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Your dream home might not be destined for a spacious expanse of land. Instead, it could be located on a small urban block. Jacqueline Maya explores how to design the perfect inner-city dwelling.

As the common desire to live in a metropolis continues to thrive, it’s likely you’ll be building or buying your new home on a narrow block. Small-lot homes can present unique design opportunities and challenges in equal measure. Here, Melbourne Home Design + Living sizes up the benefits of compact urban homes and investigates how a clever design can maximise your available space, down to the last square metre.


Small-lot homes are becoming very popular in major Australian cities. With residential land in sought-after suburbs becoming harder to obtain, the need for high-density housing has increased exponentially.

While building on a smaller lot can be more cost effective, the size, shape and contours of the land can greatly affect a home’s design, thus affecting the overall cost. All aspects of the land need to be taken into careful consideration.

The most common problem of building small is trying to fit all your needs and wants within the confines of the land. Small-lot home designs require the specialised skills, knowledge and

expertise that can only be offered by a building professional. With a bit of careful planning, and under the guidance of a qualified designer and builder, you too can create a small home with big impact.


One of the main considerations for building a compact abode is the existing neighbouring properties. Prior to construction, consider how your home’s façade will interact with the rest of the streetscape. Discreet vehicle parking and correct site orientation are key requirements that need to be met before you begin building your dream home.

While most traditional home designs position the entryway at the front of the home, this is not your only option. A main door on the side of your home may be a more efficient use of space. Similarly, installing cavity sliding doors rather than one that opens inward can help salvage some of those precious square metres. With so many possibilities available to you, it’s important to be open-minded about your design options! By thinking outside of the box, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to create a liveable home on a smaller block that’s jam-packed with features.

Image Credit: Sabo Design

If you want to make an entrance with a difference, consider a side entry.

In order to minimise delays and unforseen challenges, visit your local council’s website for a comprehensive guide to the requirements and processes involved in building your small-lot home.


Just because you have a small lot doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice living space. In order to make your home compact on the outside, yet spacious on the inside, consider building to the maximum building envelope, which is the three-dimensional extent of where a building and associated structures may be built on a site after consideration of height limits, setbacks and other constraints.

You have the option to implement a zero boundary, in which at least one of the home’s external walls is built right up against the property’s boundary. This will eliminate the narrow spaces that can be can be created by side setbacks.

You can also maximise a narrow block’s potential by simply building up. Many small-lot homes have two storeys to separate the bedrooms from the open-plan living areas. By opting for a double-storey house plan, you’ll also be able to include 

Image Credit: Black Rock Builders

balconies and alfresco areas, which will increase the liveability of your home.

In an open-plan design, the absence of internal walls allows plenty of natural light to enter the home, which makes it feel more inviting. If you’re considering building a double-storey home, designing voids above the living area or kitchen will not only create an instant ‘wow’ factor, but it will also give you an incredibly bright, airy and open space.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous, think about placing windows in unconventional places by incorporating skylights and narrow horizontal or vertical windows. Floor-to-ceiling stacking doors are not only perfect for letting plenty of light in; they also create a seamless flow between internal living areas and external spaces.


A hallway is one of the most common examples of wasted space within a home. Although an open floor plan helps to keep walkways to a minimum, they are usually inevitable in narrow blocks. The 

Image Credit: Marque Property Group

best way to optimise this space is to have it against the exterior wall of your home, allowing you to fit expansive windows or striking fixed glass panels along the length of the hallway. To bring the outdoors in, add some hardy and luscious plants the exterior wall and watch them grow into a beautiful work of art that can be enjoyed from within the home as well.

If you’re considering a two-storey abode, using the area under the staircase is a great space-saving option. You can easily store clutter-causing items such as brooms, containers, boxes and winter clothes, as well as larger, less-used items like occasional appliances or even sports equipment. Remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way!


While implementing a smart layout is integral for optimising your available space, choosing the right cabinetry is also key. If you have an odd-shaped block, opting for tailor-made joinery will ensure that all the spare nooks and crannies of your home

Image Credit: Black Rock Builders

are used to their full potential. Not only will custom cabinetry provide optimum storage space, but it will allow you to put some of your favourite trinkets on show.

Built-in cabinetry doesn’t stop at wall-mounted shelves and bookcases; your builder can assist you with incorporating plenty of built-in storage potential throughout your home, including the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. For the bedroom, consider placing storage drawers underneath beds, overhead shelving above desks, and hooks inside of wardrobe doors. Installing a built-in wardrobe is another great way to maximise space.

In the kitchen, open shelving is gaining popularity as it negates the need for outward-opening cupboard doors, while walk-in butler’s pantries are extremely on trend. Kitchen workstations or designated drop-off zones for bags, bills and other everyday items can easily be incorporated by adding a small recess into your cabinetry design. Including a linen cupboard in your bathroom will also help you get the most out of the space.


As long as you’re savvy with your home’s layout, your dream of having the ultimate outdoor area can be fully realised. To ensure you’re making the most of the space, think beyond the humble backyard.

Courtyards are very trendy at the moment. By incorporating window access and lush vertical gardens, the aesthetic and practical appeal of your entire backyard will be amplified while also making your internal space feel wider. A rooftop terrace is a clever yet highly functional addition that will allow you to enjoy long summer nights with family and friends in style.

Image Credit: Soho Design

Even if you are implementing a zero-boundary design, you will still have a minimum of 3m between the neighbouring houses in which to create an enjoyable outdoor area. Designing your alfresco living space in consideration of the neighbours’ rear entertaining space will ensure a harmonious result.


A common misconception about small-lot homes is that they have poor privacy due to their close proximity to neighbouring houses. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to increase your privacy levels. Including hefty plants and landscaping buffers such as hedges to the front and rear of the property is a great option for increasing privacy as well as reducing outside noise.

Artistic laser-cut screens are an excellent option as they provide a property with optimum privacy as well as added personality. If you’re lost for ideas, talking to your designer/architect will help you to explore

to your designer/architect will help you to explore some other options you may not have otherwise considered.


Noise pollution can also be a concern in urban areas, however installing double-glazed windows and additional insulation in the ceiling and walls of your home may be the answer. Using quality Gyprock will also help to keep your home quieter in high-traffic areas, while refraining from positioning windows directly opposite neighbouring windows is a sure-fire way to prevent sound carrying from next door.

An air-conditioning unit is a staple item used within most households during summer. While these cooling systems provide sweet relief in the hottest months of the year, they can also be quite noisy. It’s important to carefully consider the placement of your unit with neighbouring properties in mind.


Including ample parking space on a small lot can be difficult if you have multiple cars. Most councils will ensure there is a minimum of 5.5m in front of a garage, which should give you enough room for an additional car. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your local council if you are unsure about obtaining approvals for your compact abode.

By incorporating some astute design elements into your home, you’ll be able to utilise every inch of your small block to achieve a spacious and contemporary result that is ideal for the cosmopolitan lifestyle.