What this is about…

This is where I want to share the insights and content I encounter. It’s about design in general as well as designing and building laneway and coach houses and other types of infill dwellings: I call it Weekly Update.
For other current posts and updates check out my twitter updates by clicking the bird on the left. We're also listed on under design-build firms...houzz is a beautiful collection of over 1.7 Million (and counting) images of residential architecture, creative interior design, and landscape design (including an amazing selection of pools and gardens). It's really inspiring.

12 Sept 2013: Lanecraft featured in the Ming Pao Daily News

We are very happy to announce that Lanecraft has been featured in one of the lower mainland's largest Chinese language newspapers, the Ming Pao Daily News, both in the print (September 12th, Page A5) and online versions.
The article, written by Eva Cheng, focusses on the benefits of building a laneway home, both from a smart investment standpoint as well as a way to provide comfortable living spaces for young adult children or for older parents. Featured are 2 Lanecraft homes: our Laneway House project on Adanac Street in Vancouver, and our newest Coach House project in the City of North Vancouver.

You can find the link to the online version here.

25 Aug 2013: North Van Coach House

We've been working with Ross and Maureen to come up with floorplans for their future home, and we've started adding finish textures to the digital model. I am designing the house in 3 dimensions from the outset so that we can see all the spatial possibilities. Laneway and Coach house design guidelines allow for certain areas to be excluded from overall allowable square footage, so designing in 3d gives us opportunities to see these possibilities and therefore maximize the underheight and overheight spaces. These spaces add to the architectural interest, bring more light into the living spaces, and enable more storage, something which many downsizers are short on.

19 July 2013: Newest client…North Van Coach House

We are happy to announce that we are finally building in our own backyard, so to speak! One of our co-citizens here on the North Shore, specifically in the City of North Vancouver, has decided to hire us to design and build their Coach House for them. Ross and Maureen are a lovely couple who have had previous experience with architectural design when they added on to their existing house to enlarge the living spaces. Even so they are still far under the maximum square footage for their property, so a level B coach house of up to 1000 sqft is possible.

So stay tuned for updates as we start the design phase. First we'll call the surveyors (Louis Ngan Land Surveyors) and have them give us all the relevant points that we and the City require for the application. The lot is only slightly sloped so we can estimate the grade differences fairly easily and start on a conceptual design even before we get the survey information back.

12 June 2013: New LWH Guidelines and Expansion Approved!

I attended the public hearing last night where Vancouver City Council voted to accept staff's recommendations for changing the Laneway House guidelines and for the expansion into all the single family zones (RS-6, RS-7 etc).
I spoke in favour of the changes and especially in keeping the 1.5 storey laneway houses for all properties regardless of length. There was a motion to not allow 1.5 storey LWH's on short lots, and it was thankfully easily defeated.
It was a long night with the meeting adjourning at 11:15 pm, but it's important that Council hears from those that are most involved in designing and building these homes.

26 May 2013: Lanecraft featured in the North Shore News

Check out the feature article about Thomas and Lanecraft in the North Shore News At Home section, page B9 & B11. Rosalind Duane writes about Coach Houses and how they are a great option for people looking for small houses to rent on the North Shore. There's also a growing trend toward North Shore homeowners downsizing and moving out of their main house and into the Coach House, leaving the main house open to be rented to other families or individuals, often their own children.
Laneway House images by Alex Abdilla.

Laneway and Coach House designer Thomas Frauenberger

Portrait image above by Marc Baril Photography.

15 May 2013: New LWH Guidelines, more owners eligible

Today City Planning staff culminated a year-long project by presenting the report to Council to amend some key laneway house guidelines as well as allow laneway houses in the other RS zones which previously were not allowed to build LWH's. More living space overall, fast-track applications for single-storey laneway houses, 1 surface parking spot required when adding a LWH to a property, and more flexibility as well as definition in the guidelines highlight the changes. Apart from large lot owners, all around good news for single family property owners in Vancouver!

08 Mar 2013: City Open House - LWH Proposed Amendments

This afternoon I attended the City of Vancouver's second of 2 laneway house open houses and had some interesting discussions with property owners, planners and other interested parties. As reported earlier the main change will be the removal of the enclosed parking exclusion and to require a surface (unenclosed and uncovered) parking spot to ensure that each property (potential for 3 separate dwellings) has at least one parking spot. More living space will be allowed than under the current guidelines, although overall potential interior space will be reduced for all lot sizes. As well, as an encouragement, 1 storey LWH's will be allowed to project into the rear yard an extra 6 feet, though will still have to be a minimum of 16' from the rear of the main house.
Barring any public outrage these proposed changes will likely be presented to council and adopted this spring. Any in-stream applications will be allowed to proceed under the current guidelines but applications submitted once council approves the amendments will have to be designed according to the new guidelines. BIGGEST LOSERS: Those of you with large lots (over 740 sqm) that currently allow 2 enclosed parking space exclusions should hurry up and get your applications in before the changes take effect!

