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What Is a Carriage House, and Is It the Right Investment for You?

If you see the term "carriage house" in a real estate context, here's what it means.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Apr 15, 2020 by Matt Frankel, CFP
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If you're in the market for a larger property, you may see some real estate listings that indicate the presence of a carriage house on the grounds. Or if you're looking for a smaller house, you might see the term used to describe the home itself. Here's a rundown of what a carriage house is, how carriage houses are used today, and other ways you might see the term used.

What is a carriage house?

A carriage house, also commonly referred to as a coach house, is a building separate from a main home that was originally built to store horse-drawn carriages and related equipment. Some carriage houses also included stables for horses, but in most cases the barns or stables that housed the horses were built separately. Carriage houses were particularly popular in the Northeastern U.S. in days before the widespread adoption of the automobile.

Carriage houses were typically constructed with a large, central doorway in order to get horse-drawn carriages in and out of the building, and the building typically had large doors and high ceilings. Some carriage houses were also built with living quarters for staff, especially in the case of carriage houses for large estates.

In simple terms, think of a carriage house as the "detached garage" of its day. But instead of storing a motor vehicle, it housed the most modern form of transportation of the time.

Carriage houses today

Obviously, most people don't need to keep horses for transportation at their homes today, especially in urban areas, where many homes with carriage houses were built. However, many people still find them to be architecturally attractive, and lots of carriage houses have been converted to other uses over the years. Just to name a few examples:

Many carriage houses have been converted to guest houses or apartments, or since they have big carriage house garage doors, into detached car garages. Some carriage houses are used as home offices or workshops or simply for general storage purposes.

Some carriage houses have been converted into stand-alone houses and have been legally separated from the original property.

Many carriage houses are used as commercial spaces, such as this one in Charleston, South Carolina, which is used as an event venue, or this carriage house in Pennsylvania that operates as a restaurant.

Other uses of the term

As a final thought, over the years the term "carriage house" has become somewhat synonymous with the idea of elegant or old-fashioned living. So, you may see uses of the term that have nothing to do with an actual carriage house.

For example, there's an apartment community in my city (Columbia, South Carolina) called the Carriage House Apartments, even though none of the buildings has ever been -- or even resembles -- an actual carriage house.

It's also quite common to refer to a newly built outbuilding that is used as a garage, a place for guests to sleep, or as an accessory living unit as a carriage house, especially if it uses a similar architectural style as what might have been used for an actual carriage house, such as a large garage door or doors. However, it's important to point out that the term technically refers to outbuildings whose original intended purpose was to store horse-drawn carriages used by residents of the main house.

Finally, some single-family homes that sit on small lots are often referred to as carriage homes. They may or may not bear an architectural resemblance to actual carriage houses, but the term "carriage homes" typically refers to modern-construction homes that never actually served as carriage homes.

The Millionacres bottom line

Carriage houses are an important part of American architecture, and they are still in use today, although generally not for their originally intended purpose. And the term has been expanded to include other types of buildings beyond its original meaning, so it's important to know the distinction between an actual carriage house and a building that is simply called a carriage house.

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