Part 2 – 2700 sqft 3 bedroom House , San Diego

2700 sqft 3 bedroom House, San Diego (PDF)
2700 sqft 3 bedroom House, San Diego (JPEG)

  • John Y

    Obviously the 800 lb. gorilla in the room is that garage. I mostly ignored it yesterday — it’s the kind of feature that either appeals to somebody, or immediately turns them off — but it’s so big it’s really just hard to gloss over.

    I wonder, though, how many people would really park 4 cars in there? I feel like the house would be better served by a two-car garage, and using the rest of that reclaimed space for something like a woodworking shop, a billiards room, something to that effect.

    I still like the family room/kitchen/breakfast nook area of the house. It’s not perfect — the kitchen especially needs some work — but I’m guessing it’s the part of the house where the residents are going to spend most of their waking hours and on that front, it’s probably the best part of the house to have gotten right.

  • James Scott

    What is the psychology of these types of houses, I mean the style with the big garage in front with a timid or concealed entrance off to the side that tends to shy away from the street?

    Has today’s homeowner become so overly cautious or afraid of their neighbours? Is there a fear of what may happen if there is interaction with others outside of the home? What are these people afraid of? All a person has to do is get in the car, drive away from the home, fight other drivers in other vehicles, park at work, and quickly slink into work without any physical or social contact with others. Then the process repeats itself until the person returns home.

    The neighbours aren’t sitting on the front porch watching the children and grand children play. Other than taking out the trash and mowing the lawn what connection is there to the people next door? If I were a kid, would I knock on the door to see if the kid next door would want to play? No way!

    My children have a steady stream of friends coming to our home each day, rain or shine. Some from next door, across the street or a block or two away. That’s because we make our home accessible to our neighbours and our children’s friends.

    My friends in CA that have a home similar to this one, their kids have no friends at all in the neighbourhood. No boys and girls come knocking on the door, no one is out playing in the yard or riding their bike. Thank goodness for the mall and fast food restaurants or these kids would be bored to tears. Does anyone see the sarcasm in this?

    Seclusion, ignorance of your neighbours and thus the dismantling of one’s community and our community values, that to me is the biggest problem with this house.

  • John

    “Is it really Summertime all the time in California and Texas?”

    Yes, it is :-)

    In a warm weather city, you going to wear a coat a few weeks out of the year. Even the “rainy season” may mean high temperatures and thunderstorms. A coat may keep you dry, but you’ll also sweat like a pig.

    I’m not arguing against coat closets. I’m just saying that they’re more important in some places than others. You can’t look at San Diego, Houston, or Miami from a Toronto perspective.

  • John Y

    James Scott said: “Has today’s homeowner become so overly cautious or afraid of their neighbours?”

    Yes, sadly. As an example, there’s been a big brouhaha over this Henry Gates arrest thing in Boston and whether or not it’s a race issue. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but what I think is depressing about the whole thing is that Dr. Gates’s neighbor *didn’t even recognize him* and therefore called the police. I think that’s a sad statement on American neighborhood relationships (or the lack thereof).

  • Brad W


    James – I agree with your point about houses of this nature turning their back on the street and the potential to lose a sense of community. I will not argue the influence which architecture and design can have on our daily lives.

    It is interesting that we sing the praises of the Stahl residence by Koenig yet one of its key features was its blatant disregard for community by presenting no windows or front door to the street – simply a car port. At the time, this was rare. Perhaps it is now the ubiquitous nature of this that is not working.

    Maybe the problem with this house and others like it is that they do not go to the extreme of the Stahl house. In attempting to acknowledge the nieghbourhood, they fail miserably. And this compromise has the add on effect of jeopardizing the interior space.

    In any case, my problem with this house is the front entry/living/dining space. The angles and walls compromise the usability of the space. I opened it up in a redesign presented here but there is still something difficult about it which has me thinking the front entry should actually be on the east side.

