Luxury Carriage Houses Are Making a Comeback: A Glimpse into the Past and Present
The recent surge in popularity of period dramas like "Bridgerton" and "The Crown" has rekindled a fascination with the elegant past, where refined families conversed eloquently, donned their finest attire, and embarked on journeys through picturesque countrysides in horse-drawn carriages. As these visions of a genteel era capture our imagination, a particular architectural gem from history is making a remarkable return: the luxury carriage house.
In the bygone days when a day's travel came to an end, horse-drawn carriages needed a home, and that's where the carriage house comes in. Carriage houses were originally designed as outbuildings, intended to house horse-drawn carriages and related equipment, much like a modern garage. These structures also occasionally included stables for the horses and even living spaces for staff members or carriage drivers.
The roots of carriage houses can be traced back to 18th-century England, and they became prevalent in the early 19th century in the Northeastern United States, eventually spreading across the country. As symbols of prestige, carriage houses were indicators of status, used to store valuable wagons, buggies, and horses. At a time when workers earned less than a dollar a day, carriages cost around $1,000, making them an investment only attainable by the well-to-do.
The advent and popularity of motorized vehicles in the 20th century led to the decline of horse-drawn carriages, resulting in homeowners converting carriage houses into garages. However, these structures evolved to accommodate the needs of a changing society. Carriage houses transformed into commonplace dwellings, serving as homes for chauffeurs and staff members, especially when lofted living spaces were available.
It's important to differentiate between carriage houses, carriage homes, and coach houses. While the names might sound similar, they each have distinct characteristics. A carriage house is an outbuilding for storing carriages and related equipment, often with living quarters. A carriage home is a single-family home with minimal land around it, resembling a townhouse or condo, while coach houses typically refer to small, separate structures on a property.
Characteristics of Carriage Houses: A Blend of History and Design
Building Characteristics: Most carriage houses were two-story structures with a tall, wide central doorway to allow for easy maneuvering of horse-drawn carriages. Typically located behind the main house, carriage house designs often matched or complemented the architectural style of the main residence. For instance, a Victorian-style main house might feature a carriage house with steep roofs, dormer windows, stained glass, and decorative scrollwork.
Interior Characteristics: Carriage houses boasted high, spacious ceilings on the ground floor, sometimes soaring up to 20 feet. Some carriage houses even included loft-like living spaces on the upper floor for the carriage driver. However, these interiors often lacked ample natural light due to the building's depth, resulting in windows primarily situated at the front.
Size: City-based carriage houses were typically compact due to limited space, designed to accommodate a single carriage and related equipment. In contrast, rural carriage houses on expansive estates could be larger and more elaborate, housing multiple carriages and even stables for horses. Some wealthier homeowners outfitted these carriage houses with second-story living quarters for their household staff.
Modern-Day Uses: Reimagining the Carriage House
Throughout history, homeowners and developers have repurposed carriage houses to serve evolving needs, ensuring their continued relevance. These multi-floor garages have become ideal structures for second homes and garage apartments, classified as accessory dwelling units. Others have transformed carriage houses into industrial workshops, artists' studios, and even underground clubs.
Those who seek unconventional living spaces find carriage houses appealing due to their unique layouts and diverse layout options. Renovating the living spaces within carriage houses offers the opportunity to tailor them according to specific needs. Homeowners can dictate room numbers, living concepts (open vs. partitioned spaces), and usage (dwelling, studio, entertainment room).
Adding Value and Providing Income
The versatility of carriage houses, which can function as garages, workshops, guest suites, studios, or stand-alone dwellings, adds significant value to homes. Their scarcity often commands a premium price, making them desirable investments. Additionally, restoring historic homes and capitalizing on carriage house functionality can yield a consistent stream of passive income. Homeowners can lease these spaces for short or long terms, providing private accommodation for guests or supplementary rental income.
However, it's essential to recognize that carriage houses require upkeep and maintenance, much like a pool: enjoyable if well-maintained, but demanding otherwise. Potential buyers should approach older homes and their carriage houses with caution. Engaging a professional home inspector to assess foundational integrity, roofing, plumbing, electrical systems, sewer lines, and environmental concerns is crucial to avoid costly surprises.
While the renovation costs associated with older homes and carriage houses might be substantial, their historical charm, distinctive layouts, and the stories embedded in their walls often make them attractive to buyers willing to undertake the challenge.
"A carriage house, in and of itself, carries history," notes expert Belcher. "No matter what you decide to do with it, you always carry a little bit of what came before."
Embracing the Past, Embracing the Future
As period dramas continue to captivate audiences, the allure of the past extends beyond the screen and into real estate trends. Luxury carriage houses, with their rich history, architectural charm, and modern adaptability, are making a notable comeback. Whether utilized as guest quarters, artistic sanctuaries, or income-generating rentals, these structures bridge the gap between eras, offering a tangible connection to a more elegant time while seamlessly integrating with contemporary lifestyles. So, for those with an appreciation for history, design, and innovation, the luxury carriage house is indeed a trend worth exploring — no horse and carriage required.