The Vancouver Special: Not a Teardown

Vancouver became famous in the 1970′s and 1980′s for a type of house that was being constructed by developers and builders as a spec house on 33 ft lots all over the city.  The “Vancouver Special,” as it was called, was a two story, rectangular bungalow  turned  sideways, so that the front and back entrances opened off the narrow ends of the rectangle.  The house looks remarkably like a Kleenex box (viewed from the narrow end) topped with a low pitched roof.  By turning the house sideways the builder could maximize the size of the house on the long narrow lot. The highest number of Specials were built on the east side of Vancouver but they can be seen dotted throughout all areas of the city.

In a Vancouver Special both floors are completely above ground.  The upper floor usually contains the main living quarters, with the lower floor outfitted as a secondary suite, often sporting a floor plan that is identical to the level above.    The Specials have quite nice, functional layouts that follow a centre-hall floor plan with bedrooms and bathrooms running front to back on one side, and the living room, dining room, and kitchen running front to back on the other side. There is almost always a narrow balcony running across the front  of the house with a deeper balcony running across the back.  Sliding glass doors from the living room open onto the front balcony with the same style doors opening from the dining room onto the rear balcony.

A fabulous website catalogs all 1241 of  the  Specials in Vancouver.  The site’s author, Chris Higgins, has cataloged, by street name, every Special built in Vancouver.  He categorizes each house according to such characteristics as roof line, front facings, balcony types, and presence, or absence of statuary.  Yes, presence, or absence of statuary!  Its an amazing and awesome site.

Specials are enjoying a resurgence of popularity among young hipsters in the know.  The house’s large size and functionally optimal floor plan, together with the rental potential of the main floor, and the relative affordability of a 33ft lot make them a desirable purchase for new home owners.  All over the city old Specials are being revitalized with face lifts, roof lifts and new landscaping to turn them into a quintessential 2012 modern home.

Specials are NOT teardowns!


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