How do you marry a narrow city lot and a big desire for outdoor living? Architect Andy Johnson has some ideas.
Situated on a narrow lot in Old Town Louisville, a small miner’s shack morphed over time—“maybe 100 years,” says architect and Louisville local Andy Johnson—to fill the available space as various owners found their families growing and their needs changing. Eventually, the house outgrew its usefulness, while the lot, of course, never grew at all.
The property’s tight dimensions, just 37 feet wide and 125 feet deep, didn’t deter its latest owners, Joe Jarriel and Trudy Neal, from choosing to replace the old structure with a contemporary, energy-efficient home, designed by Johnson and built by Ryan Wither of Buildwell. But the narrowness of the site meant that Johnson needed an innovative plan to grant his clients’ wish for ample access to outdoor space. “[Even with a modest-size home], there was no yard left,” Johnson says. “My clients didn’t want a lawn and they didn’t want to maintain landscaping, but they did want a good outdoor environment.”
So Johnson, Jarriel, and Neal considered what makes a spacious yard so appealing—natural light, room to entertain, access to greenery and fresh air, and the beauty of the outdoors—and Johnson integrated those elements into the 2,300-square-foot home. A covered front porch offers a sense of welcome to passersby, and the adjacent patio, outfitted with two Adirondack rockers, is the perfect place for the owners to soak up warm summer nights. The home’s kitchen opens—via sliding doors on one wall and a bank of windows on an adjacent one—to the rear deck, creating an ideal gathering space next to a small, turf yard. And a second-level rooftop deck functions as a backyard where guests can linger near the treetops.
Beyond merely carving out these spaces, Johnson considered how to connect the home to its environment and locale. “I tend toward contemporary design,” Johnson says, “and I think the way our neighborhoods feel is not about the style of homes but really about the massing and scale.” His design interprets the area’s architectural history—small, functional homes with pitched rooflines and front porches—by bringing the front porch forward, closer to the street, and shifting the gable-roofed second story back to make the home feel approachable. Inside, a sculptural stairwell ascends toward what Johnson calls “a light well”—a bank of windows on the second floor that floods the volume with natural light and offers a view of the sky. Transparency plays a big role throughout the home, with large expanses of glass blurring boundaries between the interior and exterior. “I wanted people’s minds to be able to transport them outside,” Johnson says. “In this house, you always have a way out, visually and physically.”
What was once a tiny lot with an aged, overgrown home is now a thoughtful residence with an expansive aesthetic. What’s more, the home offers a compelling lesson to a metro area bustling with infill projects: “The smallness of a lot doesn’t prevent anybody from having a connection to the outdoors,” Johnson says. “To have that fresh air, where the wind blows, the sun shines—you don’t need a big backyard. You just have to be able to sense it, to see it, to experience it.”
Architecture: Andy Johnson, DAJ Design
Construction: Ryan Wither, Buildwell
Landscape Architecture: Chris Schroeder and Brady Smith, 1st Green Colorado