DUPLEX DESIGNS FOR NARROW BLOCKS
At first glance, a narrow block of land can appear to be very restrictive. Yet, creative duplex designs for narrow blocks open up so many ways to optimise the potential of a challenging building site.
Well-designed duplex dwellings make sound financial sense and offer all the conveniences and advantages of ample home space without the disadvantages of onerous large yard maintenance.
Thinking about what you want from your duplex can help clarify the smart design choices you want to see in your new home.
Intelligent, innovative duplex design can offer exceptional investment returns when you rent both of them out or you might choose to live in one and rent one out.
Duplex designs (also known as a dual occupancy) for narrow sites can also be the perfect solution for helping your children into their first home.
Parents live in one dwelling while your children live in the other and pay the mortgage to the parental bank. You might also consider using one dwelling as a holiday home, and renting or selling the other dwelling.
Duplex dwellings became popular in the 1920’s and 30’s and were typically two identical dwellings joined together. Nowadays the options are endless with attached and detached options some with the possibility of Torrens Title subdivision.
Council requirements for narrow sites and duplex design vary widely from area to area. Designing duplex homes for a narrow block of land raises some considerable questions.
We’ll answer the most common questions asked about designing for a narrow block duplex development. We’ll also point out some important aspects you might not be aware of.
WHAT’S THE MINIMUM WIDTH FOR A DUPLEX DESIGN?
Most councils will stipulate minimum site widths and site areas for duplex dwellings. It’s important to get this step right and Slater Architects will research these requirements for you as part of the design process.
These requirements will usually vary according to the designated zone. You may be able to build a duplex on a smaller block if you’re not planning to subdivide into two separate titles.
Some of the factors that dictate whether your narrow block will be suitable for a dual dwelling and the type of duplex you can build include:
- Vehicle access—garages at the front of the site requires careful planning to avoid dominant garage doors particularly if double garages are proposed.
- Type of subdivision— often uses a Torrens title but a Strata title might be required where the site is too small.
- Corner site, sloping site, proximity of neighbours, protected trees and other aspects of your site may also affect your duplex design.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON DUPLEX DESIGNS FOR NARROW BLOCKS?
Getting the design right for your site can completely transform your narrow block home design and deliver real returns on your investment. There are many ways that you can use a narrow block.
SIDE BY SIDE
Side by side dual dwellings are perhaps the most common and traditional duplex design. It’s also usually the simplest and most economic method. But there’s no obligation to make mirror image housing.
We can create variations on a theme with creative use of timber, stone and glass textures for a unique entrance to each dwelling.
One dwelling might be larger than the other, such as a four bedroom and a two bedroom duplex, we create a floor plan to suit your needs.
This can be a great option for multi-generation living with a larger family home and the second dwelling serving as a smaller home for elderly relatives.
DOUBLE STOREY DUPLEX
Double storey duplexes, where a unit is above another, offer more space for truly luxurious living and can be a great way to maximise expansive vistas. However, you may spend more on construction due to the additional engineering and council requirements.
Building up also means you can allow for more generous outdoor living spaces including patios, gardens and spa pools.
The second storey can create a secluded sense of privacy away from the notice of neighbours. The use of a void between top floors can create vast open spaces and allow for more natural light and ventilation.
Single storey dual dwellings offer advantages of cost effectiveness as well as potentially greater privacy and sense of separation from the other dwelling.
A front and rear orientation can be a great choice for narrow blocks especially where there is road access to both front and rear.
Completely separate entrances and a smaller party wall mean you’ll probably never see or hear your neighbours in the adjoining unit.
SPLIT LEVEL (if the site is sloping)
Although councils may impose restrictions on some steep sloping narrow sites, we see this as a catalyst for even greater creativity and innovation.
Split-level duplex designs can follow the contours of the slope creating indented courtyards, balconies and rooftop patios.
Split-level designs can also allow sunlight into a dwelling that lacks northern exposure.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN DESIGNING A DUPLEX ON A NARROW BLOCK?
Yes, there are. Some of the most important issues include:
- Site size, zoning restrictions and street frontage
- Ratio calculations to determine the amount of floor space permitted by the Council
- Exposure to sunlight and possible shading from other buildings
- Potential drainage issues on sloping sites below a road and access to stormwater drainage easements
- Council restrictions requiring shared driveway access and maximum driveway grades
WHAT TYPES OF MATERIALS CAN MAXIMIZE SPACE?
