Here’s a quick test to see if you’re in a skinny house right now: Stretch out your arms to either side of your body. Are you touching both sides of your house? No? Then you’re not in a skinny house.
Skinny houses are vertical homes: multiple, small floors stacked atop one another. These structures push the boundaries of architecture and test the limits of compact living. These vertical homes also answer the increasingly dire problem of cities’ density and expense. That’s how they started in Japan and Vietnam, where they’re known as eels’ nests and tube homes, respectively.
Here in the U.S., we have a few skinny houses of our own. The residents of 2726 P St NW in Washington, DC, enjoy a spacious interior width of 8.1 feet. Getting along with even less space, residents of the Hollensbury Spite House, Alexandria, Virginia, boast a seven-foot-wide home. In 325 square feet of space, they can fit about 12 guests and not much else.
Not claustrophobic yet? Picture 44 Hull Street in Boston’s North End. Four stories tall and wider in the front than back, this home is as little as 6.2 feet across on the inside … which makes Pittsburgh’s Skinny Building seem luxuriously big! This one comes in at 5.2 feet wide, which has been enough space over the years to serve as a lunch counter, produce stand, cookie shop, jewelry store and hair salon.
Still not feeling the walls close in on you? Check out Singel 166, a beloved tourist spot in Amsterdam that is a little over three feet wide. Not to be outdone, Warsaw, Poland, has the new Keret House, an art installation and studio space for traveling writers that is 2.3 feet wide at its narrowest.
Last but not largest, 75 ½ Bedford Street, New York, is as narrow as two feet in some places. Previously used as a cobbler’s shop, candy factory, art studio and home to poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, 75 ½ Bedford Street can be the skinny home of your dreams.
The examples that dot the world are beloved for their innovation, and are sought after for the exact reason that some might avoid them: They’re just so very small and simple. Whether skinny houses gain popularity here in U.S. depends on the collective tolerance for wingspan-width spaces. Like it or not, though, cities are filling in. Soon we may all have to ask ourselves, “How much space do I really need?”