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Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Over-Under Duplex

The Over Under Duplex
a unit typology review
Eric S. Brown, author

Kielbasa, a Cleveland favorite
What is a Cleveland Double? 

What is a Cleveland Double?  No, it’s not a double kielbasa sandwich, it is the Cleveland Double House.  This is a unique housing type that is prevalent in industrial era cities especially those along the Great Lakes and is also know as an Over-Under duplex or a two flat house.  

These over under duplexes were typically built in the heart of the industrial expansion era 1890-1920. Many were built as speculative houses in the expanding 1st tier street car suburbs.  In many cases, a family bought the unit and then rented the lower floor to either family members or to renters to help with the mortgage cost.  Most were wood frame with possibly some brick veneer and could be found in alley conditions or park behind front load streets.  

In other cities, especially the south, this type became the single family house that was converted to a double (or more) later.  The Charleston Side house makes a great Over Under duplex as do the more formal Mansion house form.  

This type is still a very valid part of the “missing middle” class of non-single family housing types.  It can be used along side the more common side by side duplex as both types live differently and have different architectural characters. 

A Cleveland Double, Cleveland Heights, OH.

Advantages of the Over Under: 
  • Flat living arrangement all on a single level.  This is what many people prefer as a lifestyle choice.  This arrangement also provides for typically a more modern open efficient floor plan. 
  • Efficient: This type is a little more efficient than the side-side duplex as the building has one stair vs. two and also that the unit plans stack over each other in what is typically a basic box form. 
  • Privacy: The over-under split allows each unit to have a private porch space front and/or rear with the only crossing occurring at the front door zone. A side-side has trouble with adjacent porches being next to each other along with being much more narrow in width. 
  • Building Code: These fall under the International Residential Code for 1 and 2 family dwelling units, avoiding the more complex (and expensive) Commercial code that the small apartments fall into.  Also avoids the FHA for rental units.
  • Rental Property:  These are great starter houses for young people getting started who have rental income if they buy the whole unit and live upstairs or this can be packaged off to a small investor as a rental unit. 
  • Multi-Generational:  A family can take the entire property and put an aging parent or sibling downstairs or any combination of family patterns that are so common now.  The unit is flexible and can also be rented. 
  • Ownership Flexibility:  These units can be sold fee simple or can be done with a condominium arrangement. 
  • Elevators:  It is easy to put in a residential elevator or at least reserve the space for one which allows the older market to feel comfortable buying the units. 
  • HVAC:  Simple single zone system with a single return. 
Mansion Form Duplex, Brown Design Studio

Challenges of the Over Under: 
  • Sound Control:  Always a problem in any type of multi-family, sound control is important.  Care must be taken to design the proper floor system which is the sound control barrier (and fire barrier as well).  Well designed units will be able to have hardwood floors if desired even.  Care must also be taken during construction for sound control of all areas that penetrate the system, such as plumbing and vent stacks.  This is the main source of sound control issues. 

30' Small Form Duplex, Brown Design Studio

Where to use the Over Under: 
  • These work best in the T-3 to T-4 transect zone and blend in well with the typical single family street scape in scale, form and mass. 
  • Great infill units in most  cities. 
  • In greenfield development, typical units make great transitional streets from a single family neighbor hood to the the town center or multifamily blocks. 
  • Lots sizes generally run 40‘x100’ to 65‘x100’ for larger Mansion form units. 

We have designed and built these units for last ten plus years and have found them to be accepted well in the market with a modern update to the design of course.  These can be smaller units that function as great starter homes for a young person or family that helps cover the mortgage or we have also built larger high end market homes that are popular with the older retired crowd or retired singles.  

While the top image is a Cleveland Double in Cleveland Heights, the other images are some of our built units and a new design for a small lot infill project (in Cleveland of course).  Brown Design Studio offers 17 years of experience building great places and the buildings that are the fabric of those places.  Duplex and other unit types plans can be found at our website or contacting us directly.

