Man Annoyed With People Using His Alley, So He Turns It Into America’s Skinniest House

July 26, 2019 Updated: July 27, 2019

Part of the joys and frustrations of having a house is that you never know who your neighbors will be. While sometimes you might end up with some great friends, at other times you can have a nightmare on your hands.

For home owner John Hollensbury in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1830s, it wasn’t so much the people who lived next door who were the problem; it was the people passing through.

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Hollensbury had a lovely two-story home, but the space between his house and his next-door neighbors was used by all and sundry as an alley. This meant constant wagon traffic and foot traffic, animal dung, mud, vagrants loitering, and people using the hidden space for illicit activities of all kinds.

So irritated was Hollensbury that he decided to get his revenge. He did the one thing that would make sure no one would disturb his peace or his sleep any longer—he built over the alley!

The resulting house was absolutely tiny. It stands less than 7 feet wide, not much more than a tall person laid end to end. There’s only 325 square feet of living space. To put that into perspective, the average American house bedroom is over 200 square feet! The house’s informal name is the “spite house.”

Though the house might have been originally designed and built with the desire to get rid of passersby and create more privacy, the house has found a new life in recent years. Bought by commercial real estate agent John Sammis in 1990, the house has a new life with this historical buff who also has a keen sense of design.

Sammis, his wife, Colleen, and his son Jake spent many a weekend in the tiny house and have come to grow incredibly fond of it. John Sammis loves the house for its incredible history as well as the opportunity it provides to show how much you can do with a small space.

Historical features abound in the tiny house. For instance, on the walls, which are actually just the exterior walls of the two houses that bordered the alley, you can still see the ruts and marks created by passing wagon wheels. The scraping and creaking of these wheels along the walls must have been part of what made owner John Hollensbury fed up with passing traffic!

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In terms of organizing the space, John Sammis has managed to pack a fully functional kitchen on the ground floor, complete with fridge, oven, and gas burners on the bottom and plenty of storage space for plates and kitchenware above.

Tucked behind the stairwell is extra bench seating, with a cabinet underneath to create more storage. While moving upstairs, Sammis pulled the incredible trick of getting a queen-sized bed in the bedroom! How did he do this? Instead of putting the long side facing out, he turned it sideways to make it fit.

But for Sammis, the real attraction of the house is the slender garden at the back. It’s 12 feet long but has just enough to add lots of space for entertaining and to give him and his family a break from the tight interior. The house stands as a fascinating historical monument and bridge to the future.

Imagine if we could all live well in such a small space! Regardless, one man’s spite definitely turned into another man’s treasure.

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