Vancouver Specials are front-gabled, 2-storey, boxy houses built on grade with very shallow-pitched roofs that are sometimes split to create a clerestorey. They have a distinctive shallow balcony on the second floor accessed from sliding glass doors. On the main floor, the front door is usually set to one side, making them very easy to split into up-down duplexes. Cladding is typically decorative brick on the ground floor front façade, stucco above.
The Vancouver Special is the only house style that developed in Greater Vancouver, found nowhere else. They were built by the thousands between 1965 and 1985. They were a response to the City of Vancouver’s setback by-laws and the allowable building envelope of the time. This stated that the basement did not need to be considered when calculating maximum square footage of a home. As a result, the design of the Special maximizes the square footage of a home on the narrow lots of the city at a low cost. This made them very widespread. The plans were particularly popular with multi-generational households. The unfinished basement allowed for the addition of rental suites or living space for more family members. Although the Vancouver Special had a negative reputation because of their boxy design, they were a practical choice.
- Front-gabled, very shallow pitched roof
- Boxy 2-storey shape
- Full-width balcony on second floor
- Built on grade
- Slider windows
- Cladding usually decorative brick on ground floor facade, stucco above
- Ground level front door set to one side
- Front door usually carved double doors
The most common form for the Special is an all stucco house with the lower façade in brick (or sometimes stone) veneer. Some houses are wood paneled with a change in configuration on the façade and the stucco is painted to match the wood stain. Balcony railings are most often iron or aluminum – often repeated in the fencing in front. Original windows are usually aluminum. Vestigial coach lamps are often found to the inside upper corner of the living room window on the upper floor. Guardian statues (especially lions rampant) often prevail, mounted at the front gate or stairs.