22 Jan 2013: Vancouver Proposes Changes to LWH Guidelines

So we met yesterday at Vancouver City Hall with Planning and Development Staff to continue the discussion regarding the proposed changes to the Laneway House guidelines.
Of the proposed changes, the biggest change from the current guidelines is to require an unenclosed surface parking spot, and to allow 0.16 FSR of living space vs. the current 0.125. Considering a 33x122 foot lot size, instead of a 226 sqft parking exclusion for enclosed parking, you will be allowed 140 sqft more of living space, plus an additional 40 sqft for storage. You can still have an enclosed parking spot in addition to the required surface parking spot, but it will not be excluded from floor space. Also, as an encouragement, 1 storey LWH's will be allowed to extend an additional 6 feet into the rear yard, provided they maintain the 16 foot separation from the main house (this requirement will remain for all LWH's).
From my graphical analysis of the proposed changes, smaller properties will end up with slightly smaller laneway houses, and larger properties will end up with slightly larger laneway houses. This will certainly offer new challenges to designers, but with those challenges comes the flexibility and freedom of using the additional allowable square footage more fluidly (and legally!) to augment the habitable space, be it the living or sleeping area.
At the first meeting of this focus group of practitioners, most expressed extreme reservation to making laneway houses smaller, but we were generally excited to see the proposition of additional square footage for legal habitation and ending the "shenanigans" of building enclosed parking often destined to be used as living space anyway.
Of course, the final proposal of changes to Council sometime this Spring remains to be seen. And this will only be proposed once public information sessions have been held in 2-3 months to get feedback from citizens.
And finally, for those who are planning to build a laneway house, if you like the current guidelines, call us and we'll get your application for Building Permit in ASAP. If you like the flexibility which the new guidelines seem to offer, we can start the planning now as well, and make any changes or modifications once the new guidelines are firmly in place.

The Evolution of the LWH guidelines

Today I and a group of other laneway house designers and builders are meeting with City of Vancouver planning staff to continue the discussion on the evolution of the laneway house (LWH) guidelines, with particular focus on parking requirements and how that might affect setbacks, massing and height. The City's laneway house program has been extremely popular with over 750 permits issued at last count (as of Nov 2012). In any given month another 20-50 permits are issued. Recorded complaints at the City from concerned neighbours have been decreasing in frequency, so the hard work by planners, designers, and contractors who are diligently working on every laneway house is paying off.
Parking is still an issue though for the City Planners as some owners who choose to build an enclosed parking spot are converting this space into living space. With only one parking spot required for the whole property when developing a laneway house, on street parking will become more and more of a challenge as a result of these conversions.
To address the issue, the City is proposing to require an unenclosed surface parking spot when building a laneway house. This would address the issue by ensuring at least one on site parking spot, but, by reducing the buildable footprint (keeping current setbacks and height limits in place), would create more challenges in designing liveable spaces.
Clearly, with complaints down and an increasing number of permits issued, the program is finding more and more friends in the community and less and less opponents. So a reduction in the size of laneway houses is not necessary. I hope we can find a solution for the parking issue without making the restrictive laneway house guidelines even more restrictive. I'll give you an update following today's session...

January 9th 2013

We just got back from a trip to Los Angeles visiting friends and family, and I'm impressed with the similarities in our housing markets. It's true that LA seems sprawling with its many communities and 8 lane highways, but many people are surprised to hear that California, with 38,000,000 people, has more residents than Canada, and this over 424,000 square kilometres. Compare these numbers with BC where 4.4M people live in over 944,000 square kilometres. The cities of Venice and Santa Monica are recently allowing small lot subdivisions and granny flats which are akin to our fee simple row house land divisions (to be rolled out this year in Vancouver) and regional laneway and coach houses. And in the LA area there is strong demand for such properties.
Based on my recent trip I've contributed to a discussion on which talks about the trend of "breaking up the house" or "splitting" houses into smaller structures inhabitable by more than one family or owner. Points about total efficiencies (building envelope, heating, etc.) in having only one structure certainly make sense, and the development costs per square foot are definitely higher when taking an urban single family lot and dividing it into 2 or 3 small lots. But having a separate cottage or house to live in is just such a great thing!
It's certainly a more expensive proposition to build with more kitchens and bathrooms (compared with the original single family lot) and other additional code and safety issues that come with buildings in close proximity to each other, however the smaller lots that are created by subdividing the larger lot allow for a much smaller urban footprint. For thriving cities that have traditionally always valued such things, they increase urban density which in turn makes walkable neighbourhoods more viable. The per square foot costs of each small structure will be higher, but overall, smaller and therefore more affordable ground-oriented dwellings have been created.
And when designed and built with passive house principles, the sustainability factor gained easily eclipses any other type of dwelling.