  • John Brown

    Point taken about the closets. However, I lived in Dallas for a number of years and I found that one still needed a place to dump “outside” stuff near the front door. It may not need to be as big as in a colder climate but still, where do you put your umbrella, extra shoes, etc.

    The fact, remains, however, that there aren’t many front hall closets in cold climate houses either.

    Thanks for the perspective.

  • Terri

    Re: closets in San Diego. My relations use theirs for shoes. There are lightweight jackets for rain in winter. It doesn’t have to be large, just available.

    Re: closing off from neighbours…Brad W makes a good point about the Stahl home’s “turning away” from the neighbourhood. But it is a special case, on a particular site.

    It seems to me that it was around the mid-70s that the average family home morphed from a split level with carport or single garage into the imposing garage-faced structure.Once you build a big garage, you pretty much have to allow as much space for the living quarters. The bigger the garage, the more rooms you need to offer. (At least, that’s what the dichotomy seems to be.)

    What came first–the building or the buyer?
    Improvements in trusses may be partly responsible. Cookie cutter builders could stick rooms above garages, throw in extra gables, etc. without a lot of difficulty. But then, when two people are working, they want to come home from a long day to see the “proof” of all that labour–a house that shows wealth. And maybe they’re too stressed out to get to know their neighbours except on the weekend…
    It seems the more people close themselves off, the more afraid they become too.

    As for this insular home, the family/nook is the nicest area, although if an imposing house is built beside this one, it might feel a little too closed in. I can imagine liking the study better, but you can’t get the whole family in there.

  • Terri

    Brad W.,
    Good improvements on this plan. It’s interesting how much more spacious all the rooms are once those angles are removed. A further modification I’d consider doing if I had the time is putting the garage entry up at the east end of the garage so that it’s closer to the kitchen, which would necessitate repositioning the powder room (but there’s lots of space for that).

    I’ve come to see how the garage is obviously considered the main point of entry for everyone in the family (closets all relate to the garage entry). The assumption is that everyone arrives in a car, including the kids after school or their programmed activities. So, in my mind, it’d be nicer to not be passing the bedrooms on the way in.

  • Doug Roberts

    I agree that this trend towards making houses more inwardly-focused and less open to the street and neighbours is a source of concern. However, here in Calgary there appear to be at least some efforts being made to reverse this trend. The evolution of single family urban/suburban homes here in Calgary seems to have been generally as follows:
    1) First half of the 20th century — small 1- and 2-storey homes on narrow (33′) lots laid out in grid pattern with back alleys, houses were oriented towards the street, with living rooms/parlours located at the front of the house and front verandas/porches, back yards were mostly used for vegetable gardens and drying laundry, few fences except for low picket fences;
    2) Post WWII — small bungalows and semi-bungalows on wider (50′) lots laid out in grid pattern with back alleys, houses still oriented towards the street with living rooms and master bedrooms located at the front of the house but front verandas/porches less common, back yards were mostly utilitarian with detached single garages, vegetable gardens and clotheslines for drying laundry, few fences;
    3) 1970s — larger bungalows, split levels and 2-storeys on wider (50′ – 75′) lots laid out in crescents and cul-de-sacs with no back alleys, houses oriented more neutrally, with formal living spaces located at the front and informal living spaces located at the back, front-facing side-attached double garages, back yards less utilitarian and more decorative/recreational with decks/patios, fences and only small vegetable gardens;
    4) Y2K — (a) new suburban neighbourhoods — large 2-storeys and walk-out bungalows on narrower (40′ – 50′) lots laid out in crescents and cul-de-sacs with no back alleys, houses oriented towards the back as front attached double and triple garages occupy virtually the entire front facade, back yards entirely decorative/recreational with decks/patios, 6′ high privacy fences and nary a vegetable garden in sight;
    (b) older inner-city neighbourhoods — smaller 2-storey detached and semi-detached infills on narrow (25′) subdivided lots in grid patterns with back alleys, houses oriented more neutrally with verandas/porches and some living space in the front and other living space in the back, back yards both utilitarian and decorative with decks/patios, 6′ high privacy fences, small green spaces (but little or no room for vegetable gardens) and detached double garages across the back.

