Squeeze me baby

Working, as I do, with Edwardian and Victorian terraces, I see a lot of subtle variations in the typology of these houses, but the overriding concern for their original designers is this: how to get as much house as possible into a plot that is between 10 and 15 feet wide – that’s about 3.0 to 4.5m. This beautiful but tiny house is one of a set of four, facing onto Kings Heath park. They have a front room, back room and stairs in the middle. The stairs are super steep, so they finish with a landing at the first floor about 18″ (about 450mm) short of the party wall (brown plan). In front and to the left is another super steep winder stair turning all the way up and back into the attic (blue plan). Because the stair run is greater than the width of the house, the designer has found some extra space: The attic stairs go over onto the neighbour’s side of the house. The designer has split the space between the double chimneys between the houses, with the garden half going to this house and the front half going to the neighbour. This is the most dense and critical part of the house plan and the walls, steps, doors and turns are all squeezed super tight. Not that they feel intruded upon, like a door too narrow for the body, but the elements are compact and without any wasted inches. The edges of the first floor landing are bounded by the Bedroom 1 door, the top riser, the Bedroom 2 door at an angle, the first tread to the attic and 18″ width of the wall carrying the neighbour’s stairs. In Bedroom 1, the wall runs level with the chimney breast – because behind it are the neighbour’s attic stairs. If you check back to the Ground Floor plan, you will see that we are above the alley, so this wall can run all the way down to the ground.

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An engineering problem

Dear engineers,

Perhaps you would be able to help me with a structural problem that is facing one of my projects. The proposal is for a loft room in a large house with a steep high roof. The space is ideal, but the structure is not. The existing loft floor, which will have to be strengthened, is supported near the centre of the house by the brick internal walls which reach up into the loft. At the outside edge of the house the roof drops down into the rooms below and the loft floor is fixed not to the walls, which are further out, but to the rafters. So the loft floor is smaller than the floor below. Imagine a shoe box with a lid that is smaller than the box –  the lid is supported at the centre, but the edges float (or rather are fixed to the roof in the real house). I want to strengthen the floor and support new walls and loads right to the edges. there must be many houses like this. What would your recommendation be?

Yours Sincerely,

Paul Snell RIBA, Kings Heath Architect


Sketches for a scheme of two houses. This is a good sketch, as far as I am concerned. The first floor stairs come out on the attic level into the tall rear wing, which also houses a little bathroom. There is no dormer to the loft room, the eaves are used as storage rooms. The main bedroom at the first floor is the biggest room, but because of the way the windows are placed, the house could be made into a compact (!) four bed, or you could include a little office room facing the street.

Sk03 elevations