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If you live in or have traveled through the American south, especially in New Orleans, you may have seen rows of colorful, charming homes sitting on narrow lots. These historic houses, known as shotgun-style homes, are just as functional as they are picturesque, with a simple, efficient layout that allows fresh air to flow through the entirety of the space.
What Is a Shotgun-Style House?
A traditional shotgun-style house is a narrow, linear single-story home with three to four rooms and no hallway connecting them. Within the home, you'll find a living room at entry, followed by a sequence of one or two bedrooms and a kitchen.
Not all shotgun-style homes have the same layout, but they all have a few important components in common. We spoke to an architect and interior designer to learn more about the what makes a shotgun house so unique, including its characteristics and history.
Meet the Expert
Mindy Kelson O'Connor, a Philadelphia-based architect and interior designer, is the founder of Melinda Kelson O'Connor Design.
What Makes a House Shotgun Style?
While exact style and layout may may vary from house to house, most shotgun-style homes have distinctive properties that set them apart from other homes. According to O'Connor, a shotgun house is typically a single-story, narrow home that is one room wide—usually 12 feet or less—and three to four rooms deep.
A shotgun-style house is characterized by the arrangement of its rooms in a linear sequence from front to back. The rooms are passed through from one to the next, with no hallway circulation, with a door in the front and back allowing for excellent air circulation.
The living room in a shotgun house is typically entered from the front door, with one or two bedrooms set behind and the kitchen in the very rear. The original shotgun homes of the 1800s didn't have bathrooms, so many historic shotgun homes have bathroom additions in the back of the house.
O'Connor says these houses take advantage of narrow lots and were usually placed close to the street. Shotgun facades after the 1800s typically have a gabled roof, and many shotgun-style houses have gabled front porches as well.
In short, you can expect the following traits in most shotgun homes:
- Narrow lot
- Gabled roof, especially if built after the 1800s
- Placed close to the street and neighbors
- Bright, colorful paint
- Gabled front porch for socializing
- One room (or 12 feet) wide
- Three to four rooms deep
- No hallways
- No side windows
- One or two bedrooms
- Front living room
- Rear kitchen
- Bathroom addition in the house's rear
Thanks to their streamlined, functional layout and low square footage, shotgun-style houses are a historic and charming alternative to tiny homes, making them a great choice for people who want to reduce their footprint.
History of Shotgun-Style Houses
Shotgun-style houses originate in the American south, often built in Black neighborhoods in New Orleans, Charlotte, and Houston at the turn of the 19th century. The distinctive, narrow footprint effectively accommodated smaller lot sizes, while the streamlined layout with two doors at either side of the house allowed homeowners some much-needed fresh air in the hot, humid southern climates. "The shotgun style of consecutive rooms with aligned doors allows for excellent airflow," O'Connor says.
According to O'Connor, the unique name stems from the home's design: it's said to be derived from the idea that with the doors open, one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the bullet would travel out the back door without hitting any obstacle between. Historians, she says, have alternatively suggested the name actually derives from the West African word, "to-gun," which translates to "place of assembly" or "gathering place."
What Are the Different Types of Shotgun-Style Houses?
While most shotgun-style homes share a distinct size and layout, there are a few different types of shotgun-style homes:
Double Barrel Shotgun House
Think of double-barrel shotgun homes as a shotgun duplex. According to O'Connor, double-barrel shotgun houses are two identical shotgun houses that share a center wall but still make up a single building.
Humpback Shotgun House
Also called the camelback house, the humpback-style shotgun house has a second floor, or hump, over the rear of the house with one to four rooms. "This style shotgun creates a bit more space but can still be designated as a one-story structure," O'Connor says.