    In my view, this recent wave of infill development in older inner-city neighbourhoods is being fuelled not only by a desire to save time and money by reducing the daily commute, but also by a backlash against the modern suburban neighbourhoods with their alienating inwardly-focused cookie-cutter “Hummer” homes. Built on narrow subdivided lots, infills are naturally more outwardly-focused, promoting better interaction with neighbours and discouraging criminal activity by putting more “eyes on the street”. Another benefit is that infills tend to be at least reasonably well designed, as unlike “Hummer” homes, you can’t “fix” design problems simply by adding more rooms or making rooms bigger.

    The infill trend in Calgary received a real boost last year when gas prices shot through the roof and the thought of living 5-10 minutes from downtown, instead of 30-60 minutes, became particularly appealing. It would have received another boost this year if “Plan It Calgary”, an urban planning strategy that was intended to slow the pace of urban sprawl in Calgary by shifting the focus away from developing new suburban neighbourhoods and back into the redevelopment and densification of existing neighbourhoods, had been approved when it was presented to city council. However, not surprisingly, developers and new home builders lobbied hard against Plan It and it was sent back to the city planners for revision (ie. watering down). Despite this, I expect the demand for infills here in Calgary to continue to grow as more and more people opt for a slower, more interconnected lifestyle.

  • Brad W

    Does anyone on this site live in the suburbs? I do. Guess what, you need two cars. Does anyone have kids? Play sports? I do. Guess what, you need space to store stuff. As usual, the poor old garage takes it on the chin again this week and, as usual, nobody proposes a viable alternative. (I should be fair one poster suggested a slightly larger/deeper single car garage in place of the standard double considering nobody seems to use their garage to store cars anymore.) Of course, the urban single family home experience is so much better. There is not a garage in sight and the homes are a charming collection of vernacular architecture. Yet despite access to public transit, the streetscape remains littered with cars. Where possible front yards are turned into parking pads. The roads, a gridlock.

    Within the modern suburban context, try to design a house that would sell. If it was much different from the so-called cookie cutter homes I would be very surprised. I firmly believe that the floorplans would be better if Slow Home principles are applied but I dare you to get rid of the two car garage.

  • Brad W

    Terri – a good point about the garage entry.

  • Brad W


    How about an indoor courtyard?

  • Belle, Toronto

    One thing that has not been mentioned is the laundry area. This presumably is a family home as it has three bedrooms. In the original floor plan and Brad’s attractive alternative plan, the laundry is really a washer and dryer in a closet. In many condos this is the norm also. Does anyone actually do laundry in an area like this?

  • Doug Roberts

    Brad — I wholeheartedly agree that the double garage is not going anywhere anytime soon, especially in areas with cold winters and areas where houses do not have basements. I don’t know how anyone would function if they didn’t have either a basement or a garage. Where would you put your golf clubs, your christmas decorations, your lawn mower, your tools, your bikes, your pool/ping pong table, your rarely-used exercise equipment, etc.? Where would you do hobbies, projects and other things that make a mess? In fact, from what I can tell garages are starting to be viewed as not just spaces for parking cars and storing stuff, but as potential living space. I heard of one garage that doubles as a wine cellar, with a sampling table that rises out of the floor and clever cabinets that, when when flipped one way display neatly hung tools and when flipped the other way conceal the tools and reveal previously hidden wine racks.

  • James Scott

    In my home the laundry room is shared with the freezer, a utility sink and storage. In my in-laws’ condo it’s a closet with a bit of room for storage and hanging wet items but that’s it. All sorting, folding & ironing take place outside of this space in conjunction with other activities. I suppose if all of the laundry tasks were done in the actually laundry room it might be like eating out of the pot when making a meal. Mmm steak!

    We have friends with a Laundry Room, lots of storage and counter space, but boy what a heap of stuff it collects. Kinda sort it as you need it process.

