Big House® Concept: A Closer Look

September 30, 2015 3:56 pm Published by Comments Off on Big House® Concept: A Closer Look

Northwest Oklahoma City is now home to the metro’s first Big House® concept stacked-flat apartment complex. The first of its kind in Oklahoma City and just the third in the state, the J Marshall Square townhome-style community will join a growing array of Big House® complexes across the nation as a multi-family housing solution gaining significant traction over the last two decades, and for good reason. Pioneered by Humphreys & Partners Architects out of Dallas, the Big House® concept offers the best of both single-family and multi-family housing aspects, in a unique, livable design.

Townhome apartment design at J Marshall Square


Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P., delivers Big House® designs as one of the most distinctive brand offerings. Specializing in multi-family, student housing,  mixed-use development plans, hospitality and resort designs, Humphreys & Partners created the Big House® design in 1995 when an apartment developer presented HPA CEO Mark Humphreys with a challenge.

“The roots of the design go back to the mid-1990s when Humphreys had been hired to design the Mapleshade Residences in Dallas. The developer wanted six units with two car garages for each. Not wanting to stack apartments on top of garages, Humphreys got creative, moving a couple garages to the back of the building, eliminating breezeways and stairways and creating separate entrances for all the units.”

The changes to the design resulted in the building looking more like a typical single family residence – a big house – than boxy apartment units. The client was intrigued by the unique design proposition, so Humphreys & Partners pursued it further.

Mapleshade Residences in Dallas, Texas
The Mapleshade Residences in Dallas, Texas

“We made one apartment door look like the entrance to a house, and we put two others on either end facing the other way for privacy.  We added a dormer window over one unit, and we took away all the boring uniformity that typically exists in an apartment design.  The result was a very viable, very buildable design that people wanted to live in,” adds Humphreys.

Since then, Humphreys & Partners has become well known in the industry for this particular product, and to date, the Big House® accounts for 9 billion dollars of construction across the nation from 300 projects and counting.  Some of the largest multi-family corporations across the U.S. have adopted the Big House® idea into their developments, including Gardner Tanenbaum Holdings, the developers of Oklahoma’s latest Big House® project, J Marshall Square.


Although it technically falls into the multi-family housing category, the Big House® product is aptly named for its appearance and its design makes it almost a hybrid of apartment, townhome, and single-family home living. From the main vantage point, the exterior seems strikingly similar to a stately 3,500-square-foot house with a 3-car garage. From bay windows, porches, and dormers to stone chimneys, gables, and alternating rooflines, the building features stand out from standard apartment units.

Humphreys & Partners can customize each design to include between six and ten units per building. Most units include 1- or 2-car garages for both first and second floor tenants, and each unit always has a secluded ground level entrance that is not shared with other tenants. Per Big House® specifications, buildings always have two stories, enclosed private staircases to every upper unit, direct access to units from their respective garages, and no shared breezeways or open corridors. Larger floor plans boast spacious walk-in master closets and formal dining areas in addition to the standard breakfast nook. Units also include walk-out patios and balconies along with extra storage options to mimic elements of a traditional home.

Townhome near lake lit at night


Big House® projects have inherent advantages over typical apartment complexes, not only for developers, but for the community constituents and residents as well. In terms of construction costs, the units are comparatively easy to build and cost around $105 per square foot. The increase in construction cost is proportionate to how the sales or leasing prices increase, making the concept a logical choice for building. According to Mark Humphreys, “Construction firms have said that Big House® apartment designs are no more difficult to build than normal breezeway-style apartments. It’s a 100% efficient building because we’re not building anything that’s not usable space.”

The townhome-style apartments can be leased or sold, are a workable solution for HUD and affordable housing, and offer a multi-family alternative that works in more traditional for-sale markets. Because of their more appealing aesthetics, communities tend to be more accepting of Big House® complexes over typical apartments, and Humphreys & Partners has also seen perks in the planning phases.

“Permitting on the Big House® designs also emerged as an advantage.  Neighborhoods originally opposed to apartment developments embraced the Big House®.  Developers liked it too, as completed complexes filled to capacity, providing more access to future project financing.”

Residents of Big House® units enjoy the best of both worlds, as the complexes take cues from both multi-family and single-family setups. The direct access garages and private entrances ensure safety. Small but meaningful features like doorbells at each front door and named streets instead of parking lots that give each unit a separate, singular street address support the mindset that this is truly a resident’s home, not just their unit. With leasing options, tenants can enjoy most of the benefits of traditional home living without the maintenance and liability of home ownership but with the amenities of an apartment complex, such as pools, workout facilities, dog parks, and clubhouses. For these reasons, Big House® apartments appeal to not only young singles, but also to young families, the dual-income-no-kids demographic, and empty-nesters looking to downsize and shed the responsibilities that go along with maintaining land.

Other Locations

With a scheduled move-in-ready date of February 2016, Humphreys & Partners’ latest central Oklahoma project, J Marshall Square, will bring a new class of living to apartments in Northwest Oklahoma City. Tulsa residents can already experience the Big House® lifestyle in one of two communities recently established there. Elsewhere in the South and Midwest, Big House® communities have been developed throughout Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. In states with significant multi-family occupancy like Nevada and Florida, Big House® complexes offer a more upscale yet still affordable option for those looking to sidestep home maintenance. In California and on the East Coast, where housing costs can rise well above the national average, developers have enjoyed the perks of affordable construction and steady occupancy rates with the Big House® concept.

Big House® concept townhome

No matter where these stacked-flats emerge, communities seem to embrace the Big House® concept more willingly than they would other multi-family options. Every complex is still designed by Humphreys & Partners, but no two developments look the same.

“Over the past 20+ years, the Humphreys’ team has worked with individual developers to design their projects to fit in with the local surroundings and architecture.  From sleek and modern in Palm Springs to a stately manor look for Virginia, each Big House® project is designed to mesh seamlessly with its environment.”

A Modern Multi-Family Solution

The Big House® concept makes sense for all stakeholders involved. Developers like the customization options and the financial advantages that these stacked-flats offer in a volatile real estate market. Neighborhoods embrace them because they promote a community-oriented lifestyle, and on a property surrounded by single-family homes, Big House® condominiums will blend with the existing residences better than the typical 3-story, boxy, generic apartment home complex. Residents love the amenities, safety, and best-of-both-worlds aspects.  The award-winning Big House® concept from Humphreys & Partners Architects is the modern solution to multi-family housing challenges.

J Marshall Square’s Big House® apartments are now available in Oklahoma City! Reserve your spot today.

Apply Now

Edit This