The unique shapes of Minto’s back-split designs in the 60s and 70s

At first blush a back-split house may appear to be a side-split turned sideways. But, in reality, these designs are unique in their own right and provide solutions to the challenges that some bungalows present. For instance, bungalow designs that have the narrow edge towards the street commonly have the living spaces at the front of the home and the bedrooms facing the quieter rear yard. This arrangement means that the only way to access the yard is through the bedrooms or a side door. Raising the bedrooms half a flight above the main level opens up the lower level for the family room, sometimes even with access to the rear yard.

It may actually be hard to pick out some back-split homes, as they may not present as such from the front façade where the upper level is hidden behind a sloped roof, appearing as though they are bungalows. In other cases, the back level is made apparent as it pops out behind the main massing of the house. For example, the Ridgewood semi-detached design has a peaked roofline at the front and the upper level that pokes out behind in a dramatic way, plus there is a garage extending out to the side. When paired with the mirror-image house, this interplay of volumes and rooflines makes the houses resemble an airplane.

The Vermont detached design from the 1970s is in many ways inspired by the award-winning 1960s plan by the same name. The earlier version was a bungalow with side-door access to the rear yard. The updated home is a back-split with two large bedrooms on the upper level, plus two additional bedrooms and a family room with access to the yard on the level below. The kitchen eating area has a railing that overlooks the sunken family room, visually connecting the front rooms of the home with this lower level.

Winner of a Canadian Housing Design Council award in 1969, the Brunswick/Balmoral design has a notable centre-hall back-split design, which is an uncommon layout. The living level is similar to many of Minto’s two-storey centre-hall plans with the living room on one side and the kitchen and dining room on the other. Two bedrooms are located half a flight above the main level and two below. The combined space afforded to the bedrooms is larger than the main floor footprint and thus would not be possible in the case of a two-storey house by placing them above the main floor. This plan is also different compared to many back-split designs as the lower level does not have a family room, and access to the rear yard is through a side door in the kitchen. 

Designed with the wide side facing the road, the Moncton is a unique plan where the living spaces span across the front of the house, including the kitchen, which has a window overlooking the front yard. The back section of the house is narrower, so the living room has direct access to the rear yard. Three family bedrooms are located on the upper level, and below is the master bedroom and family room with a second access point to the rear yard. Split-level homes have become less common with time, but have seen a re-emergence in a different form in recent years as side-splits with living rooms located above the garage, a half level above the main floor.