Smallworks has built more than 100 laneway homes in Vancouver, British Columbia, since the city legalized the dwellings in 2009. A 21st-century version of the carriage house, they are allowed along alleyways behind existing single-family lots that are at least 32 feet wide, says Jake Fry, who owns the design/build company. The units can provide owners with secondary income or allow families to co-own property.

This 620-square-foot house was built for an adult daughter moving back to her parents’ property. The walls, roof, and floors arrived flat-packed from a factory and went up in four days. With construction costs of about $260,000 (plus $40,000 or so for permits, taxes, and landscaping), it was affordable in a city where the average bungalow sells for over $1 million. 

Fry’s flat-pack solution also improves maneuverability on these tiny sites. The 2x4 framing was covered in exterior rigid insulation and a stucco rainscreen. Putting the insulation outside the stud walls allowed interior built-ins to be recessed into wall cavities, freeing up precious floor space. 

Although Smallworks’ floor plans are pre-designed, each house is a little different. “The big challenge is managing a nice design in such a small space,” Fry says. “People have certain expectations. We try to use ideas from yacht design while creating something reminiscent of a full family home. Snug without feeling small, just big enough and proper; it takes an aesthetic balance to pull it off.”

The single-story residence contains an open living/dining area with a vaulted ceiling and skylights, one bedroom, one bath, and a smaller room for an office or overnight guest. Lowered ceilings in the bedrooms conceal storage accessed by a pull-down ladder. A deep wall between kitchen and bath functions like a big piece of millwork. It serves as kitchen storage and incorporates a pull-out bread board that extends the hutch for service prep. 

Every room is fitted out with yacht-like precision and old-school craftsmanship. Smallworks shop-built the casework out of marine-grade plywood. Doors are handmade, as are the custom wood kitchen cabinets and dovetailed drawers. “We spray-painted the cabinetry with a finish that the owners can use for touch-ups,” Fry says. “The house is built so it can be simply maintained and changed as time goes on.”

Window seats in the kitchen and bedroom are another gesture that make this compact house feel normal; they create private places for people to rest where there wouldn’t be room for an armchair. The outdoor patio, visible through the glazed living room wall, also expands the usable space.