Come Home to Casual Elegance and Fluidity Between Indoor and Outdoor Spaces
The U-shaped house design is a not-uncommon feature in European, Spanish, and Mediterranean style homes. It also sometimes appeared in 1990s ranch homes, but overall the design hasn't been common in single-family architecture. That's changing as architects, builders, homeowners, and prospective buyers are now taking a second look at the U-shaped house plan. In addition, more urban areas – where space and privacy are in short supply – are finding the U-shape attractive.
And there are other reasons why the style is top of mind these days.
The U-shape takes a traditional rectangular home and gives it an attractive twist by adding a central courtyard, garden, swimming pool, or landscape element. The innovative feature – accessible from various points of the home – becomes the grand outdoor space for the family . . . a perfect oasis and retreat, especially during these challenging times of the pandemic.
Let’s take a look at this intriguing house design, its basic features and benefits, and elements that enhance its charm and character.
Top: A classic two-story Mediterranean-Tuscan style home features this amazing open courtyard with a swimming pool. Bottom: The foyer and den open to the outdoor retreat, and the second-floor study (not shown) overlooks the courtyard. The pool, which is not shown in the floor plan, is situated just beyond the two verandas and the breakfast room (all visible in the top photo). The 7,700-square-foot floor plan has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and two powder rooms (Plan #195-1243).
What Is a U-Shaped House Plan?
Looking more like an “H” from a distance, the classic U-shaped house style wraps around three sides of a patio or courtyard to create a sheltered area, garden, or landscape element. A house with the U-shape facing the rear usually includes a pool in the backyard.
In this design – as in courtyard entry home plans – the courtyard divides the home into living/social and sleeping wings. However, all of the rooms are typically strategically positioned and fitted with large windows and glass doors to have full views and easy access to the outdoor space.
Overall, the emphasis of the U-shape in a home is the flow of the house, smooth connection between the interior and exterior areas, and spatial relationships between rooms.
This courtyard of a two-story Mediterranean style home is a truly spectacular sight. There is the beautiful landscaping, pool, and massive stone columns that anchor the second-floor deck. The amazing home has five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a powder room, a family room, a media room, and a main level laundry (Plan #195-1173).
Defining Features of the Style
This outdoor living area is reminiscent of the structures found in Spanish-Mexican haciendas as well as the atriums and courtyards in California homes designed and built by Joseph Eichler and Cliff Mays. Sometimes, the courtyard features low garden walls for privacy. Courtyards can also be in front of the home in a side yard or even as garage entry.
Palm trees are part of this attractive courtyard entry of a magnificent one-story, 4,817-square-foot Florida style home. The lovely residence with 10-foot-high ceilings includes a pool, home office, library, mudroom, and other amenities (Plan #175-1131).
2. Private Outdoor Spaces
A small garden and a landscape element such as a fountain or gazebo are the features in the home's backyard. Even a modest-size courtyard can accommodate these enhancements.
A striking fountain is the focal point in the landscaped garden of a gorgeous four-bedroom European style home plan with French influences. The one-story home has an open floor design, four bedrooms, a home theater, mudroom, butler-s and walk-in pantries, a pool, and covered lanai and rear patio (Plan #193-1048).
3. Swimming Pool
If the courtyard is the focal point of a home with a U-shape – whether in the front or rear of the house – a swimming pool is often the centerpiece of the rear courtyard. Today, a pool is a must-have or wish-list item for some prospective homeowners.
The focal point of the courtyard of a charming Colonial style home, this fabulous swimming pool can be reached from the Great Room and other living areas of the home. There are four to five bedrooms, five bathrooms, a family room, home office, mudroom, den, eat-in kitchen, walk-in pantry, and outdoor kitchen (Plan #204-1020).
4. Lots of Glass
Large windows or glass walls – even skylights – allow plenty of natural light into the home and unobstructed views of the outdoor space. These windows and stacking glass walls provide easy access to the private outdoor space as well.
