The spectrum of reasons for building a narrow house is pretty wide.
Some of the world's skinniest homes went up out of spite, like a 7-foot-wide house in Virginia built by a 17th century homeowner who wanted to keep his neighbors from using the alley near his property. Others, like London's "Gap House," were built by curious architects who wanted to take on a challenging space. Then there's Keret House in Warsaw, Poland, which was constructed as a sober reminder of the tragedies that took place there during World War II and a symbol of how the area has moved forward.
Regardless of why a thin home was constructed, its inhabitants are forced to invent creative strategies for accomplishing day-to-day tasks -- and avoiding claustrophobia.
Here are nine homes that challenge how much space people really need to live.
Skinny House – Boston, Massachusetts
This four-story, 964-square-foot building at 44 Hull Street is the skinniest house in Boston. The property gets narrower from front to back, with a width that varies slightly between about 9 and 10 feet and floors separating the rooms rather than doors.
A few different legends explain why the historic home was originally constructed -- and why in such a weird spot. One story says it was built by a Tory (someone who remained loyal to Britain) who wanted to obstruct his patriot neighbor's view. Another story says it was built by a Civil War soldier who came home, found out his brothers had built on the land he had inherited and wanted to block their views out of spite.
75 ½ Bedford Street – New York, New York
Famous occupants of this 9.5-foot-wide townhome at 75 ½ Bedford Street in New York's Greenwich Village have included poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, anthropologist Margaret Mead, cartoonist William Steig and actors Cary Grant and John Barrymore. Built in 1873, the red brick property is said to be the narrowest home in the city. It features a spiral staircase, a trapdoor leading to a finished basement and a surprisingly large backyard garden.
The 3,400-square-foot home sold for a whopping $3.25 million in August 2013.
Kanonia 20-22 – Warsaw, Poland
During World War II, the Nazis almost completely destroyed the Old Town area of Warsaw, Poland. Since then, its buildings have been carefully rebuilt, restoring a good deal of its architectural charm. This skinny, 17th-century home at 20-22 Kanonia Street, which was rebuilt in 1959 to match its original design, is just slightly wider than its front door.
According to Elle Décor, its unusual construction was a strategy for avoiding property taxes. With a tax system based on the width of a home's front-facing façade and the number of windows it had, this property probably saved its original owners a lot of złoty.
Hollensbury Spite House – Alexandria, Virginia
Homes all over the world have been built out of spite, but the little blue Hollensbury House in Alexandria, Virginia, is one of the most famous -- mostly because of the story behind it. Original owner John Hollensbury built the 7-foot-wide, two-story property in 1830 because he was tired of people and horse-drawn carriages using the alleyway next to his house. Apparently, there is still evidence of wagon wheels brushing up against the walls.
Singel 166 – Amsterdam, Netherlands
When the historic, red brick Singel 166 was built in Amsterdam, property taxes were based on the width of a home's street-facing side. With that in mind, the narrowest house in the city was built with a 6-foot-wide front entrance and designed to expand as the owner moved inward. Like many narrow homes, this townhouse overlooking the canal is sandwiched between two larger properties. It's a common tour stop for visitors but is still a privately owned residence.
(Nearly) 7-foot-wide house – London, England
This two-bedroom, one-bathroom house in the Haringey area of northern London just 6-feet, 11-inches wide, but it has a rooftop terrace despite limited indoor space. It was built in a driveway in 1996.
Keret House – Warsaw, Poland
Keret House, designed by architect and Centrala collective co-founder Jakub Szczesny in Warsaw, Poland, is an art installation that bridges the gap between two worlds: The 4-foot-wide, approximately 150-square-foot house is wedged in a former Jewish ghetto area between a pre-war apartment building and a post-war co-op. The house is named after Israeli author Etgar Keret, whose short stories inspired the project.
While Polish law keeps the tiny home from being a permanent residence -- its narrowest spot is just 35 inches wide -- Keret and Szczesny made it a temporary homestay for traveling writers.
9-foot-wide house – Washington, D.C.
Unlike most narrow homes, the skinniest residence in Washington, D.C., is wider at the front than it is in the back. Its front-facing side starts at 9 feet across, but the space inside is just 8 feet wide. The home has one bedroom, 1.5 bathrooms, 1,050 square feet of space total and a finished basement.
Gap House – London, England
Gap House, designed in 2007 by Pitman Tozer Architects' Luke Tozer in the Bayswater area of London, is 8 feet wide and four stories tall. Originally there was a small 1950s cottage on the "gap" lot between two other homes, and Tozer took on the project of renovating it when he and his wife Charlotte learned they were expecting their first child, according to architecture and design site Dwell.
In addition to modernizing the look and feel of the property, Tozer also added environmentally sustainable features like a ground-source heat pump, rainwater harvesting system, automated skylights, wool insulation and energy-efficient glazing.