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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


  1. Eric, the graphics are not displaying (--and I really want to see them).

  2. A form related to the Boston triple-decker, and just as useful. Nice.

  3. I am very amazed by the information of this blog and i am glad that i had a look over the blog.

    interior design assistant

  4. Duplex house best for a single family. Duplex house plans build a small area like 1000 square feet to 2000 square feet. You can view more Duplex house designs and First Floor Plan on



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