Just look at the glass doors and large clerestory windows on both sides of the Great Room of a stunning one-story, three-bedroom, 3.5-bath Mid-century Modern home. With a 22-foot-wide stacking door opening to the covered area at the rear and a 12-foot door to a screened front patio, the residence allows abundant natural light to filter in all areas (Plan #202-1022).
Long hallways and corridors connect the primary rooms and different areas of the home together. The main rooms and living areas are typically located adjacent to the courtyard – and have direct access to the space.
6. Shallow Depth
Traditionally, the U-shape itself only extends from the exterior wall to the front or rear courtyard – about one room’s length. This is ideal for cross-ventilation from one side of the home to the other.
Benefits of the U-Shape
Curb appeal is a huge benefit of the U-shaped style, mostly because of the courtyard. Everyone loves to see a home with beautiful landscaping, complete with colorful blooms and lush shrubbery. I was watching the HGTV Show “Rock the Block,” and an important element that pushed one contestant close to the lead was her use of brightly painted and attractive window boxes on the home’s exterior facade to enhance its curb appeal.
Stop and take a second look. This beautifully landscaped courtyard of a stunning European style home is the wow factor that enhances its curb appeal. The one-story home has 6554 square feet of living space, four bedrooms, four full bathrooms, and two half baths (Plan #193-1048).
Smooth transition from indoor to outdoor living is achieved with large windows – whether floor-to-ceiling, clerestory, or transom windows – and stacking glass walls that open to the courtyard and outside spaces. The windows and doors provide every room of a U-shaped home a connection to nature and the surrounding landscape.
Look at how the French doors open into this courtyard of a well-designed two-story Mediterranean style home. Open the doors wide, and you have a seamless connection between the home’s interior and its impressive outdoor area. The 7,700-square-foot residence has four bedrooms, five full bathrooms, two powder rooms, two bars, a walk-in kitchen pantry, elevator, computer tech room, game room, and two balconies (Plan #195-1243).
Natural light from almost all sides of the house. With the large windows, glass walls, and even skylights, the U-shape presents a bigger opportunity for natural light to filter into the interior spaces throughout the day. This means that windows are situated in such a way that the summer heat is minimized. In places like California, Texas, the Southwest, and other regions with warmer climates, this means positioning the windows on the north elevation of the house while shading windows are located on the south side.
Floor-to-ceiling windows in this kitchen and other rooms of a gorgeous 1.5-story Colonial style home provide plenty of natural light throughout the entire residence. The lovely home has 4,443 square feet of fully conditioned living space in both the main- and upper-level areas and includes four to five bedrooms and five full bathrooms (Plan #204-1020).
Enhanced outdoor privacy and security – In rear-facing U's, the family can enjoy the outdoor refuge without worrying about being bothered by passersby or noise from the street. The partially enclosed courtyard serves as a shield for the home’s outdoor space and a shelter from the sun and wind.
Outdoor refuge and the creation of outdoor rooms – With the U-shape style, you can have a deck, patio, fountain, rock garden, or even a pergola within the courtyard space. The various “rooms” allow family members to retreat into a favorite getaway section and enjoy their alone time.
Within this courtyard of a two-story Mediterranean-Tuscan style home are private nooks perfect for reading, relaxing, and meditating. Set your eyes on the secluded corner with lounge chairs to the right of the pool. The house has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and two powder rooms (Plan #195-1243).
Practical design for multigenerational living or frequent guests – The U-shape home’s courtyard can serve as a barrier to detached in-law/guest suites – or a zone divider for bedrooms located on a separate wing of the home – because the configuration of living and social areas allows for some privacy.
Drawbacks of the Design
Because of its basic blueprint – with the courtyard, pool, and other landscaping features – the U-shaped design requires more land for a building lot than the average single-family residence.
The size of its overall footprint may be a problem even for large lots because lot dimensions and setback requirements dictated by local municipalities often keep a U-shaped house plan from being feasible.
Finally, the cost to build can be 10% more than that for a traditional rectangular floor plan.
If you want curb appeal and all the bells and whistles of simple but elegant living, it may be time to think seriously of house styles with a U-shape.