Spite Thy Neighbor


Pictured above is two or three houses, depending on how one defines the term “house.” The middle one — the tiny, blue one, which if you didn’t know better, looks like it’d be a good fit for a Smurf — isn’t really much of a house at all. It’s only seven feet wide and 25 feet deep, encapsulating less than 400 square feet. There’s a second story but there are no side windows. And while someone lives there (sometimes), the original owner never intended for that to happen.

He just wanted people to leave him alone.

The house is in Alexandria, Virginia, and dates back to 1830. Its story is pretty straight-forward. One of the two adjacent homeowners, a man named John Hollensbury, was upset — others were using the alleyway between the houses as a parking lot for horse-drawn carriages, and to make matters worse, the tiny alley also tended to attract all sorts of loiterers. Hollensbury’s solution was to put a wall (with a door and two windows) on the street-side of the alley, another wall in the rear, and a roof over the top. Using the exterior brick walls of the white and red houses for the sides — why spend on unnecessary construction for a “home” you never intend anyone to live in? — Hollensbury created a house-like structure which kept the riff-raff out. The structure became known as the “Spite House” shortly thereafter, given its intended purpose.

But the best intentions of spiteful homeowners often end up with unintended results, and this is no exception.

The Alexandria Spite House is not only still there, but it’s owned and to some degree, occupied. The current owners (as of 2008), per the New York Times, purchased the house in 1990 to use it as a pied-a-terre and regularly entertain there. More impressively, the previous owners used the house as their primary residence for 25 years. They made some renovations to do so, of course, but the building is still minimalistic. The walls still have wagon wheel marks and the tiny attic was retrofitted to include a small HVAC system. Utility bills run, in total, about $50 a month, and sleeping there has been likened to the experience one would have in a cabin on a cruise ship. And the current owners’ dinner parties have a built-in guest limit, as the house can only hold about a dozen people.

It’s not open for tours, so even if you’re in town, you can’t visit the Alexandria Spite House, sorry. But there’s good news — this isn’t the world’s only “spite house.” There are plenty of other examples. Mental Floss has a list of the one above and eight others, which you can check out here. And Wikipedia chronicles some others, including a once-famous but now-demolished Manhattan one (this one), here.

Bonus Fact: In 2008, a small private school in Alexandria, Virginia sent a letter home to students of third, fourth, and fifth graders, regretfully informing the parents of those children that they were accidentally served alcohol. The Washington Post explained: “It was tequila and margarita mix, to be precise, left in the refrigerator in a pitcher and mistaken for limeade by kitchen staff, who poured it into small cups and served it to children as a lunch treat.” None of the students complained of hangovers the next day.

From the ArchivesTeen-Away: Using science, not architecture, to keep away young loiterers.

Related: “Tiny House Living: Ideas For Building and Living Well In Less than 400 Square Feet,” the perfect book for the would-be owner of the Alexandria Spite House. 4.6 stars on 38 reviews.