Vancouver's Laneway Houses Open Their Doors

If you have ever been curious to see inside one of the approximately 2,500 laneway houses that now exist in Vancouver, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation is providing that opportunity when its 2015 Laneway House Tour visits six of them Oct. 24.

Five were constructed since the city’s 2009 laneway housing initiative began; the other is a 2,000 sq. ft. infill house that was built in 1990 behind the historic 1936 art moderne-style Barber House.

At the time, the Barber residence was in danger of being demolished and replaced with two new builds since it straddled two lots. But architect Robert Lemon proposed a way to save the art moderne house by building a second home at the rear of the property.

Although laneway houses have gained more prominence in recent years, they date back to the city’s earliest days.

“There were these backyard cottages that existed 100 years ago in Strathcona,” said Smallworks founder Jake Fry, who worked with the city to help develop the current laneway housing zoning bylaws.

Bylaws for laneway homes were created in the 1980s to promote the retention of character houses in Kitsilano and also applied, to a lesser extent, in Shaughnessy, Fry said. Today he estimates about 80 per cent of Smallworks clients choose to build a laneway house for their extended family, and since the cost of housing is such an issue in Vancouver, it presents another affordable housing option.

Fry estimates it costs about $300,000 to build a laneway house, including the cost of landscaping the site.

Smallworks will have two of its more modest laneway houses on the tour in order to show how a home of only 500 to 600 sq. ft. can still be quite livable, he said.

Vancouver Heritage Foundation executive director Judith Mosley said this is the sixth year the tour of laneway houses has been held and she expects about 400 to 500 people will attend. The foundation also holds a heritage house tour in June, a Vancouver Special house tour in April and a mid-century modern house tour in September.

Mosley said all of the laneway houses selected for the Laneway House tour share the lot with the original home that was built on the property.

“It’s definitely an opportunity for people thinking of doing this with their property, and others are just interested in this kind of development and how it works,” she said.




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