Expanding the limits: A second structure can be a dramatic improvement

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A new addition to a slim city lot contains a bedroom and bathroom, flexible studio space, two-car garage and a carport. To keep it from feeling too overbearing, Alloy created a cutout porch and echoed the exterior materials of
the main house. Photo: Andrea Hubbell A new addition to a slim city lot contains a bedroom and bathroom, flexible studio space, two-car garage and a carport. To keep it from feeling too overbearing, Alloy created a cutout porch and echoed the exterior materials of the main house. Photo: Andrea Hubbell

If your house sits on a small city lot, it may seem as though there’s little room to expand. After all, city regulations limit how much of your lot may be developed, plus the height of secondary structures relative to your house. But don’t give up hope. One recent project by Alloy Workshop demonstrates that even a modest lot can support a surprising amount of newly built space.

The original house was built in 2010 by Latitude 38, known for its modern dwellings that often fit into narrow lots like this sloping site that faces Carters Mountain. The property’s current owner approached Alloy about adding a garage in the open backyard. The idea wasn’t just to shelter vehicles, though, but also to make room for an exercise and yoga studio, plus guest quarters. Actually, it gets even better than that.

“The two-car garage opens to the back,” says Alloy architect Dan Zimmerman, showing the sliding barn doors that also allow the garage space to open frontwise toward the house, creating a pass-through pavilion. “The building’s really porous for such a big structure on the site.” When the client has a party, garage doors can be opened on both sides and vehicles moved out to create a roomy space for serving drinks and entertaining.

There’s still more: A third vehicle can be stored in a carport open at both front and back, and a second-floor porch off the studio capitalizes on the mountain view. And the space between the house and garage has been transformed by multi-level decking into what Zimmerman calls “an urban courtyard” that physically connects the two buildings.

Photo: Andrea Hubbell
Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Zimmerman says this multitude of functions grew from a design process that began with several possible schemes. Once the carport was established as a pass-through, he says, “everything else took off from there.”

It was a puzzle with many pieces. “We had to dance between the minimum dimension for the cars and the maximum percentage we could occupy on the site,” says Zimmerman. City code states that no more than 30 percent of the backyard can support a structure. It also specifies a maximum height for “accessory structures” —25′ or the height of the main building, whichever is less.

In this case, height was important also because vehicles entering the garage from the alleyway needed a relatively level pathway. “You didn’t want to dive in,” says Zimmerman. The garage had to be high enough to meet the alley but not too high compared with the house. “It was a balancing act.” City code, of course, also requires that structures be set back from property lines by specific distances.

On the second floor, the “cutout porch” bites into the volume of the building, ensuring that the garage doesn’t feel too monolithic. The use of two different exterior materials—an idea borrowed from the original house—also helps break things up. Whereas the house uses metal, HardiePanel and wood, the garage uses only the first two from that list: the ones that take the least maintenance.

The look of the garage generally cleaves very closely to that of the house: dark gray-green panels, shiny galvanized metal and a single-slope roof. “In a lot of ways it made it easy” not to rethink the vocabulary for the secondary structure, says Zimmerman. Yet the garage does have its own feel—a little more industrial than the house, even as the porch clearly marks it as a domestic space.

A low-maintenance structure with a bedroom, bathroom and flexible studio space, that capitalizes on a great southern vista: You can imagine how this affects property value compared with, say, a tool shed. And oh yeah, it’s good to live with, too.

“The structure streamlines our daily life by providing an alternative, easily accessible space while maintaining privacy,” says the client. Pretty good for an “accessory structure.”

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