Dec 4th 2012: A superb online database of images

I was really excited to attend an event last night hosted by the people at at CB2 downtown on Robson Street.
Houzz "is the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish - online or from a mobile device." It's plain addictive, and the range and quality of images is truly impressive.
CB2 is a collection of well-priced modern furniture and home decor from the folks at Crate & Barrell.
Needless to say, it was a perfect venue for Houzz to showcase their online database for industry professionals who include interior designers, architects, contractors, and real estate professionals.
Houzz's image bank is growing rapidly with over 900,000 images and counting. Click the green button in the sidebar to check it out!

28 Nov 2012: Kitchens & Baths, RT-10 Infill house…

I am working on a proposal for a kitchen, 2 bathroom and fireplace reno for an East Vancouver "Special" and getting excited! ....those are the spaces that can really make a house enjoyable: cooking, bathing, relaxing by the fire. I'm also looking at RT-10 zoning and discovering what great potential such lots have for bigger infill dwellings that can be stratified and sold separately. The Cedar Cottage neighbourhood close to Kingsway and Knight has a nice mix of housing types developing...and it's refreshing to see a diversity of architectural styles in the thoughtful infill, condo and townhouse projects being built.

Little CC image

16 November 2012: Lanecraft featured in New Home Guide

I'm thrilled to announce a 2 page feature in the New Home Guide featuring Lanecraft on the recent Laneway House Tour and the modern laneway house at East 47th between Sophia and Main Streets. Check out the article by clicking the image below. I met with Susan Boyce a couple of weeks ago just after the tour and she's written an exciting account of the day and people's reactions to seeing our spacious and thoughtful design.
All images by Alex Abdilla.

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Laneway House Tour a roaring success

On Saturday October 20th we opened our latest laneway house to approximately 500 visitors on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation's annual Laneway House Tour.
Thanks to Diane and Rebecca at the Foundation and all the volunteers who helped organize and run the event.
Our house at 278 East 47th was one of seven on the tour and showcased an exterior modern form with durable materials and a bright, spacious and warm interior with connections to 2 private outdoor patios.
We thank all those who attended and stopped to ask questions. Judging from my conversations during the tour it's obvious that in the past year property owners have become more aware of what's involved in planning and building a laneway house. It's truly a small house with all the details of a larger structure and all the elements of design and construction that accompany such a project.
I look forward to speaking with more of you interested in having us design and construct your laneway house!

Headline: Cambie & 33rd Rowhouses (+ Laneway houses)

I designed this innovative demonstration project with Otto Lejeune for developer Art Cowie. I met Art at City Hall one evening after seeing his photo in the Courier with an article about his attempt to introduce a new and wonderful type of housing to Vancouver. Art had been championing the fee simple row house as a sensible form of residential ownership for many years and this latest effort was under the City's Demonstration Project guidelines. Eventually his dream became reality...
The Globe and Mail full entry can be found by clicking here.

June 8, 2012
Vancouver's budding romance with row houses

Vancouver's budding romance with row houses

Globe and Mail image
Monique Choptuik is photographed outside her rowhouse (left) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail)

Monique Choptuik knew what she didn't want when she and her husband went looking for a place to live last year.

Not another single-family house on the west side like the one they'd been in the last seven years. Too big, too expensive to maintain, and too affected by the trend of investors buying houses and leaving them empty.

But not an apartment either. She wanted a garden.

"And I didn't want strata," says Ms. Choptuik, an effervescent fiftysomething. She and her physics professor husband, Matthew, had lived in a strata apartment at the University of British Columbia for several years. That form of collective ownership dominates in B.C. multi-unit developments, with owners jointly deciding on regulations and maintenance standards for the common areas and exteriors, and Ms. Choptuik felt hemmed in by the kinds of rules the collectives are prone to enacting: nothing on the decks, white curtains only, no noise.

So she started looking at townhouses and row houses. But when she visited the several projects along Oak Street and at the Olympic Village, each one was a strata unit. There was only one she found that wasn't: one of a group of three houses at the corner of 33rd and Cambie. She loved it instantly. The Choptuiks moved in last September.

"Now, when I work in my little garden at the side, people stop all the time," she says. "They're curious about our place and they wish the city had more of them."

So do many of Ms. Choptuik's friends and acquaintances, all of whom envy her three-storey row house with its front and back gardens, its own garage at the back, and its small studio apartment on top of the garage.

So, in fact, do city planners and housing advocates and people struggling to find more housing options in this expensive city, which is oddly limited in its range. Between 2008 and 2011, only 40 freehold row houses were built in all of Metro Vancouver, including Vancouver's lonely cluster of three. In the same period, Toronto, already a city rich with historic row houses, added another 11,277 to its stock.

