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Rethinking the Fifty by One-Hundred Plot

Ingenious Design Solutions for Narrow Lots

written by Lisa Simek

photos by John Martinell

Although Long Beach Island is comprised of mostly 40-foot, 50-foot, and 60-foot-wide lots, the surge of homebuilding and renovations has resulted in both architects and homeowners taking a fresh look at narrow lot homebuilding. Gone are the days of box-shaped homes and yawn-inducing designs; today’s architects are more akin to clever illusionists who conjure up a sense of space from even the narrowest of footprint. The architectural team at Long Beach Island’s own Michael Pagnotta Architecture and Construction specialize in exactly this: making efficient use of buildable space, focusing on building up instead of out, and providing homeowners with splendid amenities minus that extensive imprint. Here they offer their favorite techniques for making maximum use of space when designing on a narrow lot.

When planning to build a home on a narrow lot, “people tend to believe that the homes will be dark and claustrophobic,” shares Rhonda Ellis, Project Manager at Pagnotta’s firm. One of the keys to a bright, open home is to maximize windows. A rule of thumb is that natural light transforms tight spaces into light spaces. “We’re able to really open up the interiors and provide lots of glass to keep these homes very light and airy,” she adds. In a two-story design, more windows will give you visual access to more outdoor landscaping, which will make your internal space feel wider simply from the views.

Another way to give the illusion of space is by making the most of height and volume. “Often times, clients assume that this will mean an exterior that is a tall, thin box with no character,” states Ellis, “but integrating features like covered decks and interesting roof lines add a lot of visual interest, while including a mix of materials for texture and color create a more appealing exterior.” By increasing ceiling altitude, this offsets the proximity of walls by seeing more of the area, albeit vertically. The extra wall space can be used for longer windows, or you can also lift cabinetry higher and make the most of the storage (possibly even removing it from the floor altogether). Design features could always incorporate more interesting roofscapes if homeowners don’t fancy a fully flat-topped home, as the use of customary columns, railings, and windows contribute to a more traditional look.

Another option for creating a constant flow and giving the impression of a spread-out area is blurring the boundaries between indoor and outdoor space. When square footage on a property is limited, the exterior need to be considered a bonus room (offering visuals and space) during the architectural planning. In Pagnotta’s latest design, the team has created four levels of outdoor living space, divided merely by see-through fireplaces and grand patio entries. “With open floor plans we tend to double up on circulation space and blend it into functional gathering spaces while eliminating hallways. Our open great rooms provide important visual communication between kitchen/dining and living functions, and by providing a large covered deck off the kitchen we extend the living and entertainment space with a see-through fireplace… it becomes a three-season space with a dramatic bay view,” notes Ms. Ellis.

While on the topic of kitchens, Pagnotta’s team suggests opting for built-in appliances, cabinetry, and storage whenever possible. As Kristina Cabey, Construction Administrator & Interior Designer, also suggests, “To open a kitchen up into other spaces, I always recommend doing a one level counter height island. Two level kitchen islands tend to close off the kitchen to other spaces and also break up prep area. By keeping the kitchen island at that one level, it helps ensure the spaces flow well together and emphasize the open concept living. It also gives you more work surface and is a great secondary conversation area for hosts to entertain with their guests.”

There are additional techniques for interior design layout that give the illusion of space. As Cabey adds, “Sometimes our use of vertical textures in wainscoting or wall paneling can create a feeling of greater height in a room, while the use of high spaces certainly helps to give a sense of openness in a space. We will often use pendant lights in such spaces to bring lighting levels lower and create a more intimate setting.” She also suggests choosing neutral flooring that complements the decor of the house and carrying it continuously throughout all spaces. This will help homeowners achieve a sense of endless space, as opposed to a separation of rooms that appear choppy or cut off.

Whatever one’s style, a narrow building lot should not prevent you from building a unique home that is rich in character and reflective of your individual taste. The right plans will offer a beautiful design that will fit in the tightest of places, and allow clients the opportunity to build a great home in the location of their dreams.

Michael Pagnotta AIA established his architect-led design/build firm on Long Beach Island in 1990. Over the past 27 years his firm has been responsible for the design and construction of over 500 homes on LBI. Pagnotta graduated from the University of Texas and is a licensed architect, licensed planner, and registered builder. For more information on Mike and his firm, visit or follow them on Houzz via Michael Pagnotta Architects pc, Instagram @michaelpagnottaarchitects and

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