Skip to main content

Houses on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Laneway House Tour range from tiny modernist creations to heritage-themed charmers.Ihor Pona

For such tiny houses, they're causing an enormous stir.

In 2009, the City of Vancouver opened the door for homeowners to build laneway houses on residential lots, and ever since, the compact building style has taken off.

Hundreds have been built across the city, most of them to create extra space for adult kids, aging parents or extended family, or to offset mammoth mortgages by generating much-needed rental revenue.

But according to Vancouver Heritage Foundation executive director Judith Mosley, the new generation of laneway houses is doing far more than filling an economic or spatial need; they are also saving older houses from the wrecking ball. Now five prime new examples, as well as one that's been around for a quarter-century, are going on show for this year's annual Laneway House Tour.

"The city wants to add density and different accommodation options, and we are interested in exploring ways that can be done without demolishing existing older homes," Ms. Mosley says, adding that coach houses date back to Vancouver's earliest days. "So fitting them into the neighbourhood in a sympathetic way and retaining older homes is definitely a priority."

The houses on the tour range from a compact, one-level 620-square-foot house to a relatively spacious three-bedroom, and from tiny modernist creations to more heritage-themed charmers. One was designed with a separate garage so a mature magnolia could stay; another was created for a divorced couple who wanted to co-parent their children, but live in separate houses.

The older house on the tour is part of architect Robert Lemon's heritage revitalization of West Point Grey's Barber Residence, a 1936 Art Moderne masterpiece that was under threat because it straddled two lots and had no heritage protection. Instead of building an addition, which would have harmed the home's architectural integrity, Mr. Lemon designed a laneway house that would complement the original design without trying to mimic it.

The one thing all of the homes on the tour have in common is that they were built behind older houses.

"They're a way to meet different needs in the neighbourhood, and to add something without losing the character of the older homes or the streetscape. And it can bring more life onto the lanes, which for many people is a real positive," says Ms. Mosley, who also recognizes that laneway houses aren't without their downsides and detractors. "But it's a really great opportunity for growth in the neighbourhood without demolishing what we have."

Vancouver Heritage Foundation's self-guided Laneway House Tour is 1-5 p.m., Saturday (