    I wonder if placing the laundry area close to the back yard may encourage a clothesline?

  • Shianne

    Adding to garage discussion – suburban living with three kids demands two vehicles. Living in Winnipeg makes the garage a requirement for actual car storage as far as I’m concerned! As much as I don’t care for the ‘snout-house’ footprint, it’s the way it’s done in most sub-divisions these days (i.e. no back alley). There has been some attempt in a newer development her in Winnipeg to develop the garage so that it’s part of the main floor (for 2 stories anyway), and they do look much nicer incorporated into the house itself (in Waverley West). But you end up with less square footage, unless you have a big enough lot. Our solution (with any luck – and a lot more reading!) will be to use the space over the garage as living space – specifically a sound-proofed music room/tv room for early teen kids – and make use of the smaller frontage of a long pie shaped lot. What else can ya do?

  • Terri

    A double garage may be necessary, but does it have to be attached? Okay, I guess for those in cold climates it does. This San Diego place…not so much.

    As for using it for storage, we used to store all that stuff in basements, but that’s less convenient (and seemed to promote more messiness) than having the storage on the same floor.

    Laundry closets: I’ve used laundry closets in a few different settings, and I have to say I rather like it. It’s just a matter of sorting before you get to the laundry, doing a load at a time. I can imagine how a big laundry room might become a catch-all space as James says. I agree that having it close to an outside line is great.

  • John Brown

    Sorry to not have been on the site much today – a site visit in Banff (poor me).

    A really good discussion about garages and neighborhoods. I think it is interesting how the conversation didn’t go as much to the typical interior concerns but to these broader issues that touch on the public realm.

    To start with, I would argue that if you live in a far flung suburb you are going to need at least one car, probably two. They are too far out and too dispersed to walk or have mass transit.

    Do you need four cars? Probably not.
    Do you still need space for storage, projects, etc that a lot of garages are used for? Certainly.
    Does that space have to be right at the front of the house? Probably not.
    Can a house be designed that more properly incorporates the car and provide storage without disconnecting the house from the street? Yes.

    The front drive garage is just the easiest, cheapest solution for the builder/ developer. They don’t have to live with the results – as properly noted by others today – of a lack of connection to the street and a loss of community (or at least the potential for community).

    I appreciate your comments about front yard living.

    Good history lesson.

    Nice plan revision to un-kink the floor plan.

  • Kelly

    I think it’s a shame that outdoor space isn’t more a part of the home. I’m in San Diego and even inland where it gets hot/cold (I’m at the beach and rarely turn on the heater and have no a/c), it’d be nice to have more access to the outside along that lr/dr/fr wall. The house next door may only be 10′ away, but it still could open onto a nice pathway. This has bugged me about a lot of the homes here that seem too closed off to that nice weather everyone raves about.

    And from a local perspective, a front hall closet isn’t really needed. With most people coming in from the garage, the closets locations are fine. If I were going to visit I wouldn’t bother bringing in a coat even in the dead of winter unless I had to park far away.

    I’ve never seen the four car garage though. It might have been nice to make part of that a small office, and you could keep an eye on the kids internet use here instead of putting them in the hallway. The garage would still be big enough for the cars, kayaks, jet skis, etc.

  • MichaelG


    Re overwhelming front garage discussion.
    Its interesting that the common new houses being built in Tokyo are so similar to this wwwth (and from the comments, most suburban ‘cookie-cutters’ in North America) in that the vast majority of the front of the house is taken up by car accommodation, and there is no connection between the front of the house and the local neighborhood. Albeit vertical and on a much smaller footprint. Im not making a negative comment, I just found it interesting. To be honest, theres no real alternative if you want a car, and there are massive differences between Japanese and western cities and suburban/urban culture…
    Attached is an example of the Tokyo style cookie cutter. All new houses by large developers have the exact same floorplan idea. Economies of scale… Its very cheap to buy one of these houses comparatively. BTW, its on a 41m² (~420ft²) block.

