The position of the house on the lot is of primary importance. It was the custom in Colonial days to build houses very close to the street, thus conserving all possible space in rear for flower and vegetable gardens. In the nineteenth century in North America, the garden in rear gave way to the large front lawn, often too big for the house and certainly wasteful of space. Deep lawns will not improve a street unless it be very wide; deep lawns along a narrow street only emphasize its narrowness. The front yard which is wider than deep makes a lot appear wider than it really is; the deep narrow yard makes it look narrower. Any enclosed area appears larger than an open area because it is a unit with definite boundaries and not a part of a larger space by comparison with which it seems small. Whether a front yard is enclosed by hedge or fence will depend on the custom along the street. Strikingly different types of houses or yards, though individually attractive, detract from the beauty of the street. The appearance of size is not so much needed in the front as simple dignity. In the past generation, it was the tendency to reduce the size of front lawns and make way for more spacious back yards.
In many cities a minimum building line is established for each street; in others, conformity to custom has created a line. Variation of a few feet in this building line is often desirable to break the monotony along the street.
The front yard's function is that of a foreground and a setting to the house. The question then becomes, how much ground is needed to present a house properly. The depth should certainly vary with the surroundings - greater in suburban districts and much smaller where congestion occurs and crowding is commonly seen. Everyone has experienced the feeling of being too close to a building to see it; you needed to back away in order to take in the entire structure without moving the head. The horizontal angle of vision for close-up objects is about forty-five degrees, consequently one should be about the same distance from a house as it is wide to see it well. The angle of vision vertically is less than horizontally; tall buildings, then, need deeper fore-grounds than low buildings. Enough space is needed in front of any good building to present it to persons in passing as one architectural unit.
1 Adapted from The Design of Small Properties, pp. 5-14, 1929. By permission of The Macmillan Co., publishers.
In the set-back of the house from the street fewer mistakes are made than in its location from the side boundaries. The house should seldom if ever be placed in the center of the lot because this usually wastes space. On one side of the house, and usually on the kitchen side, will be a driveway. How much space is really necessary here? The drive itself need be no wider than eight feet. In addition, a strong boundary hedge is desirable on the property .... which, if planted in common with the neighbor, requires only two feet but if planted one foot inside the line takes up three feet of ground. A one-foot grass strip may well be planned between hedge and drive. The house and drive should be separated by another turf strip which will give room for a shrub at the house corner. Thus with four feet a minimum distance from lot line to drive, eight feet for drive itself and about three feet from it to the house, a total of fifteen feet would seem to make a satisfactory development possible.
But the driveway might be reduced to seven feet; the bounding hedge could be replaced by a wall or fence .... and the total distance from the house to property line reduced to even ten feet on very narrow lots. The minimum width on this service side of the house is not used on larger lots because good appearance demands an ampleness in keeping with the remainder of the property. Grounds one hundred feet wide need sixteen feet or more; on seventy-five-foot lots probably about fourteen will look best; on fifty- and sixty-foot widths twelve or thirteen feet are sufficient. By using the minimum space on the service side of the house, ground will be gained on the living-room side which can be used to better advantage.
Next to the house, the garage is the important feature of the average lot, so often thoughtlessly placed. Because of its prominence and the necessary drive to it, the placing of this building may make or ruin the whole design of the back yard. Many times the garage is placed too far toward the rear. This results in a distance from the street too great for backing out and a Y turn is made projecting nearly thirty feet across the rear lawn. On a fifty-foot lot, this nearly cuts the back yard in two, and on a seventy-five-foot width it is still a serious interference with better uses of the space. To one who wishes to make only the front yard attractive and is willing to use the rear for ashes and a garage, this may be satisfactory.
Nowadays, most persons want more privacy than is found on the front porch; they want their living-quarters in the back yard as relatively spacious as their living room in the house. To obtain this, the rear yard must be planned thoughtfully, and the garage in particular must be intelligently placed. As the size of the garage cannot be reduced, obviously any reduction must be in the driveway. To accomplish this, the garage will be nearer to the street.....
Large lots can afford to give the room for a Y turn, but even here the garage should be just far enough behind the house to allow the projection of the turn to clear it.....Already there is some pavement here leading to the kitchen and cellar entrances, and to this the drive joins, making one general service area. If the same space can be used for walk, driveway and drying-yard, less total area will be required, and the lawn will remain unbroken.
The drying-yard may be included in this general service area by the use of a clothes-reel. Often the removable clothes-reel can be placed in the kitchen side of the lawn and not interfere with its use for pleasure on the other six days of the week. However, in households where the drying-yard receives almost daily use, a permanent place is necessary. If the garage is near the house, the drying-yard may be directly behind it. The wire lines may run from the garage to a two-by-four piece supported on two posts twenty or twenty-five feet away. This location has the further advantage of privacy.
A common defect of house plans is the location of the coal-bin and coal-window. The usual small house plan puts the kitchen and dining-room next to the driveway and the livingroom on the other side of the house. Then the fireplace and chimney are frequently on the outside of this livingroom, which makes it seem logical to place the furnace and coal-bin underneath and leaves the coal-window on the side away from the drive. The inconvenience of this can readily be seen; the coal-window should be on the side by the driveway.
Picture Mr. Home-owner when he returns one evening from his business. The coal company after an unexpected hard shower has delivered a part of the winter fuel supply. The sun has come out again and Mr. Homeowner drives home exulting in the benefit this shower has bestowed on his lawn and garden. With the first glance at the lawn, of which he was so proud, his satisfaction changes to dismay. There on one side of the lawn in the soft earth are the deep-cut ruts made by the heavy truck on its way to the coal-window. Why had they sent coal on a day like this? He had especially warned them to deliver his order after a long dry spell because the window was not within reach of the driveway.
But on more sober thought even irate Mr. Home-owner could scarcely blame the coal office. The weather had been dry for weeks and the rain was very unexpected. Then the truth dawned upon him. Here was a perfectly good drive on the opposite side of the house. Why was not the coal-window here, too? Grocery, laundry and other trucks use this drive to make their deliveries to the kitchen; the heaviest truck of all must drive across the lawn. Just as the garage had been placed fifty feet behind the house when it should have been twenty, so this location of the coal-window showed the same faulty planning.....