purple shotgun style house in New Orleans

Shotgun House: What It Is, Plus Characteristics And Appeal

Da'Vonne Duncan7-Minute Read
November 08, 2021

The tiny house movement is in full force!

These days tiny homes have been at the forefront of millennials' minds. Data analysts anticipate that the tiny house market will boom in the coming years. In 2017 alone, sales of tiny homes rose 67%, according to Go Downsize, a site that covers small space living. Despite the recent increase in popularity, minuscule dwelling is not a new phenomenon. Take a stroll through the historical boulevards of New Orleans, and you’re bound to see examples of the first tiny homes, known as shotgun houses.

You can easily spot these homes since they have a distinct look. They are covered in bright colors, have endless character and best of all, they’re drenched in history. At about 12 feet wide and 400 square feet, shotgun houses offer the desired small living space as a tiny home. Keep in mind, shotgun houses can’t necessarily be classified as tiny homes, since there’s room to go over the maximum square feet.

What’s A Shotgun House?

Shotgun houses were built to be efficient and affordable. When constructing them, developers had the objective to fit numerous homes on a small plot of land. This explains why shotgun houses have a long and narrow rectangular shape. The design of shotgun homes was thought to be innovative because it proved that you didn’t need a large living space to have necessities. This quintessential house style typically features one room but can have up to four bedrooms, depending on the square footage. Usually, historic shotguns contain up to two bedrooms.

The origination of the name “shotgun house” is not straightforward. However, the linear design of the house style could be a contributing factor. According to folklore, a bullet shot through the front door would exit the back door without striking anything. Others speculate that the term “shotgun” comes from the West African word “togun,” which means “house.”

A Brief History Of The Shotgun House

The history of shotgun houses is not crystal clear; however, it stems from sociology, Caribbean and geographical influences. The shotgun house style is believed to be created by West Africans in Haiti, who built dwellings resembling their homeland’s architecture when they were enslaved on coffee and sugar plantations. Their homeland’s architecture featured square rooms and rectangular buildings and generally lacked hallways. The West African structural design was combined with the house style of the Taino people to form the caille, a narrow house that usually has features like stucco walls, a gabled entrance and a thatched roof. The intermixing of cultural designs paved the way for the gabled entrances and shuttered windows that became prevalent characteristics of shotgun houses.

The house style found its way to New Orleans due to West Africans migrating from Haiti to Louisiana, following the end of the Haitian rebellion in 1804. You’ll find that shotgun houses are well-known in working-class African American communities in Southern cities where some families earned low incomes. During the ’60s and ’70s, most shotgun homes were destroyed during urban renewal planning, given that city planners viewed them as symbols of poverty. In 2005, many shotgun homes were swept away by Hurricane Katrina. Years after the devastation, heaps of surviving homes have been restored and new ones have even been constructed.

Shotgun House Floor Plans

Historical shotgun houses will have a cascading floor plan, which is one of the most noticeable characteristics of this kind of home. This means as soon as you open the front door, you’ll be entering the living room, followed by one to two rooms lined up right after each other, without a hallway insight, then a kitchen in the back. Since the shotgun houses don’t include hallways, you’d have to go through one room to get to the other. Here’s how you would navigate through the home: living room, bedroom, bedroom and kitchen. When shotgun houses were constructed in the early 1800s, indoor plumbing didn’t exist, which explains why bathrooms weren't included in the floor plan. When indoor plumbing was made available, bathrooms were eventually added to the back or side of the home.

The basic layout of the home was created to be practical for locals. The narrowness of the house allowed for cross breezes to provide natural ventilation, which was essential during the Southern heat.

Other Characteristics Of A Shotgun Style House

Shotgun houses have well-defined features that make them stand out from other house styles.

Long And Narrow

Shotgun homes are recognized as having a rectangle shape, with the width usually being 12 feet and the length being much longer. Shotgun homes can stretch up to three or four rooms.

Aligned Front And Back Doors

It’s not uncommon for the front door and back door of shotgun houses to be straight across from each other. This was done to facilitate proper ventilation by creating a cross breeze when both doors are open.

Few To No Windows On The Sides

Shotgun houses were built so close together, so the side of the homes may include one to two windows or no windows at all to promote privacy. Windows would serve no purpose anyway since the neighboring homes would block natural light.

Gabled Front Porch

Although privacy was important, African Americans emphasized the importance of community. The front porch was essentially a gathering place for neighbors to socialize. Not every shotgun house has a front porch, but if it’s included it will most likely have columns and a roof attached to it.

Various Style Influences

The architecture of shotgun houses has been impacted by various cultures, but most characteristics reflect Victorian homes, which feature decorative woodwork and vibrant colors.