  • MichaelG

    Also, one thing I’ve noticed in the newer, higher end houses in Melbourne, Australia (where I’m from and and where I’ve been looking for an investment property) is a ramp at the front of the house leading down into a large basement garage. Obviously this adds a great expense, and is only possible in a new house, but you can have your cake and eat it too. Is this happening elsewhere?

  • Brad W

    Good discussion and nice presentation to day John. It is certainly eye opening to hear from MichaelG in Tokyo. And from Kelly in San Diego.

  • John Brown

    Thank you very much for bringing a Japanese and Australian perspective to the discussion. I have some photos of a new home “parade of houses” in Tokyo that I will try to find. If you ever get your hands on a jpeg of a floor plan or two send them to me and I will try my best to include them in a what’s wrong with this house segment.

    In terms of the basement garage, we sometimes do this if the house is on a hillside that allows the basement to be exposed on one side (a so called walkout basement). This has been done here since the 1960′s and is a great way to avoid the problems of a front garage without losing the convenience.

    The issue with the ramp is that the max. allowable slope is so shallow that the ramp becomes too long for the average house lot. In some cases, I have seen a car lift where there is a single car drive in that is then lowered into the basement. A bit drastic and expensive, however.

  • John Brown

    Thanks very much for bringing us the local perspective. It is really useful to hear from someone on the ground so to speak. I think your observation about the lack of outside space is critical – and something that is often overlooked in this segment.

  • MichaelG

    Brad, love the idea of the internal courtyard in temperate to hot climates. Looking at ancient history for modern inspiration, the shieyuans in China and similar in Korea, or the ancient Roman houses. Nice!

  • MichaelG

    John, no problem!
    The jpg I attached in my previous comment is more or less what they’ll all be like! Car spot plus bedroom and/or bathroom on the 1st floor, living dinning kitchen on the 2nd floor, 2 bedrooms on the third. Japan has a lot of building rules and regulations, so they will vary slightly in roof angles, setback etc, but the overall idea will be the same. Its the classic case of cramming as much as you can into the space you’ve got. And honestly, when you have a block size of under 500ft², and want to house a family of 4, you can see why these types of houses will appeal. Add to that the low prices (economies of scale), and you end up with those parades of houses with willing buyers.

    That said, for all the horrible ‘cookie cutter’ houses proliferating, there are some brilliantly designed small block houses in this city. Its amazing to see what people can come with for these small blocks when they think outside the box.

  • MichaelG


    And this is an example of what I meant with basement garaging. This is a very expensive house currently for sale (way out of my budget!!) by Melbourne architect Nicholas Day.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for the example Michael.
    It is a very nice house. I am going to try and contact the architect.

  • Terri

    That underground Melbourne garage looks interesting. Is there room to turn a smaller vehicle around so that you don’t have to either back into the unit? (I can’t see the dimensions.) Backing out looks kind of tricky with that tall fence blocking the sightline.

    Here in Victoria, BC, there are fifties homes that incorporate a garage under the home with a sloping driveway. It doesn’t matter whether it’s on a hill or flat land–it seems that keeping the height lower was the aim. However, some of these driveways end up being very short and steep, and it seems many times the owners just park on the street instead.

  • Leo

    I too am in Victoria and have bottomed out our van on many an occasion. In the older houses, this problem is frequently solved by having a very low height basement and garage, often well under 7 feet; not a particularly elegant solution.

    I think a lot of the solutions to what has been discussed thus far can be achieved better through urban planning than individual house planning. Limits on garage area, back allies, short front setbacks, tree lined streets, avoidance of inner city highways…these are some of the things that can really improve a neighbourhood. I really don’t know if you can transform a neighbourhood of garage fronted houses one house at a time.

  • MichaelG


    Terri, heres a link to the sale listing of that house. Theres a pic of the garage. Its huge, and shouldn’t be a problem turning a bus around in that thing!

    I’ve also attached a larger floorplan, of course measurements are metric.

