Close-up of a brick carriage house's characteristic garage doors.

What Is A Carriage House? Everything You Need To Know

Holly Shuffett5 minute read
UPDATED: March 22, 2023

What do 18th century England and 2008’s “Another Cinderella Story” have in common? Carriage houses of course! The former serves as the birthplace of carriage style homes while the latter shows off what a modern spin can look like. 

So, what is a carriage house? If this dwelling is entirely new to you, read on to learn more about carriage houses and the different ways they can benefit homeowners. 

Carriage House Style Characteristics

To better understand what features are unique to a carriage house – also called a “coach house” or a “cart shed” – and what benefits it can offer, let’s take a look at its characteristics. 

It’s important to note that in your carriage house research you may see the terms “carriage house” and “carriage home” used interchangeably. While this is generally acceptable, in some cases a “carriage home” may be referring to something else entirely, so be wary of context. 

A carriage home is a term sometimes used in marketing verbiage to describe single-family homes that share walls with neighboring units, much like a townhouse or a condo. Just keep in mind that the carriage homes described in this article refer to the freestanding structure that share property with a larger main house. 

Exterior Characteristics 

Here are some of the most common exterior characteristics of a carriage home: 

  • Complementary design: Carriage homes are typically built in the same design and style as the property’s main house. Not only does it look nice, but this cohesion also honors carriage houses of the past which usually had harmonious architectural styles. 
  • Freestanding structure: Carriage houses are best known for their self-contained, freestanding living space. Today, most carriage houses are attached to a separate garage and provide homeowners with additional parking space or storage. 
  • Large and tall: Since carriage homes were originally built to store carriages, horses, and eventually large automobiles, they’re relatively large with an abundance of open, uninterrupted space.

Interior Characteristics

Here are some main characteristics of a carriage home’s interior that you should expect before deciding how to best use the extra space: 

  • High ceilings: Most carriage houses were built with high, lofty ceilings to accommodate sizable carriages. Some carriage homes may have ceilings as tall as twenty feet. 
  • Two stories / lofted space: Most carriage homes have their residential space on the second floor of the house. Contemporary designs include a kitchen, bathroom, and living area. 
  • Open-concept: Spaciousness is a carriage home staple that’s carried over into modern designs. 

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Are Carriage Houses Accessory Dwelling Units?

Accessory dwelling units (ADU) are broadly defined as extra living space on a main property. So, yes, carriage homes are a type of ADU. 

ADUs cannot be sold as their own real estate separate from the main home – which is also true of most standard carriage houses. Carriage houses, shed conversions, or basement apartments are all examples of accessory dwelling units. It’s becoming increasingly common for homeowners to use ADUs to generate a passive income. 

The History Behind Carriage Homes

The origins of carriage houses are rooted both in everyday functionality and as status symbols that could be flaunted. As horse-drawn carriages became standard for Great Britain’s wealthy during the 1700s, so too became the place to house them. 

More commonly referred to as “cart sheds” during this time, carriage houses were built to store the carriage, coachman, and necessary equipment to maintain the carriage. Typically, this also included a private stable for horses and the gear and resources required for their upkeep. 

While this may not seem dissimilar from modern day’s car garage – a dedicated space to store our transportation, right? – horse-drawn carriages were a luxury in and of themselves. And carriage houses were indeed a status symbol used to show off one’s riches. 

It wasn’t until the 1800s that carriage houses also began to flourish in the United States as horse-drawn carriages made their way overseas. When automobiles rose in use during the late 1880s, carriage houses transformed into luxe garages and began to house chauffeurs or drivers instead of coachmen. 

According to Masterclass, carriage houses of today are most commonly found in the northeast United States and across New England. 

What Do Modern-Day Carriage Houses Look Like?

These days carriage houses can fill an abundance of needs beyond storing cars or horses. And now that carriage houses are being used for residents, guests or leisure, many modern comforts have also been added. This includes more natural light, electrical and plumbing, and depending on the house plan, even a patio or deck area. 

Here are some of popular uses for a modern carriage house: 

  • Home office: With such an influx in screen time and remote work, making sure that you can separate your work life from your personal life has become a serious challenge. Physically separating your home office from the rest of your home is a great way to avoid taking your work home with you. 
  • Guest house: If “The O.C.” taught us anything, it's that having spare living quarters can certainly help with unexpected guests. Using a carriage home as a guest house is a great way to offer visitors some extra privacy – which can be especially nice for extended stays. 
  • Rentals or homestays: Whether you live in an area popular among tourists or you can simply meet a demand for housing in your area, having a living space that can be rented out is a great way to generate passive income for your household. Renovating or building a carriage house is a residential investment that could certainly pay off in the long run – just be sure to understand your area’s zoning laws and regulations for ADUs before moving forward. 

How Much Do Carriage Houses Cost?

The cost of buying or building a carriage house ranges greatly depending on your wants, location and house plan. Generally speaking, building a carriage house will be cheaper upfront than buying one outright – though it can cost you more down the line in labor and nonconventional mortgage rates. 

Here are some other things to consider that can affect the cost of your carriage house:

  • Are you going to do the work yourself or outsource labor? 
  • Do you have land ready to build or will it need to be leveled and prepped?
  • Do you want to build from the ground up or are you interested in a prefabricated carriage house kit?
  • What is your area’s legislation regarding carriage houses? What fees are involved? 
  • Are you interested in an energy-efficient build that has green technology? 

The cost of a carriage house purchase or build are so varied based on the homeowner’s wants, but you can expect anywhere from $45,000 – $65,000 on average. 

The Bottom Line

While carriage houses originated as a symbol of wealth reserved for the upper crust, they now provide many homeowners with a unique income opportunity or extra space to get more enjoyment out of their home. 

Read more about popular house styles today to see if you think a carriage home is the right fit for you. 

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Holly Shuffett

Holly Shuffett is a staff writer who writes with a focus on homeownership and personal finance. She has a B.A. in public relations from Oakland University and enjoys creative writing and reading in her free time.