What Is a Carriage House? How to Recognize This Historic Home Design

Paige Bennett
Written by Paige Bennett
Updated May 12, 2022
A view of a modern carriage house
Photo: guteksk7 / Adobe Stock


  • Carriage houses date back to 18th century England.

  • This type of building was originally built to store horse-drawn carriages and stable equipment.

  • High ceilings and lofted living spaces are common for carriage houses.

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Ready for a home design history lesson? A carriage house, also called a coach house or cart shed, was once a status symbol of the wealthy back in 18th century England. But as cars took over as the main mode of transportation, these historical buildings slowly became ways to add more storage or living spaces to homes. 

Today, carriage houses serve various purposes, from a home gym to a work studio. Learn more about the telltale characteristics of a carriage house, plus how to design and build a carriage house of your own.

The History of Carriage Houses

Carriage houses were originally used in Britain around the 1700s, and they functioned similar to stables, with space to store horses as well as carriages. Some carriage houses even had living quarters where carriage drivers would sleep. Having a carriage house on one’s property was often associated with wealth, considering how expensive carriages were, not to mention the means required to hire a carriage driver.

The carriage house started to become popular in the United States during the mid-1800s as people relied on horse-drawn carriages for transportation. But by the 1920s, the popularity of motor vehicles made storing horses and carriages less of a necessity. Still, carriage houses evolved to serve as detached garages and living spaces.

Modern Carriage Houses

Nowadays, carriage houses serve many purposes. Many carriage houses are often used as guest houses, accessory dwelling units, in-law suites, and other similar structures. They can also be converted into a work office, a studio, a home gym, or a storage space.

Although carriage houses can be found in many places across the country, they are most common in the Northeast, especially in New York. Keep in mind that carriage houses differ from carriage homes, which is a type of single-family dwelling.

Key Elements of Carriage House Design

A view of a modern carriage house
Photo: karamysh / Adobe Stock

Modern carriage houses often refer to a detached garage structure with a lofted living area on the upper floor. The original carriage houses had to be open and spacious with large doors that could fit the carriages and horses. Check out these key elements of carriage house design.

Two-Story Structure

One main characteristic of carriage houses is that they are two-story structures. The building’s height provided more space for carriages and allowed room for living quarters on the upper floor for the carriage driver.

High Ceilings

Along with the second-story design, carriage houses also have high ceilings. This feature was necessary for accommodating a carriage and creating lofted space above the carriage and horses. In modern carriage houses, the high ceilings create an open, airy feel.

Open Floor Plan

Carriage drivers would need to navigate the carriage and horses into and around the structure easily, so carriage houses typically have open floor plans rather than walls separating different rooms. Luckily, this design element also makes this house type attractive to modern homeowners.

Large Doors

You needed a pretty large door to navigate horses and a carriage into a building. Carriage houses characteristically have tall, wide doors that would offer plenty of room to prevent the carriage from getting stuck. 

Lofted Living Area

Carriage houses on large, often rural, properties, were built to have enough room to house the carriage driver. The living and sleeping quarters were usually small, though, and lofted above where the carriage and horses were stored. In modern carriage houses, the lofted area provides additional square footage for the homeowner to fill.

Mirrors the Style of Nearby Buildings

Throughout history, carriage houses were built to match or complement other buildings on the property. A carriage house would look like a miniature version of the main house, with the same siding color, trim, roof material, and windows.


Carriage houses are freestanding and not to be confused with carriage homes. While a carriage house is a historical type of architecture, carriage home is a marketing term. Carriage home refers to single-family homes that often share walls with neighboring buildings, like townhouses. Carriage houses are detached from other buildings.

Front-Facing Windows

Original carriage houses only had windows on the front of the building, meaning natural light didn’t reach very far into the structure. Now, you can design a carriage house to have as many or few windows as you prefer.

How to Incorporate Carriage House Design into Your Home

A view of a house with a detached garage
Photo: Javani LLC / Adobe Stock

If you want to add a carriage house on your property, you’ll want to hire a garage builder near you to get started. Alternatively, you can hire a local garage modeling company to convert your existing detached garage into a living space, like a carriage house.

Building a carriage house can add value to your home by providing more square footage that can be used as a garage, a guest house, a work studio, an in-law suite, and much more. If you decide to rent out a carriage house, you can also earn extra income.

If you want your carriage house to honor the design’s history, plan for a two-story home with tall ceilings and an open floor plan. A lofted upstairs space is also common to the traditional design. Make sure the added structure matches or complements the exterior of your home with similar colors, trims, and roofs. A statement door placed in the center of the front wall and is tall and wide is another design feature typical to historical carriage houses.

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