    This is a top-tier house, by a top-tier architect, with top-tier fixtures in a top-tier neighborhood. When it sells, it’ll be for a fortune…
    This architect is in demand for these types of projects. If John gets a chance to speak with him or his team, I’d be curious to know if they try to incorporate slow home style principles, or if at that end of the market, the clients have other priorities. Touching on the discussion in last weeks wwwth… From this particular example, so much thought went into the livability of the design, rather than just the impression it will give at sale time.
    Anyway, I have the day off today, so I have the time to hijack this topic and take it a little offtopic!
    But as Brad W quite rightly points out, there needs to be an alternative when a big garage is required. I put forward this one.

  • MichaelG

    Leo, I agree that urban planning has a lot to do with it. Thankfully that seems to be getting a greater focus in leading cities from the downtown out to the suburbs and satellite towns. Limits on garage area, back allies, short front setbacks, tree lined streets, avoidance of inner city highways. I share your opinion that they’ll make a great streetscape.
    Look to the inner suburban to inner city areas of most cities in North America or Australia (young cities by global standards) and this is what you’ll see. Then came the post war, car driven sprawl… But what to do about existing sprawling suburbia? Knock em all down and start again, or go one by one?

    I’m very curious what will come of this:

  • Brad W

    The basement garage is a nice option but sadly it is only affordable at the very high-end of the market.

  • John Brown

    You make a good point.

    The issue, and potential solutions, are at bigger levels than the individual house. Urban planning, particularly in a residential area, has historically been driven largely by the private interests of the cookie cutter housing industry.

    This means that any substantive change, that runs counter to the status quo, is going to require political will. That usually comes when politicians see it in their best interest in order to get re-elected. For that we need the action of individual citizens – not so much in terms of what we do to our individual houses but the volume of our voices asking for change. I think that a discussion like this one, in a public forum like this website, are the beginnings of that.

  • Doug Roberts

    Basement garages are one possible solution, and the one in the Melbourne house is certainly spectacular (thanks Michael), but they have potential drawbacks as well including:
    1) reduced basement living/storage space;
    2) carbon monoxide entering the living spaces above;
    3) sloped driveways that can be difficult to navigate, particularly in winter; and
    4) high retaining walls that need to be fenced off to reduce the risk of dangerous falls.
    Also, on narrow lots (eg. 25′/7.55m), the driveway leading up to a double wide front garage, basement or otherwise, will span the entire lot, leaving little or no room for trees or other “soft” landscaping, resulting in a sterile, concrete streetscape (see Michael’s Tokyo picture above).

    What if you laid out a neighbourhood in a grid pattern with front streets and back alleys, made the back alleys 10′ (3m) or so lower than the front streets, and then buried the garages under the back yards with access from the basements? Fences would be required across the back of each lot to reduce the risk of falls, but this would make the garages virtually invisible and open up the houses to both the front street and their back yards. You could even take this one step further and put a “green” roof over the alley, effectively creating an underground “parkade” for the block with an entrance/exit at each end and landscaping on top. Does anyone know of any residential neighbourhoods that have been built like this?

  • Terri

    Further to the discussion on back alley garages and city infill options…yesterday Vancouver City Council approved the building of laneway housing. The link below from earlier this year gives a good overview of this initiative:

  • John Brown

    You bring up some excellent points about the problem with basement garages. However, these can usually be overcome with some technical design. The idea of sinking the lanes and garages would be very expensive, particularly for a subdivision of single family houses. However, a version of this idea is used in multifamily projects where the garage is on grade (or slightly below) with a common courtyard on the roof from which one access all of the units.

  • John Brown

    Thanks for bringing this to the group’s attention. I appreciate the link.

    Laneway housing is a great idea and I like the intention in Vancouver’s bylaw to keep the units rental only so that speculation doesn’t get out of hand.

    It does, of course, still leave the problem of what to do with the car – but presumably in Vancouver the zoning change is only going to occur in walkable neighborhoods where there are mass transit options that mean a car is not an absolute necessity.