Part 2 – 1543 sqft Townhouse, Minnesota

1543 sqft Townhouse, Minnesota (PDF)
1543 sqft Townhouse, Minnesota (JPEG)

  • James Scott

    Good morning.

    John – It would be interesting to see and/or hear your take on some of the discussion that revolved around the orientation of the house. How could this particular house be made better to take advantage of the sunlight and what changes would be required to make it suitable for different street frontages. The garage isn’t going anywhere, so how would that be managed?

  • Steve


    For a limited-budget reno, I thought the most important issues to resolve were:
    1. The tight foyer and its misalignment with the opening to the 2nd floor.
    2. The two front bedrooms are just 9′ wide.
    3. The windows to the south are wasted on space with limited useabiity.

    I’ve left the exterior untouched assuming a neighbourhood covenant of some sort prohibits changes. Resolving that step inside the front door, however, would be a priority.

    My primary change on the first floor was pushing the central hallway to the east ~18″ so the foyer is better aligned with the opening over it, and the underside of all of the stairs are in the storage closet. I took some of the garage for a coat closet since that was too small for a full-size car anyway. There was no changng the window corner that overhangs the front door, so I made it a full balcony, which also provides some “compression” inside the front door before the “release” of the two story space. Upstairs I switched the bedroom spaces and swapped out the laundry for the family bathroom.

  • John Brown

    You raise a good question that has no readily available easy answer. As was mentioned yesterday, the simple truth is that this house plan faces the wrong direction. You are quite correct that the garage isn’t going anywhere – at least if we accept the constraints of the typical suburban street plan. However, if the streets were laid out on a north south axis so that the back yards either faced east or west, the problem of orientation would have been much reduced.

  • John Brown

    A very nice revision. I particularly like the second floor. It makes so much more sense to have the double bedrooms at the back, where the house is the widest. I also like the integration of the front and back entry on the main floor. My only concern is a small one – is there another option for the back door. It seems a shame to have it so visible at the end of the hallway from the living space.

  • Terri

    Regarding the orientation discussion, it seems that at the development stage thought might be given to making east-west streets have wider (and thereby more shallow) lots and the north-south streets be used for the long narrow lots. That way the homes could be built to allow for more sun exposure in the main living areas.

    I agree with John’s assessment of your plan. Although I don’t think nine feet is all that bad for secondary bedroom widths, it does make a lot more sense to use the widest end for two bedrooms. The master bath/closet is much more efficient this way too–though I’d forego the double sink in the ensuite to make room for that linen closet that’s making the main bath counter too short.

  • John Brown

    That is an excellent point about varying street dimensions in order to bring more sunlight into the individual units. A small move like that could have a big impact in the long term. The difficulty is that there is a disconnect between the goals of the land developer, the housebuilder, and the homeowner that makes this kind of integrative thinking difficult to achieve – at least at present.

  • Sherry

    Can the stair make a 180 degree turn rather than a 90 degree turn? That keeps the within house sock footed traffic from having to come through the potentially slushed up entry to get to and from the stairs.

  • John Brown

    That is a very good suggestion.

    Not only does it reduce the circulation conflict you noted but the change would increase the size of the entry space and create more space in the master bedroom by eliminating the need for the two storey space.

  • Louis Pereira

    (Lately, I can’t seem to connect to Slow Home from my work place – must be something with my own setup. Please let me know if any of the regulars are experiencing the same – Thanks)


    John – It’s good to see (and hear) some of that passion again in your critique of these houses.

    I’m not the ranting type, but i certainly felt the urge to do just that after see these plans. I just can’t get past the +90% garage front. Gary Evans, an environmental physcologist is quoted as saying, “your home reflects who you are”. If that is true, what does it say about someone who chooses to live in a place like this. Is this how we should present ourselves to the public realm – with one big *ss garage door?

    It may not seem fair to say it that way since, whoever buys this house may not have been given a choice. That right there may be the most unfortunate part of this whole thing – that the buyer had no choice.

    I personally think many of the faults lurk much deeper than what happens inside the walls of this house. As John points out in some of the discussion today, much of the blame should be placed squarely on the Home Builder, Developer, (and i would add), Transportation, City Planners – I could go on. The Duluth project would suggest to me there is less emphasis on the quality of its surrounding environment, surroundings that cater more to the vehicle than to designing pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods. The development is likely devoid of a high quality pedestrian network and public realm; an area with an interconnected street grid with a range of housing types, sizes and value; a hiearchy of narrow streets, boulevards and alleys with emphasis on beauty, human comfort and sense of place; a diversity of people – of ages, classes and culture. Wouldn’t that sound like a better choice?

    If we were grading these plans like we did a while ago, I would give it a big fat FAIL.

  • Hans

    Hi John,

    first, kudos for your all your work. I’ve been following the slow home report for some time (I discovered it about 2+ years ago, if I’m not mistaken). I’m a ig fan of small spaces that are well used. I personally live in a 1100 sqf home with three bed rooms, built in 1932 and the layout baffles me. Almost none of my visitors believe it’s only 1100 sqf.

    Anyways, this is a little rant. I like productive criticism (although it’s really hard for me to not fall into the ranting mode all the time myself). Today I was reminded that you are taking “what’s wrong with this house” very literal. In many episodes you “throw” in little fixes or ideas for fixes. I’d love to see more solutions, even if they are just mentioned in side sentences.

    Keep up the great work. I’d love to provide the plan of my house some day. There are some things that are not perfect, and I think there might be some relatively easy fixes, but all in all it is a great example of living in a small place.

    Cheers, Hans

  • John Brown

    Thanks very much for the nice words. It is great to get positive reinforcement. I would like to expand your complement to all of the loyal participants who make this site so vital every day. This has been particularly true in the last three weeks when I have been a little distracted with other things and not able to follow things as much as usual.

    If you have a floor plan that you can send me by email – – we will certainly consider it for an upcoming episode.

    As you probably heard in today’s segment, we are announcing an exciting new initiative this Friday. I hope you are able to participate.