A Mansion Form Duplex Street, Brown Design Studio

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Coastal Living Inspired Tour Home opens:

Our Coastal Living Inspired home tour kicks off this weekend, May 15 in the award winning Habersham Village in Beaufort, South Carolina.  The Tour is open on weekends, from May 15 to June 7th.  Directions and additional information can be found at  

The cottage is located in the walkable town center of Habersham, close to parks, restaurants and great events.  The lot shown here 36' wide and is alley parked.  The cottage itself is 1828 sq.ft. with a master suite on the 1st level, a great entry hall, high 12' ceilings and of course, a great front porch.  Up stairs, there are a pair of bedrooms, each with a large private bath.  The home also includes a great out door courtyard and optional garage or garden shed.  

The plan shown is 15 Abbey Row and additional lots are available in Habersham for building the plan along with a similar sized master up plan under construction next door.  Additional information on the Habersham home can be found at and plan details can also be viewed at

Project Team: 
Brown Design Studio: architecture, millwork
Jbanks Design:  Interior hard selections. 
Anne Hagerty Interiors: Furnishings.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Award Recognition for Brown Design Studio

CNU Charter and Driehaus Awards

Brown Design has received recognition for two awards at the recent Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in Dallas, Texas.  Both awards stem from the same project, the Beaufort County Community Development Code. The project received the CNU Charter merit award and the Driehaus Form Based Code Award from the Form Based Code Institute (FBCI).

Congratulations go out to the lead planning firm of Opticos from Berkley, California.  Opticos Principal  Stefan Pellegrini lead the planning/design team and process along with staff from Beaufort County Planning and the Town of Port Royal.  Brown Design was able to assist Opticos in architectural design and local calibration of the code.  

The code is notable for being in a large county with a full rural to urban transect and also unique local conditions.  Additionally, the code was an inter-governmental coordinated effort between Beaufort County and the Town of Port Royal.  The planning design team participated with the local community over the course of many charrettes, workshops and meetings and the code responded with a  set of place-types and transect zones that capture the uniqueness of the Carolina Lowcountry.  

Copyright all images @ Opticos. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Why I Walk: Taking a Step in the Right Direction by Kevin Klinkenberg 2014.

Book Review:  Why I Walk; Taking a Step in the Right Direction by Kevin Klinkenberg 2014.  

Why I Walk is a recent book by Kevin Klinkenberg.  Kevin is an urbanist, architect and planner who has been helping to create vibrant walkable places.  In his book, Kevin compares walking as a primary lifestyle to choosing to live a more automobile oriented lifestyle.  This is a great approach as the idea of choosing to live in a walkable environment is still foreign to some people.  

Kevin thoughtfully explains the many reasons for choosing a walkable lifestyle: Financial, Freedom, Health and Social. These show how freeing yourself from the daily need of a car can improve your lifestyle in ways you may not have expected.  People are so used to sitting in heavy traffic for 60 minutes each day that they forget that they have a choice and that there are alternatives.  What if you walked 7500 steps a day just going to work?  Your body would be in much better shape even before you hit the gym after work.  What if you put a car payment into a great house in a great neighborhood and rode a bike to work?  

Kevin helps the reader to imagine things differently from the old school, post World War 2 suburban dream, which has grown into something more resembling a nightmare in many places.  The millennial generation is the first to see a decline in automobile ownership. They are choosing instead to live in walkable urban places. And it's not just the young who prefer this approach. One of the hottest trends in senior care is creating or integrating with walkable urban neighborhoods for new projects.  Seniors generally cite freedom and social engagement as the leading characteristics that appeal to them in urban projects, just as Kevin describes.

The overall tone of the book is one of a humanistic explanation of why you would want to walk and how that will affect your life.  Kevin relies on both facts and figures and creative anecdotes from his own life and fairly addresses the challenges of walking (like rain!).  

Having just made the choice last year to relocate our office and myself into the core of historic Savannah, I can relate on a personal level to Kevin’s book.  Why I Walk is spot on in showing how a predominantly walking lifestyle can change the very nature of your life for the better.  I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially to people who are designing or planning walkable communities, but who do not adopt that lifestyle and experience the benefits themselves.  Why I Walk is a great addition to everyone’s library. Also, check out Kevin’s website and blog, which is full of good stuff, at