New York City was once a horse and carriage city before the arrival of the automobile. Carriage houses as the name suggests were built predominantly in the 1800 and early 1900 to house horses and carriages for the wealthy. Usually built on a separate lot in close proximity to townhouses, these structures were double height single story buildings with a hay loft mezzanine encompassed in the additional floor height. A small second story was sometimes added at the rear for the caretaker which included a kitchen and bathroom. Carriage houses are different from back houses – structures built behind a townhouse with the purpose of housing the family’s horse and carriage.
The advent of the automobile saw these spaces being converted into garages and later into live work lofts or artist residence. However, with the surge of real estate prices in New York City, many of these buildings have been converted to single family homes. Not many carriage houses exist today and can be usually found in the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn and the West Village and Upper East side of Manhattan.
Carriage houses are unique in character and hence have become a much-coveted real estate commodity in recent years. Distinctive, due to their comparatively short stature (single story) and large double entry doors -tall enough to accommodate a horse drawn carriage. Carriage houses usually do not have basements and windows are minimal. Since they were built for commercial use, carriage houses do not abide by the usual light and air regulations required for residential buildings. These buildings usually have limited or no set back regulations and can cover the entire lot extending 75’-90’ in length and 25’ wide. A small interior courtyard or patio may be provided within the lot. These buildings usually comprise of brick walls with wood beams spanning across.
Another unique feature of the carriage house is the presence of an existing curb cut and garage on the first floor – another priced commodity in New York City. Having been used for carriages and later as garages, existing curb cuts provide an additional parking spot. However, the downside could be that the buildings, if not formerly converted to residential use, can be considered commercial buildings and any renovation could involve a change of use. To obtain the light and air requirements for habitable spaces it may be necessary to install skylights or interior courtyards or rear yard sets backs that are usually required for residential buildings. Based on existing zoning requirements it maybe be possible to build additional floors adding a second and or third floor to the structure. All new construction will have to conform to existing building codes and zoning requirements.