Best Layouts for Townhouses – DIFFERENT SIZES

The following studies are not for new construction, but rather for the traditional townhouses of varying lengths, from 35′ to 50′, representing the vast majority of townhouses in New York City.  The study examines the most efficient layouts for these variety of sizes and why they are efficient.

Efficient Layouts?  In architectural design, the efficiency phase of the design process is an effort to minimize circulation space or other ‘wasted space’ (like public spaces) so there is more square footage available for usable rooms, and, with the newly found square footage to allot that space according to hierarchy, that is the Great Room (Living, Kitchen and Dining, in that order) being the place where people spend most of their daytime hours and thus represents the highest priority and top of the hierarchical pyramid, followed by bedrooms, bathrooms and the other rooms.  To be efficient in architectural design means to leverage the available square footage to the best benefit of the end user.

These factors get blended with other factors including functionality, aesthetics, daylight, noise levels, hierarchical associations and so forth until a final scheme is determined.

In scheme 3 for instance, it is clearly shown that if one keeps the traditional stair, that enough space is lost that could be allotted to an additional room as shown in scheme 4.

Nick Buccalo, Architect

Principal of SimpleTwig

As an Architect for over 30 years and principal of SimpleTwig, I have done countless studies and analysis to ensure that my proposals yield the best outcome, taking into account both efficiency and aesthetics ensuring that rooms get the best light and have clean layouts that encourage people to be happy and mentally healthy.

SimpleTwig design for project in Boston.

This article, which accounts for townhouses of varying sizes, should be read with a previous article covering the ‘Minimum Adult-Sized Bedroom/Closet Analysis’ which can be found here:

Minimum Adult-Sized Bedroom/Closet Analysis


The 35′ Townhouse:

This is a challenge as most existing townhouses have the kitchen facing the backyard, and an internal stair that creates a tiny room in the front of the house. Still, the 35 footer can be pushed to accommodate 2 bedrooms and even have laundry. Combined with tenant storage in the cellar, this is a great option for most New Yorkers, especially young couples, single parents or the elderly who want a compact living quarters, to have that extra bedroom, nursery or office space.

20;x35′ Townhouse, typical on commercial Avenues that have shorter 60′ lots.

It is the 35′ townhouse, the hardest layout to accommodate, that gives us our basic program, that with larger townhouses will result in larger rooms, the last scheme presented here being able to accommodate an extra room.

2 Bedroom Apartment within a small footprint.

Represented is a small townhouse, just 20’x35′ in size, equaling 700 Square Feet. This demonstration to show that a comfortable 2 bedroom can fit in a small Brooklyn townhouse. Most townhouses are longer than 35′, but some do existing on commercial streets that have short 60′ lots, unlike the typical 100′ lot.

GREAT ROOM: The result of the minimizing other spaces of the apartment is to leverage the available area into a Great Room. It is this large open area where people will spend most of their waking hours. It combines the Living Room, Dining Area (if desired by the tenant) and Kitchen.  Having three full windows in the room enhances the quality into a place of relaxation and a warm feeling of home.

Just between the entrance and the Great Room is a Built-in Shelving unit, making for a convenient place to put one’s keys, book or photos.

Open space living project by SimpleTwig Architecture. This Brooklyn project in Carroll Gardens combines living, dining and kitchen, the main room features a built-in island for storage and placement of a LED TV. By offering a tenant this feature they are immediately ready to move in.

BEDROOMS: The resulting bedroom sizes are  reasonable, being positioned at the back side of the house to avoid street noise.  In this scheme, the bedrooms are small and thus the tenant would have to choose furniture sizes wisely.  While legal, they hardly reach ideal, despite being reasonable for this size of townhouse.

KITCHEN: The kitchen is design to have a low visual impact on the open space, thus helping to make the living area feel larger. This ‘low profile’ design which does not have upper cabinets instead offers a floor to ceiling pantry, which ultimately is more desirable. The kitchen as a low visual impact-low profile to help make the Great Room a nice living space. It includes:

Dishwasher, Microwave, Large Refrigerator, Large Sink; Gas Stove/Oven; Floor to ceiling Pantry.

LAUNDRY: The laundry has a countertop, making getting this chore done much easier.  Above this are upper cabinets to store cleaning supplies.

HANDICAP: The apartment is fully handicap accessible thus meeting code, helping enhance an open feeling to the overall layout.

CLOSETS: While there are few closets, an apartment like this would offer enclosed, secure and dry storage space to the tenants in the cellar.  This helps the tenant have a well organized apartment ensuring they never feel like they’ve outgrown the apartment.

STAIR: To maximize daylight in living areas, the stair is reconfigured to a switch back, keeping it compact and in the ‘dark area’ of the house.  This eliminates the tiny, virtually useless rooms in the front and back often associated with old townhouses.


The 45′ Townhouse:

20;x45′ Townhouse, typical on residential streets that have 100′ lots.

Assets above and beyond the 35′ long townhouse:

A larger Great Room, easily accommodating 2 adults and a child.