(The story is somewhat more encouraging on the townhouse front – the name local developers give row houses that are strata-titled – with about 9,000 built in the past four years, compared to 5,000 in Toronto. But nearly all of them – 8,488 to be precise – are in the suburbs.)

"We were a city of single-family housing that suddenly jumped into building condo towers and we missed a stage. There's a huge gap in the market for next-generation ground-level housing," says Olga Ilich, the former B.C. Liberal MLA who is chairing a City of Vancouver task force on affordable housing.

While most cities with any claim to livable density – New York, Toronto, Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston – are characterized by attractive stretches of freehold row housing, Vancouver, a European city wannabe, has remarkably little of that form. Many urbanists argue that the row house provides a much-needed alternative for those squeezed by the current limited choice of condo towers, low-rise apartment buildings and single-family homes.

With the growing popularity of strata row houses, a number of local developers have begun experimenting with freehold row houses in recent years. As well, the province finally put through a small legislative amendment – it got royal assent this week – that removes a legal hurdle that had blocked freehold row housing in Vancouver. The legislation will now allow covenants to be registered on land titles requiring owners to maintain their party wall. The covenant will stay in place every time the property changes hands – something the City of Vancouver's legal department was insistent on having before allowing freehold row houses, even though other municipalities were more permissive.

(The Cambie row houses circumvented that complication when developer Art Cowie, now deceased, came up with the peculiar measure of building separate walls for the row houses, with a one-inch gap between them.)

"They're the next Vancouver Special," says Ms. Ilich, who is building two townhouse projects in east Vancouver (one near Commercial Drive, the other near Fraser Street). The Vancouver Special, a boxy form of single-family house that secretly functioned as a stacked duplex for the immigrant families that preferred them, became the city's ubiquitous form of cheap housing in the 1960s and 70s, until condos took over in the 1980s as Vancouver's most popular building form.

But unlike the high-rise condo projects, which take a lot of time, money and big developers to pull off, row-house projects are typically done by smaller builders, Ms. Ilich says. Once those small builders get an easily replicable model, they can build as many units as any condo developer and with lower costs and risk.

According to those in the development community, there's another step that municipalities, especially Vancouver, need to take: creating transition zones that encourage row houses, either strata or freehold. In Vancouver, they can typically only be built in duplex or apartment zones, except for a couple of limited areas – one around Oakridge, another around the new Norquay development at Nanaimo and Kingsway.

"If cities really want to encourage this kind of housing, they need to create the right zones and pre-zone the land," says Ben Taddei, chief operating officer of ParkLane Homes, a company that has built hundreds of townhomes and was a local pioneer of the freehold row house concept (with its prep work on Langley's Provincetown development 10 years ago).

Still, hurdles remain in popularizing row houses, including overcoming certain negative perceptions of developers and some systemic barriers in the way cities work.

Some developers dismiss row houses (both strata and freehold) as inefficient and unprofitable compared to condo towers or even low-rise wood-frame apartments, despite densities similar to low-rise apartments (which typically have to include a lot of space for common areas). Even the developers building row houses mostly insist that the freehold row house appeals only to a small niche market of people – those who aren't comfortable with stratas – and that they'll never be as popular here as in Toronto or Boston. That's even though many say their freehold row houses sell for more per square foot than a similar townhouse that's in a strata.

The economics and street patterns in many municipalities also work against row house developments. Land prices may be prohibitively high in cities that already allow both basement suites and laneway houses on a single-family lot.

And many street grids in older cities like Vancouver, Burnaby and North Vancouver produce deep lots. That works for strata townhouses that face each other inside a land parcel. But it doesn't for freehold row houses, which have their own front yard, back yard and small garage that typically work best with a lot that's 60 feet long. Vancouver lots are around 120 feet.

Despite those obstacles, developers say they've been surprised by how this form of housing, so reminiscent of Europe or eastern American cities, provokes an emotional response in buyers and a tendency to hang on to them.

Townhouses throughout the region tend to be listed less often and sell faster than other forms, says Geoff Duyker at Mosaic Homes, a company that specializes in building what look like very traditional row homes. "They have an incredible romantic appeal."

Census numbers show that young families are leaving Vancouver. The city had about 52,500 residents in their late 20s in 2006. By 2011, that group, now in their early 30s, had shrunk to 47,500. It appears they had children they took with them, as 2,300 young children who were in Vancouver in 2006 vanished by 2011.

But the move is not necessarily to buy single-family dream palaces in the suburbs. A lot are leaving to buy the urban-friendly, smaller, dense housing that's missing from the region's central city and is increasingly part of the suburban model. (In Surrey, 27 per cent of all new housing in 2011 was row housing, either strata or freehold.)

Statistics from housing analyst Dale McClanaghan show that townhouses sell for half of the average single-family house in Burnaby and about a third less than the same in Vancouver.