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Shotgun houses are simple residences that are rectangular in design and normally somewhat long and narrow. This type of house gained popularity during the 19th century, particularly in the American South. A typical shotgun house is identified by the absence of a hall in the structure, and an arrangement of rooms that makes it possible to move from the front room to the back using a series of doors. Simple and space efficient, this design was extremely popular in the days before the automobile, as it allowed people to live near work centers in larger cities.
The basic shotgun house plan calls for four rooms that are arranged within the rectangular design. The front of the house normally has a front door and window that make up the face of the residence. In most designs, the door is to one side, rather than in the center of the face, as is common with many other house designs. The window is placed on the opposing side of the face, providing the front of the shotgun house with a sense of balance.
With most homes of this type, the front door leads directly into a living room. On the wall opposite the front door, the first interior door leads into the next chamber, which is often a bedroom. The second interior door leads into a second bedroom, while a third door leads into the kitchen at the rear of the residence. A back door opens onto a small garden area at the back of the narrow lot. Usually, the interior doors would be in perfect alignment with the front and back doors, a characteristic that led to the name of the shotgun house, since it would be possible to fire a shotgun while standing in the front door frame and have the shot pass through the rooms and out the back door with ease.
While the shotgun house floor plans were based more on practicality than on charm, people sometimes would adapt the interiors to enhance the features of the space. Since many of these houses were built with tall ceilings, tall windows to let in plenty of natural sunlight became a common approach to making the rooms feel larger. It was not unusual for young couples with no children to rearrange the succession of rooms in an older shotgun house, by converting the first bedroom into a dining room, moving the kitchen into the third chamber, and situating a master bedroom at the rear of the home. If attic space was available, this would sometimes be converted into one or two small bedrooms for children, making the space relatively comfortable for a small family.
Renewed interest in simple living has led many to reconsider the qualities of a well-constructed shotgun house. The relatively cozy design helps to cut down on heating and cooling costs, makes it much easier to avoid accumulating a lot of clutter, and can be outfitted to function in a more environmentally friendly manner than many other home designs. With some newer shotgun homes designed to accommodate two floors instead of one, the opportunities to make the interior space unique and welcoming are greater than ever.
My grandparents lived in a little shotgun house when they got married in 1928. It was what they could afford. They eventually had a larger house that my grandfather and his brother built, but for a little while, they lived in a shotgun house.
Many people have added on to their shotgun houses, but if you travel nearly anywhere in the rural South, where there are still a lot of pre-1940 homes around, you will see shotgun houses. A lot of the homes in mill villages were of the shotgun variety. They didn't take up a lot of space and were cheap to build.
I live in the South and I've been in a lot of shotgun houses. They were very popular down here until probably the 1950s, when people started building in the ranch or bungalow style.
Sometimes, shotgun houses meant the residents were not very wealthy, and did the best they could with what they could afford. So they built the shotgun style to save space and money.
Houses built after about 1920 or so usually had indoor bathrooms, but the ones built before then might or might not, so when people bought them later, they had to either add a bathroom, or convert a bedroom into a bath. This would usually be the bedroom closest to the kitchen sink fixtures.