Bedrooms: Both bedrooms are larger and can accommodate furniture easily, and now have Walk-in Closets which is a huge bonus through their help with keeping apartments tidy and thus appearing both functional and inviting to tenants.

Bedroom sizes are ample, both accommodation a variety of furniture.  Both have walk-in closets with the potential of a shelf wall, helping keep the bedrooms clutter free and sleep orientated. The closets come equipped with low cfm vent fans to keep them fresh.

Other Amenities of this Unit include:

Coat Closet

Linen Closet

New Stair Configuration

Space for a dining table set, or the option of using seating at the counter.

Note that with a Tradition Stair, one that is a straight run with 2 landings and a hallway, the Bedroom 1 closet will be significantly smaller as will the seating area in the Great Room.

Carriage House living room with a door leading to a private back yard. Open space living with Living and Dining part of a single space.


The 50′ Townhouse, but keeping the traditional stair:

The 50′ Townhouse, except this one keeps the traditional stair which wastes space.

Assets above and beyond the 45′ long townhouse:

Other Amenities of this Unit include:

Great Room is larger;

Kitchen is larger with plenty of countertop space and a few upper cabinets;

Bedrooms and Walk-in Closets are larger;

Bathroom is larger with room for a cabinet and a shampoo shelf behind the bathtub.

Coat Closet, larger;

Linen Closet, larger;

Keeps Traditional Stair Configuration;

Laundry/Utility Room;

Stair: Keeping the tradition stair, which is a straight run with landings on each end, connected by a hallway, wastes a lot of valuable square footage that would be better appreciated within the apartments.  It is the connecting hallway that is lost space, some 30 square feet of area.  While this might be an acceptable tradeoff given a budget, it looses the possibility of getting 3 bedrooms on the top floor, the 3rd bedroom using a skylight for light and ventilation requirements.  This extra bedroom, plus the added value of larger apartments in general, would easily pay for the installation of a new more space-efficient stair.


The 50′ Townhouse, with New Stair

50′ Townhouse with a New Stair, providing the extra space for an additional room, almost making this a 3 bedroom apartment.

Assets above and beyond the 50′ ‘traditional stair’ townhouse:

Other Amenities of this Unit include:

Great Room is larger by 2 feet, allowing the dining table to be moved, leaving all 3 windows for the living space;

Kitchen is larger with plenty of countertop space and a few upper cabinets, separate pantry; Refrigerator recessed to align with countertop.

Master Bedroom Walk-in Closets is larger, by almost twice, something that will be appreciated by couples;

Bathroom is larger than standard, with shelf for shampoo behind bathtub.

Bedroom 1 & 2 are smaller by 0′-6″, but is of a reasonable size.

Extra Room (Study) has a closet.  At 7-4″ x 9′-0″ it is another huge bonus for this apartment. For the top floor apartment a skylight is all it needs to be a great little room.

Coat Closet and Linen Closet, are about the same size;

Laundry is stackable units, which is a downgrade, but the sacrifice for an extra room in the apartment is worth it;

Combines open living, this SimpleTwig Architecture apartment project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn combines living room, kitchen featuring a multipurpose counter island.

Stair: By using a new stair configuration, we are able to provide an extra room in the apartment, using a skylight for light and ventilation on the top floor.  This extra room in all apartments, would easily pay through rent, for the installation of a new more space-efficient stair.

With the extra Study, and larger Great Room, this apartment unit has everything one would want, except perhaps a larger child’s closet.  Yet the Master Bedroom Walk-in makes up for this loss, as do the larger linen and coat closets.  Overall the Study provides a usable private/quiet place to play, study, craft or do other activities thus keeping the Great Room neat and tidy, and helping make this apartment both very usable and highly desirable.

Studies completed by SimpleTwig, all rights reserved.  Some changes would be required to accommodate real world conditions. These plans are intended for planning purposes and not for construction. Use of these drawings for any project is prohibited.

2 Replies to “Best Layouts for Townhouses – DIFFERENT SIZES”

  1. great article, you seem to be moving the structural wall that typically runs (front to back) and cuts between the bedrooms and divides the living room into two rooms.
    reframing the structure to accommodate these layouts seems like a very expensive proposition, any way to make it work w/o having to mess with those walls.

    1. Not that expensive, and our firm always tries to design for the future with the optimum layout. Any compromise and it becomes a design that is revisited over and over, whereas we just try to get it right the first time.

      There is typically a off-center bearing wall (not the party walls, but the interior bearing wall) that runs from the front of a townhouse to the rear facade. The most important part, the part that carries some weight, is the portion that helps support the floor opening at the stair, since the loads circumvent this opening and are transferred to flanking joists. While this is true for the center, the end portions of the interior bearing wall typically just help prevent joist bounce. Since the load is minimal, a simple beam can help open these areas up transferring the loads to columns down to the footings. For small apartments, this can help create a larger living space and two smaller bedrooms providing an open feeling apartment which helps make up for the smaller bedrooms.

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