  • The Greek Revival involves elaborate pilasters on each end of the columns and window pedants. Unlike other styles, the cornices may be plain, and a chimney is attached to the rear of the home.
  • The Italianate style has a flat roof and a symmetrical rectangular shape, with overarched moldings and balustraded balconies. The windows are usually narrow on the front of the home.
  • The Eastlake style has decorative touches that include cornice and brackets over the window. Beneath the cornice were wide stretches of moldings and vertical bands of the frieze are typically showcased throughout the home.
  • The Classical Revival style is also known as neoclassical, has an asymmetrical design and a front door in the center of the home. The front porch reaches full height with columns to support it.
  • The Bracketed style is the overall appearance of shotgun houses because this design features a lot of brackets on the front of the home. The brackets have a baroque style that supports the underside of the roof and extend beyond the exterior wall.

Types Of Shotgun Houses

As time progressed, different variations of shotgun homes were created to meet the increasing needs of their occupants.

Single Shotgun

This is the standard version for the shotgun house. The single is generally 12 feet wide and the length of three to four bedrooms, giving the home a shape of a rectangle. The front of the home may feature one to two windows, with shutters included and a gabled front porch.

Shotgun Double

The shotgun double, also known as a double-barrel home, is a variation on shotgun houses that developers utilized to save even more space on land plots. This type of home joins two shotgun homes that share a center wall, like a duplex. Therefore, instead of one front door and window, there are two. The double-barrel is known for keeping families united through generations, by having them separated under the same roof. Today, it is not uncommon for a shotgun double home to have the center wall removed to create a larger living area.

Camelback Shotgun

A camelback shotgun house, also known as a humpback, has a partial second floor over the back of the home. The floorplan of a camelback shotgun is very similar to one of a traditional shotgun, the difference is stairs were placed in the back room that led to the second floor. The purpose of the camelback was to increase the living space of the home.

Side Gallery Shotgun

A side gallery shotgun incorporates a hall or side porch on one side of the home. Typically, hallways are not included in shotgun houses.

Pros And Cons Of Shotgun Houses

While shotgun houses can be charming with their unique characteristics, they come with obstacles. If you’re contemplating living in this type of home, here’s what you should consider.

Pros

The floor plan of a shotgun house can have a few benefits. Below are some bonuses for living in a small space.

  • Affordable: The small square footage of this type of home can have a positive impact on your home buying cost. You could have the chance to set your home buying budget significantly low, unlike increasing it if you were to buy a bigger house.
  • Energy-efficient: For someone who wants to have a smaller carbon footprint, a shotgun may be a great option. The structure of shotgun homes has natural energy-efficiency. During scorching summers, warm air is pulled out freely to create natural ventilation.
  • Possible additions to your home: Homeowners have flexibility in how they want their homes to be arranged. They can create a camelback shotgun or use one of the bedrooms as a closet since older rooms didn’t include much storage space.
  • Very little yard maintenance: A shotgun home takes up most of the space on narrow lots, leaving very little room for grass. If maintaining a yard is something that you’re not interested in, you may want to consider buying this kind of house. You can have your own space with minimal upkeep.
  • Preserve a historic home: Most shotguns have been destroyed either by Hurricane Katrina or urban renewal. You if purchase this type of home, you'll be a part of restoring a city’s history.

Cons

Shotgun houses are typically older and may lack amenities that would normally be included in a modern home.

  • Lack of privacy: Due to original shotgun homes not having hallways, you must go through one bedroom to get the other, unless you’re living in a side gallery shotgun. This can decrease space for yourself and others.
  • Outdated design: Many shotgun homes require renovations that can lead to six figures. Despite being perfect opportunities for fixer-uppers, they may lack bathrooms, heating and air conditioning, which are costly upgrades. Some shotgun houses today still show damage from Hurricane Katrina.
  • Lack of backyard space: If you’re seeking a home with plenty of backyard space, this house style may not be for you. Keep in mind, the home takes up the majority (if not all) of the space on the lot, with little room for a lawn.

Where To Find Shotgun Houses

In the United States, shotgun homes are best known to be in New Orleans. However, this house style is prominent in other Southern cities like Houston, Charlotte, Nashville, Raleigh, Atlanta, Dallas and Louisville. Other cities across the U.S. have their versions of shotgun homes, but true variations are in the South. So, if you're considering buying a shotgun house, be sure to think about viewing properties in the Southern region.

The Bottom Line

Previously, shotgun homes had impacted structural design by utilizing every square foot of the home to include necessities. Over time, the shotgun has resurfaced into popularity as homeowners desire smaller living spaces that are affordable. To learn how you can buy this kind of house style, consult with a Verified Partner Agent.

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Da'Vonne Duncan

Da’Vonne Duncan is a Blog Writing Intern, covering lifestyle topics for the Publishing House. She has a passion for words and enjoys writing scripts, blogs, narratives, and poetry. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a concentration in digital video production, from Delaware State University.