The Backhouse: Project Profile

Barbara K. Westover, AIA, Architect had a client who desired to remodel their existing Piedmont “Backhouse” into a functional second unit. It was a Sisyphean endeavor but with a good ending.


There were many obstacles. The existing structure put the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) well over acceptable limit, encroached 6” onto the neighboring property, was resting on the sewer line and over a cleanout manhole and had a negative reception from one neighbor.

The client requirements included a full kitchen, comfortably sized bathroom, washer/dryer, dining area, king sized private bedroom, social area with a large screen TV and lots of storage. We accomplished all requirements, but downsized the bed from a king to a queen.

We were permitted with conditions: build on the existing footprint, re-use the existing materials, remove the encroachment, create access for the manhole and comply with codes.

The 380sf backhouse has a central spine that supports a crown of windows – Gambrel forms at the ends to be contextual with the house style and vertical clerestory windows longitudinally. With a top height over 15’ the windows direct light into the space all day.

The kitchen is a one-person domain with a full sized refrigerator, small electric oven, dishwasher drawer, and a two-burner cooktop. A cookie tray can be washed flat in the sink and the counter extends flush into the bay window. To make the social space more unified, the door to the bathroom is set into a patterned wall with a touch latch spring opener.

Storage is generous throughout the space. A podium for the queen sized bed provides extra storage along with the loft, accessible with an attic stair in the bedroom ceiling, and above the seating in the social space. Lighting throughout the space includes Solatubes, fluorescent cove lighting, down lights and task lights. The heater is located in an accessible space under the house.

The project works like functional art, but creating it was more like ship building. The clients, however, were pleased and enthusiastic with the final product.

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