Unlike many other single-family home builders, Vancouver-based Smallworks specializes in building small. Its signature structures, typically referred to as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the United States, are called laneway homes or coach homes in western Canada and are usually less than 1,000 square feet. Like American ADUs, they are located in the rear of a larger home and are most often used for extended family or rental opportunities.
Smallworks founder and principal Jake Fry started the company in 2006, three years before laneway housing was legal in the city. He says a big part of his job for the first three to four years was promoting the idea to local residents via open houses and other outreach initiatives. City officials adopted the housing type in 2009 as a way to help solve the area’s affordability issues and lack of rental housing.
“We have approached this as an initiative around preserving older housing stock,” says Fry. “With the millennial cohort coming into buying power, and as the baby boomers go into retirement, people are looking for more manageable space.”
Since the law’s passing, more than 3,300 permits for laneway houses have been issued, and Smallworks has built more than 200 of them. Roughly 70% of Vancouver laneway homes are by builders constructing a new main residence and adding an ADU to the back of the property.
For the Brick Lane House project, the clients were looking to create a backyard oasis with guest space for their extended family. The one-level, 935-square-foot dwelling has two distinct wings, one for entertaining and the other for private sleeping quarters. The unit was built with a full HVAC system and radiant floor heating. Plus, according to Fry, the small home has a high-performance building envelope boasting 4½ inches of insulation on the walls and roof.
“They wanted to tie in a pool and tie in the main house,” adds Fry. “But specifically, they wanted to create a really nice adjacent home that was very substantive in feeling and would look over this beautiful backyard.”
The open-plan kitchen and living room face south, while sliding glass doors provide access to the soon-to-be completed pool area. In the living space, 12½-foot-tall vaulted ceilings and a gas fireplace composed of marble tiles stretching from the floor to the ceiling stand as the focal points of the room. Multiple skylights welcome additional natural light in colder months and automatically open for ventilation in the warmer months.
White modern finishes and barnwood floors continue in the kitchen outfitted with custom millwork, a marble tile backsplash, and stainless steel appliances. The island with marble countertops has barstool seating and features an undermount wine fridge and wet bar sink.
On the other side, two bedrooms are joined by en suite bathrooms with dark-tiled floors and curbless shower entries designed for users with mobility challenges. For the exterior, the design team decided to go a more traditional route with a brick that complemented the brick on the main house, accented with dark features. Although brick is not commonly used in the area, Fry says it “creates a sense of primitive elegance” in an area with newer-looking surrounding structures.
“The style is modern, but traditional, and that’s how we ended up with this brick and cottagey-sloped roof that looks quite modest from either angle, but also has a nice depth to it,” says Fry.