Backwards Dog Leg

Post by Catarina Ferreira, AIA

The term "dog leg" refers to the narrowing of the rear portion of a row house, to allow more light and air to penetrate interior spaces. In most row houses, the dog leg is located on the same side of the entrance door and stair, also allowing 3 bedrooms to occupy the 2nd floor: master in front, 2nd bedroom in the middle, with the dog leg providing an egress window, and a 3rd bedroom at the rear.

We are currently working on the renovation of a historic row house in Washington DC in which the opposite occurs: the dog leg is on the opposite side of the entrance door. In the original house, the stair was located in the center of the floor plan, not directly in front of the entry door, and L-shaped. It started off perpendicular to the length of the row house, came to a mid-point landing, then split off in two different directions: to the master bedroom at the front of the house and, with another set of steps, to the rear bedrooms. As a result, the owners could not walk from one end of the 2nd floor to the other, or from the master bedroom to the rear bedrooms, without going up and down stairs. It also created a very compartmentalized 1st floor and  occupied a larger than necessary amount of real estate, with its double upper runs. Hard to believe, right?

Our clients came to us with a floor plan in mind that reflected a typical row house renovation layout: single run stairs directly in front of the front door, living room and dining room on the other side of the floor plate, kitchen at the rear with access to a small yard and parking area. This plan presented two major problems: the 'bonus' window created by the dog leg would be mostly blocked by the new stair, and the location of the stair itself would eliminate the possibility of ever having 3 bedrooms on the 2nd floor, despite the fact that there was just about enough space for 3 bedrooms.


Well, flipping the dog leg would be a major effort... Instead, we flipped the stair to the other side of the row house. 


Although not as obvious at first, this layout choice solved all of he problems listed above. In addition, it created a design opportunity: the stair would now be a highly visible sculptural element upon entering the row house, not just something to walk by or up and down. It also helped to open up the floor plan visually, and improved circulation. Of course the stair had to be special. In this case, it is also the backdrop for the dining area, so more than a standard railing was desirable. We proposed a wall of see through shelving with a double life as a guardrail instead. This move also created a nice backdrop for the dining area.



By focusing on the project TEXT, and keep the options open, we were able to turn a minus into a plus.

With this simple layout improvement, the value of the property will be significantly higher, due to the possibility of making the 2nd floor study into a 3rd bedroom with minimal construction. For now, our clients will keep it an open room, but isn't it nice to know you can add several tens of thousands of dollars to your property value simply by adding a wall and a door? That's just one benefit, though: the interior spaces are also brighter and more unique as result, and until they sell, our clients will surely enjoy them more.