Amy Albert is editor-in-chief of Professional Builder and Custom Builder magazines. Previously, she worked as chief editor of Custom Home and design editor at Builder. Amy came to writing about building by way of food journalism, as kitchen design editor at Bon Appetit and before that, at Fine Cooking, where she shot, edited, and wrote stories on kitchen design. She studied art history with an emphasis on architecture and urban design at the University of Pennsylvania and has served on several design juries. 

Thoughtful Infill

Teardowns are becoming the rule in my Los Angeles neighborhood, replacing the 1,000- and 1,200-square-foot homes that were built here in the 1950s. It’s happening nationwide, in scores of enclaves like mine. Though the lot-maximizing behemoths going up on my street can be explained by land scarcity, impact fees, and high prices, that does little to appease irate residents, including me. 

Our neighbor two doors down, I’ll call him Andy, lived in one of the original modestly sized homes for more than 20 years. He was far from happy when a 4,200-square-footer went up next door, and he made that abundantly clear. Gossip on the block had it that on move-in day, Andy greeted the new neighbors with, “Your house is a monstrosity. Have a nice life.”  

The tale may have turned apocryphal in the retelling, but it’s a reminder: Infill homes badly handled upset the neighbors, many of whom may be in a position to protest more strongly than Andy did. Tensions start long before it’s evident what the finished home will look like: when debris from demolition isn’t contained;  when rodents migrate to adjacent yards; when the crew fires up a compressor before 7 a.m. on a Saturday, ignoring the noise ordinance dictating an 8 a.m. start time. 

There are ways to avoid being that builder—to make sure your next infill project goes as smoothly as possible, and to ensure that added cost, multiple headaches, and bad blood don’t occur. This month, senior editor Susan Bady examines two infill homes in different parts of the country. One sits snugly on its  Minneapolis lot, between two other homes. The other, south of San Francisco, got built in a neighborhood that presented plenty of guidelines and restrictions. Both infill homes play well on their respective sites, thanks to thoughtful, smart design and construction teams that took care with context while delivering spacious homes that answer the needs of the families living in them. Both homes offer sufficient privacy from the neighbors and feature the practical, hardworking features (an incredible pantry, a laundry area in the kids’ bath) that the clients had been dreaming of. 

This past spring, the Los Angeles city council implemented an anti-mansionization ordinance in which floor area ratios have been shrunk by 5 percent, with areas previously exempt now included in the building’s gross square-footage tally. The awkwardly scaled houses on my block made it in under the wire, but I’ll be watching our neighborhood and others and talking to builders to see how this plays out. The new restrictions will, of course, demand the kind of clever conceptualization and deft design moves that you’ll read about in “Play Nice,” starting on page 22. But in the interest of good design, goodwill, future work, and intact neighborhoods that retain their appeal, longevity, and value, isn’t it worth it?


Tuesday, September 26, 2017 - 06:00

Comments on: "Thoughtful Infill"

FALL 2019

This Month in Custom Builder


The company also added a reversible option that gives designers a decorative fluted motif


A preconstruction process that convinces potential clients to pay for estimating is less about contract language and more about beginning a relationship

Overlay Init