to a row house plan.

On this project, we got lucky. We had the good fortune to work with a developer who listened when we presented a plan that veered from the traditional rectangular lot, jogging the property line to create a side elevation where there can be windows (rather than an adjoining home’s wall). Structural engineering was involved, too: rooms with 10-foot ceilings, a sliding glass door and transom windows at the rear, and positioning the study over a lower-level garage (this ended up being a double threat, providing more light, plus additional entry courtyard space that makes the house feel more private).

Sure, making the modifications involved spending a little money. But the payoff has been big: lovely, light-filled townhouses that are selling nicely, too.

In the Dark

The typical plan is space efficient, but it blocks light and prevents it from traveling through the house.

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  • A fireplace on the rear wall of the house produces one less place to put windows.
  • A straight property line with a traditional, rectangular plan limits window placement to front and rear walls only.
  • A centrally located kitchen and straight stair anchored to the wall create a long hallway and divide the house into separate sections—front and rear.
  • The front door is placed in a recessed alcove on the lower level. In turn, it leads to a foyer and enclosed stair, letting in very little natural light.

Here Comes the Sun

Jogging the property line creates a side elevation for windows.

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  • At the rear, large glass doors let the outside in. Replacing mullioned windows with simple plate ones is another way to admit more light.
  • The fireplace is located on an interior wall so windows can be positioned all along the rear wall.
  • An open-plan stair lets light travel through the house from a centrally located glass front door. A few steps up, the door offers good sightlines.
  • Shifting part of the wall over creates an entry courtyard with a side wall of windows on two levels, letting light into the foyer. It also gives the impression of a detached home.
  • Elevating the library— rather than enclosing it—admits more light into that room, and it gives a sense of privacy, too.