Woman's Skinny House Is a Light-Filled Gem in the City

She solved some of the common problems that can come with living in a narrow house in the city.

Skinny house Toronto exterior

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Skinny houses have been a Treehugger favorite for a long time, whether they might be in the heart of cities like New York or Amsterdam. We love slender urban homes because they often highlight some of the best space-maximizing design ideas that are out there, and they are also interesting because they can play a vital part in finding that "missing middle" in the discussions around urban density.

In Toronto, one woman's skinny house caught our attention, due to how it has been designed to solve some of the common problems that can come with living in a tiny and narrow house in the city. The potential lack of light and space in such a thin home is beautifully resolved here, all in a footprint that measures a meager 8 feet wide, yet with the use of overlapping levels lit with skylights, manages to create a stunning home that measures a jaw-dropping 1,400 square feet. We get a tour of this gem of a house via Exploring Alternatives:

The house itself has a storied past. According to homeowner Jessica's research and existing historical records, that there has been some kind of structure here since the 1880s—starting with a teeny tiny one-story building. Later on, Jessica purchased the residence from the previous owner, an architect who had applied in 1980 to the city's committee of adjustments to build the house as it is today.

Skinny house Toronto backyard

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Jessica says the former owner had been trying to sell it for years, with no success—until she came along and saw the potential of this narrow house. As Jessica explains, the charm of this townhouse comes from its unique size:

"I've described the house in two ways before. I've described that it feels like a boat, in part perhaps because of its dimensions, and its clever use of space, but also because of the sort of wood and exposed pipes, which gives it a sort of nautical feel. I've also described it before as a treehouse, perhaps because it sort of has this winding staircase that goes up from level to level, but also because of all the wood, and the way that it's all been sort of fit together like a puzzle."

At the entrance, Jessica has placed a number of reclaimed items like shelving and theater chairs to use as shoe storage and seating.

Skinny house Toronto entry

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There is one bathroom here, one of the three that are present in the home. As Jessica points out, because of the home's narrow footprint and multiple stairs, having more than one bathroom actually makes it a little more convenient for guests and residents.

Skinny house Toronto entry bathroom

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The staircase is the home's lifeline, making its way up the five different levels from the basement to the attic. Because it is designed with lots of openings that allow one to peer over multiple levels simultaneously, it doesn't feel like it's taking up too much space. The home's plumbing pipes and electrical wires also run up this central core, linking the entire house together.

Skinny house Toronto staircase

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Next up is the kitchen, which feels quite large thanks to the high ceilings and the view through to the backyard, and the use of lighter-colored surfaces. Many of the appliances here are necessarily small because the entrance door to the house measures only 22 inches.

Skinny house Toronto kitchen

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Next to the kitchen is a small dining area, and the home's backyard, which is slim but still a slice of green heaven for Jessica.

Skinny house Toronto dining and backyard

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Going further up is the library, which features a wall of books, a secondary table for meals with guests, and a blue mid-century armchair, which had to be hoisted up. That's because the tight dimensions of the staircase also mean that Jessica has to plan ahead if she wants to move things in—and sometimes hauling them in by rope over the balcony is the only way. However, she says this is one of the quirks of living in a house that she loves.

Skinny house Toronto library

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On the same level, but over at the other end of the house is where we find the living room. There is a modular couch here, with a set of Japanese-style futons that guests can use if they stay over.

Skinny house Toronto living room

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The tall, open space here permits Jessica to use low-tech things here like this vintage, wall-hung clothes dryer, or the clothesline from her bedroom above.

Skinny house Toronto clothes dryer

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The skylights at both ends of the house are vital to the home's thoughtfully designed character, says Jessica:

"The entire front and the entire back are all glass, all windows. Big skylights on both of them, so the light just moves throughout the house, and I think that the house's secret to feeling much bigger than its actual dimensions."

The third level is where Jessica has her freestanding tub.

Skinny house Toronto bathtub

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Up another few stairs and still on the third level, is Jessica's bedroom. Instead of night tables, she's used some hook-style bulletin boards from IKEA to save space.

Skinny house Toronto bedroom

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There is also another bathroom here, right beside the bedroom.

Skinny house Toronto master bathroom

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As we go up a spiral staircase, we enter into the attic portion of the home, which is used as a home office.

Skinny house Toronto attic office

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There is also a space here to practice yoga, and lots of extra space to store items like out-of-season clothes or equipment.

Skinny house Toronto attic storage

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The basement itself measures only about 6 feet wide, but it's enough space for this bathroom—the largest of the three in the house—and lots of storage space.

Skinny house Toronto basement bathroom

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Despite its narrow profile, this century-old home seems to make the most out of it, allowing its occupants to create something intriguing and multilayered. To see more skinny houses, check out our list of the world's thinnest buildings.