Turning a small space into a big design


You can do a lot with a little space, so don’t let a small or narrow building site prevent you from thinking big

Lots of limited sizes can present both challenges and opportunities. Whether it’s a narrow site for a knockdown-rebuild project in an urban area or a small block in a popular new suburb, you can make the most of the space you have and build a family home that meets all your needs. Of course for some, building on a smaller site is not a matter of having to work with what’s available just so you can live in your favoured location. For some, a big home with a big garden simply equates to more maintenance and more money, so going smaller is a matter of preference.


“The number one rule of homeownership is location, location location,” says Sally McLachlan of Queensland-based McLachlan Homes. “With the increase in demand for certain highly sought-after locations, developers have answered the call. In order to meet the needs of consumers, smaller blocks of around 300sqm or even 250sqm are becoming more prevalent — and popular.

“Many of the new master-planned developments also tend to incorporate smaller or narrower blocks to provide affordable housing options and allow for the inclusion of public and open green spaces to encourage a sense of community. Traditionally, however, smaller and narrow blocks have been mainly found in inner-city or established suburbs close to metropolitan hubs. These continue to be popular as they offer good local access to urban facilities as well as work and public transport systems.”

David Bourke, NSW Sales and Marketing Manager for Clarendon Homes, agrees that small lots are now much more common. “This is to meet demand but it’s also due to developers trying to increase their yields as they are paying top dollar to acquire their sites. With smaller lots their return on investment is greater,” he says. “The high-growth outer suburbs tend to have the majority of these small to narrow lots. They aren’t generally found in regional areas.”

In established outer suburbs, there is also a growing trend for those who own large post-war blocks to subdivide their properties, meaning two much smaller homes — perhaps a duplex — will sit where once one home stood. As for narrow lots, they are emerging on the outskirts of industrial areas that are being transformed and gentrified to accommodate population growth; also in some city areas undergoing revitalisation as the demand for building sites grows but vacant land is next to impossible to find.


Volume home builders have responded to dwindling block sizes with a range of space-maximising, flexible designs that can make the most of a lot with a frontage that is as modest as 12.5m or as narrow as 10m.

Clarendon Homes, for example, has a range of two-storey homes specifically designed to suit narrow blocks. “These have four bedrooms, two bathrooms and two car spaces. To allow a two-car garage, the staircase is at the entry of the homes with the living spaces toward the back; on some designs the entry is at the side of the home,” says David.

“Planning, good design and customisation are the keys to overcoming the obstacles involved in small-lot design,” says Sally. “We offer a design service that can tailor each design to suit the needs of the block of land and client. Once the client makes a few fundamental decisions, such as do they want a single- or two-storey home and how many bedrooms, we can fine-tune a design to deliver what the client needs.

“There are plenty of space-maximising solutions that can be employed,” she continues. “Storage or powder rooms can be concealed under staircases or, if you want to make an entry feel as spacious as possible, you can have an open-tread staircase and use a glass balustrade. You can also play with ceiling heights and have large windows and glass doors that bring the outside in and give the illusion of more space.”

Adds David, “Open-plan living on the ground floor will make the home feel more spacious while an upstairs leisure room will provide an extra living zone and give family members the opportunity to enjoy separate spaces. You just need to be clever and put every space to good use, such as built-in study nooks and shelving, and create flexible spaces that can adapt as a family’s needs change.”


While strategic design is key and clever architecture can meet most challenges, there may be choices to make. “On a lot that is as narrow as 10m wide, for example, it might mean a single garage rather than a double garage,” says David. “Also, maximising the home size may not leave room for a pool or large entertaining space, so if those things are especially important, you need to consider if you can achieve everything you want on a small block.”

In fact, an essential part of the decision-making process is considering how much outdoor space you need — for entertaining, for the kids or dog to run around in, for a pool. If you need a big yard, a small lot might not be right for you.

“Also look at room numbers,” adds David. “If you’re a downsizer, a retiree, a couple or you only have one or two children, consider a three-bedroom home instead of a more traditional four-bedroom home. This will potentially give you larger bedrooms and living rooms, all within a smaller design. Think about the future, but don’t include things you don’t need.”

If building in a new estate or on a vacant block, the construction process will probably be straightforward but for small and narrow sites in inner-city, built-up or established suburbs, where knockdown-rebuilds are common, there can be issues with limited access for deliveries and the need for traffic management which can add to the cost. On tight sites where machine access isn’t possible, you’ll need to allow for manual handling which bumps up the cost too but a good builder will be able to plan ahead to minimise costs and make the process as efficient as possible.


Today we lead busy lives and many people want to spend time on more important things than doing the maintenance that comes with a larger block and home. That means people are looking for alternatives to the big family home on a big block. For some that might mean a townhome, a duplex or a smaller-sized freestanding home. And, of course, smaller block sizes don’t just give us a lower maintenance lifestyle; smaller homes and gardens are typically less expensive to build. If you plan to build in a masterplanned estate, the best ones will have parks, lots of open, outdoor space and a playground or two which means you may not need a large backyard.

Before committing to building on a smaller-sized block, think it through and discuss all the possibilities with your preferred builder. Make sure that the home you want to build will be achievable on the site you have in mind. Ask lots of questions, make sure you know what your builder can offer and what degree of customisation is available to you before signing on the dotted line.

But even though you may need to be more strategic, a small- or narrow-lot design should not compromise the liveability of the home. With smartly-designed storage solutions, open-plan living spaces, multipurpose rooms, seamless indoor-outdoor connections and an interior bathed in light thanks to such simple inclusions as well-placed windows, large glass sliding doors and skylights, your home can feel as airy, inviting and comfortable as its larger counterparts.

For more an inspiration for home with a little space, read more about this project by Clarendon Homes