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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. Graham Keys, the general manager of New Living Homes, speaks with Jacqueline Maya about 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 abodes can present homeowners with unique design opportunities and challenges in equal measure. Here, Sydney Home Design + Living sizes up the benefits of compact urban homes and explores how a clever design can maximise your available space, down to the last square metre.


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

“Developers and councils are dictating the market [growth] and [are] pushing for 10-metre-wide by 25-metre-deep blocks,” says Graham Keys. “Smaller lots [generally] come with a smaller price tag as well. For example, 10-metre-wide blocks of land are perfect for first home buyers.”

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 consideration. “All of our designs at New Living Homes are broken up into lot sizes with different widths,” Keys says. “From there, we’re able to look at various designs that accommodate for the size of a specific lot.”

Small-lot homes 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.


Building on a small lot doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice living space. There are several ways a home can be designed to feel more spacious. “It’s about having a good, affordable plan that utilises the minimum setbacks to maximise space in areas that suit your lifestyle,” Keys says.

In other words, to make your home compact on the outside, yet spacious on the inside, Keys recommends building your home right to the edges of your block of land. You can implement a zero boundary, in which at least one of the home’s external walls is built against the property’s 

boundary. This will eliminate the narrow spaces that can be created by side setbacks.

“Uninhabited rooms like the garage are [usually] built along the zero-alignment boundary because you don’t need natural light coming in,” Keys says.

Including space-saving features such as built-in wardrobes, walk-in pantries and linen cupboards into your home’s design will also help you get the most of your block.


One of the most common ways to maximise a narrow block’s potential is by simply building up. Many small-lot homes have two storeys to separate the bedrooms from the lower open-plan living, kitchen and dining area. “Our designs aim

to [position these zones] away from one another so they’re not overlapping, while still maintaining a functional and open space,” he says. “We try to keep the bedrooms separate from the busy living areas as well.”

When opting for a double-storey house plan, you’ll be able to include balconies and alfresco areas, which will increase the liveability of your home. “We always try to maintain an order of bedroom, bathroom, bedroom in our designs. Having [these rooms] together allows more space for an en suite, home theatre, and alfresco area,” Keys says. “People often struggle with defining individual areas of a small home, but it’s possible with a clever floor plan.”


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. “Our biggest consideration firstly is the orientation of the house for the solar aspect,” Keys says. “The back of the house and living areas [should be positioned to capture] the afternoon sun.”

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 a beautifully bright, airy and open space.


As long as you’re savvy with your home’s layout, your dream of having the ultimate outdoor area can be fully realised. “You can definitely get creative and include a small retreat at the back of a small lot,” Keys says. Designing your outdoor living space in consideration of the neighbours’ rear entertaining space will ensure a harmonious result.

“For a private open space, there is a minimum requirement of 3m from the back of the house to the rear boundary,” Keys continues. “This allows you to have a backyard regardless of the land size.”

Courtyards are very trendy at the moment, if that’s a possibility for you. By incorporating window access and lush vertical gardens, the visual and practical appeal of your entire backyard will be amplified while simultaneously making your internal space feel wider.


Another common misconception about small-lot homes is that they have poor privacy due to their close proximity to neighbouring properties. 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.

Keys has some more handy tips on reducing noise pollution: “[Install] thick glass windows and additional insulation in the ceiling and walls [of your home]. High-performance Gyprock will also help to keep your home quieter in busy areas.”


Including ample parking space on a small lot can be difficult if you have more than two 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 visit your local council’s website for a comprehensive guide to the requirements and processes involved for building 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.

Images courtesy of New Living Homes