Learn from an ultra-narrow house just 12 feet wide

Jennifer Karmon

This brick beauty in Washington has the proportions of a supermodel, all height and little width.

Listed for $549,999 by Tom Lewis of Redfin, the 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath row-house-without-a-row somehow manages to look surprisingly roomy and modern, thanks to some clever interior customization.

The floor plans show an indoor footprint of just about 12 feet wide at its widest by about 26 feet. The lot size is listed at 423 square feet, which means WYSIWYG when it comes to a yard -- a pocket garden in the front, nothing in the back. Yet the house manages to eke out nearly 1,300 square feet of living space spread over three levels, and that's not  including what Lewis calls a "potential" rooftop deck (buyers to verify that potential, of course).

It's situated on an awkward piece of land on a triangular block in D.C.'s Shaw/U Street corridor. The house was built in 1910, and it's showing its age in places, particularly along one exterior wall coated in tar. (Click any of the photos here to go to a slideshow that includes a photo of that wall.) Lewis doesn't know the history of the place, but he says the neighborhood was heavily hit by the 1968 riots, and he speculates that a once-abutting building fell victim to blight and was demolished.

In recent years, though, the house has obviously benefited from some loving attention -- and it's an object lesson in how to maximize space and turn even the most unwieldy configurations into relative assets.

Note: You can click on any of the pictures here to go to a slideshow with floor plans and many more photos of the ultra-narrow house.

Let's go inside -- click to the next page.

This is what you see when you walk in the door. The floor is concrete, contributing along with the exposed ductwork (upper right) to a gentle industrial feel.

Pay attention to the backsplash of black, white and gray tiles, because you'll see that color scheme repeating throughout the house, helping the rooms flow into each other pleasingly. The kitchen counter doubles as a room divider. You can just glimpse the doorway to the half-bath in the back of the kitchen against the left wall, just past the silver refrigerator and stacked (space-saving!) washer and dryer.

Now turn around ... (click to the next page)

... and take a 360-degree look at the room you just entered. That's the front door, of course, anchored by a dark-and-light-patterned rug. Despite the sacrificed privacy, the glass door is smart, extending sight lines from within the house. A glass table anchored to the wall takes up little visual or physical space, making a potentially awkward bump-out into a cozy nook, without an inch of space wasted. The owners customized the table and the benches -- made from a tree -- to fit, Lewis says.

Let's turn around again and go upstairs. Click to the next page.

The second floor is open living area; this is the view from the top of the stairs. The owners' movie screen may not be practical for everyone, but it's a good solution to limited space. A flat-screen TV, with its dark screen, would have risked further narrowing the room visually. On the other hand, the mirror's reflective surface helps open up the width (though we might have chosen an less imposing frame).

Now turn around, and take a look at the rest of the open room. (Click to the next page.)

That's a little work nook the owners have squeezed into the bump-out. You've probably noticed the rug palette already. The open risers on the stairs help the narrow space feel airy.

The stair landing is pictured at right.

Two bedrooms and a bathroom are on the third level. The bathroom doors appears to slide rather than swing open and closed, another space-saving device. You can already glimpse the black-and-white tile.

Look up for a moment and you'll see what Lewis calls a "rooftop escape hatch" leading to what he optimistically envisions as a future deck.

The stair railing frames a view toward downstairs, which avoids slicing the narrow space into an even skinnier sliver. (Still, just for the record: Personally I'd find that railing unsettling. I suspect its insubstantial feel would induce vertigo, whether or not the railing framed a pane of glass.)

You can glimpse the larger of the home's two bedrooms there at the end of the corridor. Let's take a look. Click to the next page.

The third level is the one part of the house that feels just a little less cleverly laid out. Maybe the mattress above rests on the floor because a platform would have brought it up too high against the window? Whatever the reason, the unfinished quality makes this space perhaps the least appealing in the house (though you haven't seen the tiny second bedroom yet).

Now take a look at the bathroom, pictured at right.

Ah, this is more like it: This is the thoughtful design I've grown to know and love, if only vicariously.

The cabinetry and fixtures yet again echo the black-white-steely-gray palette throughout the home, and the medicine cabinet even offers the illusion of a window. The sink juts out above the cabinet, providing a generous size without taking up extra floor space.

And finally, let's visit the other bedroom. Click to the next page.

This snug room measures a mere 8 by 10 feet, though the mirrored closet makes it feel more expansive. What do you think of the translucent doors disguising more storage? It creates a sense of depth without exposing clutter, but somehow I'm not quite in love with it. And again, this bedroom feels a little unfinished compared to the rest of the house.

So what do you think of this house? Is it somewhere you'd live? Do you see any other lessons the rest of us might glean? Or maybe you have a few ideas from your own experience. I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

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