House Design

America's smallest house is just one of many spite houses, built to confound the neighbors

The Spite House is America's smallest house at just 7ft wide. Curiously, it's not its size but its fascinating history that actually makes it – and others like it – really interesting

America's smallest house – The Spite House
(Image credit: The Spite House)

Spite houses are fascinating buildings, erected, not primarily for occupation, but to confound neighbors or to annoy locals. And they include America's smallest house, The Spite House in Queen Street, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

This historic home is just 7ft wide and around 25ft deep, and 325 sq ft in total across its two stories. Painted bright blue, it's a tourist attraction that Alexandria is rightly proud of. And, as you might hope, it comes with a history as fascinating as its proportions. Read on to find out more.

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The Spite House was built in 1830 by John Hollensbury, a city council member and brickmaker who owned the houses either side. But he wasn't building the house to gain more space for a growing family... instead, he built it to block the alley that ran between the houses so that careless horse-drawn wagon drivers whose wheels had already damaged the exterior walls his homes would no longer have access. He was also bothered by noisy people gathering in the alley.

Hollensbury didn't work too hard on the structure of The Spite House – if anything he merely blocked the alley at either end, using the brick walls of the existing houses to provide the side walls. The gouges made by the wagon wheels were never repaired, and add character of the living room walls, something that's appreciated by the owners, who renovated it around 10 years ago. 

The Spite House in 1924, below

So what's it like inside? Amazingly, it packs a lot of punch for a home that bears the title of America's smallest house. 

As you go through the front door, you enter the living room, with its charming exposed ceiling beams, painted brick walls and mantel, creating a faux fireplace the sofa and armchair group around. Beyond the living space, there is a narrow staircase to the second floor. 

There is a cupboard under the stairs with space for a microwave oven on top; on the opposite wall of this narrowest of galley kitchens is a kitchen counter, which houses a range, a kitchen sink, a refrigerator and freezer. Next to the cupboard under the stairs is a wooden kitchen table, pushed against the wall. Space is tight but there's room for two to dine comfortably, three or four at a push. Clever use is made of vertical space, with high shelves for display of antique artefacts. 

Beyond the kitchen is a pretty patio garden, accessed through French doors.

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Upstairs, the hallway is lined with storage cupboards. In fact, clever storage is a running theme upstairs, with cupboard space even found for a stacked washer-dryer. The bedroom at the front of The Spite House has just enough space for a double bed, pushed against the wall. At the back of the house is a bathroom with a handsome roll top, freestanding bath. 

The Skinny House – another tiny spite house

A close runner up for the title of America's smallest house is The Skinny House in Boston (above). Unsurprisingly, it's also a spite house. This 10ft wide property on Hull Street in Boston went on sale back in 2017 for an amazing $895,000. The house, with its four stories, does boast more space – 1,166 square feet to be exact – and has a back yard and roof terrace. 

According to local legend – and it's just the most interesting one that circulates – the house stands on land that was left to two brothers by their father. While one was away serving in the American Civil War, the other took advantage, building himself a large home on the plot, certain that there was no room for a house to be built next to it. The soldier is said to have returned from war and built the narrow house out of spite, blocking his brother's views and sunlight. 

Which is the most famous spite house?

Arguably, the most famous of the spite houses is the Richardson Spite House that used to sit on Lexington Avenue in New York. This four story, 5ft wide house was built in 1882, but demolished in 1915. 

Its owner, Joseph Richardson, built it after the owner of the plot next door, a Hyman Sarner, tried – and failed – to buy the plot for just $1,000. Richardson asked for $5,000 but was refused. So, he built the apartment building that, although tiny, contained eight suites he could lease out profitably.