Featured in LA Times Creativity, small lots: A good fit for new homes

Small-lot developments have long been plagued by complexity: how to box together single-family homes on tight, row house-style parcels while maintaining privacy. Who wants to watch a neighbor washing his dishes, or worse?

Small-lot homes were born of a 2005 Los Angeles city ordinance that reduced minimum lot sizes to 600 square feet from 5,000 square feet in areas zoned for multifamily use. Think of New York City brownstones or townhouses — buyers own the land and don't share walls, but mere inches can separate units.

The homes are stacked two or three stories and closely abut sidewalks and other perimeters. Favored by young urban professionals, the more affordable homes are about 1,600 to 2,000 square feet.

With such space constraints, home builders have to get creative. Here are a few ways designers and developers have been solving the complex spatial puzzle that small-lot home projects present.

Small-lot developments are all about relationships — to the street, pedestrians, adjacent units and to a neighborhood's vibe. Developments such as Silver Lake's Covo that opened last year contextualize all of those factors.

The 10 three-bedroom homes range from 1,860 to 2,000 square feet and include tiny 125-square-foot yards and either rooftop decks or balconies (a staple of small-lot homes). Designed by KTGY Architecture + Planning, they sold quickly for just over $1 million each.

Covo's look is softened by street-facing third floors that are set back from the lower two floors to be more visually pleasing.

When building such compact vertical homes, boxy looks are inescapable — a good match, actually, for modernist urban designs.

Look for more of these projects thanks to a major ordinance update and new mandated design standards that both went into effect April 18.

The update, among other points, decrees more open space within projects to prevent developers from "building out" units on lots, which created some outlier behemoths.

New design standards include ways to add depth and other interest to facades and ways to further engage buildings with streets, such as defining entryways by adding awnings.

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