Four architects, a 40-by-70 lot, an inventive challenge: What's the best way to design a home for the trickiest site builders face today?

By Carolyn Weber

Great minds think alike, sort of. BUILDER asked four architects from different corners of the country to solve the common dilemma of creating great-looking elevations and livable floor plans for compact lots.

The program was not complicated: Design a home for a 40-by-70 lot that is regionally appropriate and targeted toward an assigned buyer group. The only limitation we placed is that the plans had to be single-family and include a garage. Past that, we expansively urged: Get creative.

Predictably, on a few fronts the architects generated the same solutions. They maximized the building envelope, provided a pleasant streetscape, allowed for lots of light, and delivered usable outdoor space in the form of a courtyard, patio, or small backyard.

There, however, the similarities ended, and each designer passionately pursued his idea of the perfect small house. The floor plans proved to be as varied as the target markets and architects drawing them.

Separate But Equal. Using input from the newlyweds on his staff, Bill Devereaux of Devereaux Associates in McLean, Va., created a 2,000-square-foot home for a young couple without children. The result is a layout that balances separate his-and-hers work, hobby, and parking areas juxtaposed with rooms for together time. (He refers to them as get-together and go-away spaces.) Devereaux's plan also includes a remote guest room to keep in-laws from wearing out their welcome.

Golden Age. Dick Bruskrud of Mithun in Seattle employed a great room concept for empty-nesters looking to downsize and return to the city. He drew a second-floor master, but included a first-floor bedroom that could be converted. He designed a small rear, covered porch for residents to enjoy the outdoors without getting wet. "I also went with a good-sized yard (people in our region tend to be outdoorsy) but not too large because owners don't want a lot of maintenance."

California Capacious. Manny Gonzalez of the Irvine, Calif.­based KTGY Group designed a family-oriented house with space for five bedrooms, a large second-floor tech space, and a practical first-floor plan that takes advantage of the balmy Southern California climate. "Sometimes narrow plans can read like bowling alleys," he says. He avoided that by opening a side courtyard that serves as an extension of the living spaces and makes the plan feel wider. "It's a truly usable space and not just part of the driveway."

Single Surprise. Reg Narmour of Narmour Wright Architects in Charlotte, N.C., had the scale and context of an in-town location in mind when designing his Craftsman-inspired home for a single person in a market full of young bankers. "It's a style that's affordable but that isn't stodgy," says Narmour. The 2,410-square-foot home boasts neat surprises, such as an open first floor for entertaining and a large office upstairs.

In the end, the four architects presented charming solutions with innovative ideas aplenty, which got us thinking: Successful design for small lots is fairly formulaic--provide an impressive elevation, address public and private space, bring in light, engage in contextual design, carefully consider garage placement, build flex space, and, above all, view a narrow lot as a challenge to get juiced on not an excuse for mediocre design.

Think you can't pack all that into your narrow-lot projects? These architects did.

It Takes Two

Northwest Empty Nest

All in the Family

All for One