Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stacked Townhomes - typical configuration with rear garages

The precedent we are going to look at now is one of the most common configurations for Stacked Townhomes today. This is a three story two dwelling unit townhome configured with a 3 bedroom unit stacked over a 2 bedroom unit, with rear facing attached garages built into the volume of the house. Internally the units are in the typical stacked configuration with each unit consisting of 1 story + 1/2 floor.

I resist calling this the most “popular” configuration because I am not convinced that popularity among developers equals popularity among home buyers. Buyers are traditionally stuck with what is offered, and in this case the popularity among developers is more the result of unit yield per acre than a preference for the configuration of dwelling units.

This configuration stacked townhome has a big impact on site planning and the public/private outdoor environment that the occupants will experience. But before we venture into a site analysis of the outcome of this configuration we will spend this blog post looking closely at the layout. Refer to the floor plan as we do a “walk-thru”

Starting on the ground level the first characteristic you should note is the two separate front doors, one leading directly into the lower 2 bedroom unit, the other leading into a stair hall that goes up to the upper 3 bedroom unit. These are placed as far apart as possible (although they end up directly adjacent to the doors of the next townhouse), part of reducing the experience that you are sharing this big house with another owner. At the back of the house the space is split evenly between two garages, one for each dwelling unit. The challenge here is to connect the upper unit’s garage to the front stair hall, without taking too much space from the lower unit’s living spaces. This is an area of compromise - max the lower units living space and you create a horrible narrow entry hall for the upper unit. Take enough space for a gracious entry experience for the upper unit and the lower unit suffers under the diminished square footage. The compromise most often reached is the smaller 2 bedroom lower unit gets a smaller piece of the pie here, and its living spaces are smaller than the upper unit. Not ideal, but the goal for a plan here is a balance of these factors.

Internally the lower unit enjoys a direct connection to the outdoors through the front entry, and close access to the garage space, but is left with a compact living area at best. The stair up to the bedrooms is in this case tucked between the kitchen and the garage.  For the upper unit the ground floor is all about access. Its a long way from the garage to the living space, so a convenient coat closet is placed near the garage. The stair goes up to a landing from both sides, front door and garage approch, and from the landing up into the living spaces on the second floor. The double stair is useful as it breaks up what would otherwise be an awkwardly long and featureless hallway. Yet I still come away feeling like this is lipstick on a pig - there is no good way to connect the points of access here. The front door and garage are in different worlds, and the long hallway wastes space for the other unit, as does the double-back stair. There are other configurations of this kind of stacked townhome, but all have compromises in this ground floor arrangement. Solving the problems we see here almost always brings on other new issues. We are flagging this for future reference - we want to crack this nut.

The second floor of this kind of stacked townhome is split roughly between the lower and upper units. Proceeding to the second floor on the lower unit stair takes you to a small upstairs hall where a modest master bedroom and second bedroom must share the rear half of the floor with two bathrooms and laundry for space. Smart floor planning can maximize these but the fact is there simply is not a lot of space here. The master bedroom is on the small side, and the second bedroom just plain small. There is no avoiding that the lower unit is modestly sized. In front half of the second floor are the living spaces for the upper unit. Similarly configured to the lower unit these spaces enjoy the full width of the townhouse, and none of the interruptions of the other unit’s hallway or entry vestibule. To my eye the living space still feels small for a 3 bedroom house, but if you think of this as more of an apartment this is less unusual. But at the same time, it makes it feel like less of a house. Part of this is the upper unit has no convenient access to the outdoors from the living areas. Even if you venture back to the ground floor there is no personal outdoor space. The lower unit is no better in this regard but is at least in proximity to the outdoors. Again this contributes to the upper unit feeling more like an apartment than a house.

Finally the third floor is completely dedicated to bedrooms for the upper unit. The master bedroom suite has space to be sprawling, and the closets and master bathroom are huge. The second and third bedrooms are adequate, but benefit from generous hallway, closet, and laundry space on this level. Sadly its too much space proportionally to the living areas below. There is space to waste on the third floor while the living spaces below feel small for a 3 bedroom dwelling. I doubt this is ever seen as a problem by developers. More square feet equals higher price on most scorecards, but my criticism stands. Space is poorly distributed, and the design of the dwelling suffers for it. I am not convinced that 3 bedrooms even makes sense in this housing model. It seems more a result of space on hand rather than careful planning. Again we are flagging this for closer study in the future.

It is informative to compare this to the last precedent we looked at. The introduction of the garage forces the upper unit to make a greater imposition on the lower unit, and yields the irregular boundary between the two units. In comparison the two units are much more entangled here than in the last precedent.

Next time we’ll look at the site planning implications of this arrangement of stacked townhome. Stay with us.

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