Intelligent choices around materials can add to the perception of space and lightness.
Generous use of glass can create a light filled space soaked in natural light and lead the eye to expansive open plan living spaces, kitchens and beyond to patios and gardens.
The use of natural stonework internally and externally, including garden walls, provide points of interest the create an organic sense of space.
Skylights are useful for creating that feeling of light filled space especially when a window might look directly onto a side fence.
TIPS FOR MAXIMIZING SPACE IN A NARROW BLOCK DUPLEX
Long narrow spaces can feel a little like a corridor especially in side-by-side dwellings. Incorporating open plan living spaces can break up this linear view.
Raked, gable type high ceilings with skylights, mezzanine floors and stairways with glass balustrades also create a sense of openness and expansiveness.
Two storey and split-level designs allow for balconies and outdoor rooftop spaces that enhance your floor plan and create a sense of luxurious spaciousness. Light coloured decor and light hued timber emphasize the size and openness of the space.
Creating spaces that are open plan will prevent the internal spaces from feeling like a corridor. And it’s often a good idea to avoid kitchen islands and other divisive partitions that might break up the space in a room.
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE THAT MY DESIGN IS COMPLIANT WITH LOCAL COUNCIL REGULATIONS?
The rules and legal definitions governing duplex designs and builds are complex. Not only do you need to make sure you tick all the right boxes but keeping track of the requirements and approvals process can be stressful.
Slater Architects have an in-depth knowledge of all the council regulations and will manage the development application process for you.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BUILDING A DUPLEX ON A NARROW BLOCK?
Building a duplex on a narrow block offers a number of benefits including:
- Additional income from rental returns or Airbnb
- Holiday accommodation
- Accommodation for family members
- Can significantly increase property value compared with a single dwelling
- Options for building on difficult to deal with sites
ARE THERE ANY POTENTIAL DRAWBACKS TO BUILDING ON SUCH A NARROW LOT?
Placing a duplex home on such a narrow site may present some drawbacks. If the orientation is wrong, it may be difficult to achieve adequate light for the shaded dwelling.
Planning for adequate garaging and driveway access can take a large amount of the available space and the width of the dwelling maybe compromised so it is important draw on the skill of an experienced Architect to help you create light filled open planned space that don’t feel narrow.
Subdivision costs need to be factored into the overall budget.
WHAT KIND OF LANDSCAPING OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE FOR NARROW BLOCKS?
The landscaping is an important part of the design as it is an extension of the living space and even if small using natural materials such as stone walls and native planting can add depth to narrow gardens. Vertical gardens are another smart design feature.
This works especially well when you have an area of empty space between the dual dwellings. Timber seating and decks can also add functionality and a sense of space to smaller gardens.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIFIC DESIGN ELEMENTS THAT CAN INCREASE THE VALUE OF MY PROPERTY?
The number of bedrooms and overall size of each dwelling and the ability to take advantage of views are really important design features that will enhance the value of any duplex. A two storey duplex is the perfect way to achieve these things.
Building up may also allow for a double garage. Ample, safe off-street parking is a highly sought after and valued bonus for any home. You may even be able to add in a plunge pool.
WHAT DESIGN FEATURES WILL MAXIMIZE NATURAL LIGHT AND VENTILATION?
The use of floor to ceiling glazing facing onto the garden is the perfect way to incorporate natural light into the design. Skylights will also help bring in abundant light and ventilation.
Void spaces between dwellings can also help bring in both light and ventilation. Staggered designs with different setbacks can achieve a similar effect.
Designing stairways with glass balustrades or open treads allows light to flow more easily into the lower floor.
Place stairs and service rooms along the party wall so that living rooms and bedrooms can take advantage of good glazing possibilities.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO BUILD A DUPLEX WHILE STILL PRESERVING GREEN SPACE ON THE PROPERTY?
Yes, we can create private secluded nooks and patios enhanced by carefully planned garden spaces.
Vertical gardens with greenery growing up the fences or by using void space between the dwellings for planting can expand the green space even further.
Roof gardens may be an option with split-level or double story designs too.
If you have a site with a narrow frontage and you don’t know how best to maximise its potential, talk to the experts at Slater Architects about duplex home design.
While every effort is made to ensure that the information contained within this article is accurate and up to date, Slater Architects makes no warranty, representation or undertaking whether expressed or implied, nor does it assume any legal liability, whether direct or indirect, or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information.