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Little House in the City: Designing Small Within City Limits

Join author Marc Vassallo to explore the design of small, urban houses and backyard ADUs as a smart response to two demographic trends: the shrinking size of households and the growing popularity of city living - followed by a group conversation on the pros and cons of small city houses.

Smaller city houses (400 sq. ft. to 1,800 sq. ft.) promote walkability, sustainability, and conviviality. They make sense for single people, young couples, small families, empty-nesters, and (with ADUs) extended family members. We will draw design lessons from a dozen innovative houses from across the US and Canada, including infill projects, remodeled houses, and ADUs, with special attention to solutions for odd lots, extremely narrow sites, and mixed-use areas. We’ll examine historical precedents, address challenges inherent in compact spaces and tight quarters, and debate the pros and cons of density. Along with projects that reach the “missing middle” of the urban real estate market, we’ll look at two that directly address equity and affordability.

After his slide talk, Vassallo will facilitate a group conversation on the pros and cons of small city houses with respect to such issues as affordability, density, and inclusion. Each attendee will receive a complimentary copy of the book, courtesy of Schultz Miller. 

Registration has been filled for this event. 


5:00pm Arrival + Light Refreshments
5:30pm Talk Begins
7:00pm Conclusion


marc vassallo headshotMarc Vassallo holds a B.Arch. from Cornell University and has had a long career in publishing and communications, including as Editorial Director of The Taunton Press, publisher of Fine Homebuilding magazine and books on home design. He is author of The Barefoot Home and Little House in the City, and co-author with architect Sarah Susanka, FAIA, of Inside the Not So Big House and Not So Big Remodeling. Through his writing and speaking, Vassallo has had an opportunity to explore trends in contemporary residential design and small home design, and to share what he’s learned with audiences of architects and homeowners nationwide. He has presented to numerous AIA audiences, including at AIA national conferences in 2006 and 2007. Vassallo lives in Seattle and is an avid backpacker and urban gardener.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand current design solutions for small city houses as part of a historical continuum that includes early 20th-century bungalows and other well-established urban house types.
  • Identify five basic design patterns that underlie many successful designs for small urban residences by considering such issues as privacy, limited space, and narrow lots.
  • Identify key issues influencing small urban houses beyond strictly design issues, including cost and affordability, household size and dynamics, neighborhood relationships, and zoning.
  • Deepen understanding of an important and growing residential sub-market: small urban houses (both new and remodeled) and ADUs, often for clients of more modest means.

Special Thanks to 


January 22, 2019
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Class Credit
1 LU


AIA Seattle
(206) 448-4938


WA United States
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