Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between rounding up historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
Popularized in the mid- to late-19th century, shotgun houses have a distinctive shape and layout. Just one room wide, living spaces, kitchen, and bedroom are arranged enfilade (a fancy term meaning that all doors line up and create the appearance of a “hallway” where there is none) along a common axis, creating a house that is not unlike a railroad-style apartment in a city.
The front door of the shotgun house always opens onto the living room, which then leads to the bedroom with the kitchen in back. Central chimneys efficiently allow for back-to-back fireplaces in the row of rooms.
That row of rooms has given rise to a myth surrounding the genesis of the the term “shotgun house:” An unsubstantiated rumor is that someone could fire a shotgun from the front door and have the bullet exit the back door without hitting a single wall.
Shotgun houses are scattered about the American south, but they are most typical in New Orleans. Instead of a yard, shotgun homes generally have a small porch that immediately abuts the street with just a few steps leading to the front door. The houses were built in a variety of architectural styles, too, from Greek Revival to Victorian, which reflects how their popular form spanned multiple architectural movements.
While it’s easy to identify the form of a shotgun house, its architectural heritage is a bit hazy. The shotgun house was most likely influenced by Haitian architecture, specifically the caille, a Haitian residential style typified by a gabled front and narrow width.
Haitian independence in 1804 kicked off a wave of immigration, including free people relocating to Louisiana and the enslaved, who were forced to move with emigrating plantation owners. The shotgun house appeared not too long afterward.
Other factors may have influenced the shotgun house’s distinct shape: Its compact form agreed with growing cities and narrow urban lots. And its layout, with many windows and doors, promoted ample cross-ventilation—a necessary feature in a warm climate before the advent of modern air conditioning.
As the 20th century came and went, so too did the popularity of the shotgun house. A remarkable number are still intact—and in various states of preservation. Here are three in New Orleans up for grabs right now. And if you’re one for real estate in New Orleans, be sure to head over to Curbed New Orleans for more gorgeous old homes.
905 Poland Avenue (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, $360,000)
If you want a lesson in appropriately balancing historic charm and modern convenience, look no further. The 1894 home—which is recognized by the Historic District Landmark Commission—has a colorful exterior adorned with Victorian woodwork. The Victorian mantle remains in the living room, and other fireplaces—sadly, sans mantle—are in the bedroom and kitchen.
The house is purpose built for New Orleans’s warm climate (never mind the multiple fireplaces): Six-over-six sash windows align perfectly on the sides of the house; the ceilings are tall, and the doorways are capped by transoms that can be opened and shut. All are clever architectural moves to promote air circulation.
332 Olivier Street (3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, $424,900)
There were, of course, variations on the shotgun house. One such example is the double shotgun—sometimes referred to as the “double-barrel shotgun.” This was essentially two shotgun houses with a common wall, which allowed for even greater housing density.
A telltale sign of the double shotgun is the presence of two front doors opening onto a common porch, as seen at this 1860-built home. The central wall once dividing the house’s two units has been partially demolished to create a single-family home, which is not uncommon with these sorts of houses.
Although many of the details have been taken away, vestiges of its original form are still apparent. Many of the rooms—like the dining room—are quite narrow as they would have originally been. Also, Greek revival mantles are still intact throughout the house.
2025 Marais Street (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, $249,000)
Probably built in the late 19th century—although the listing says it was finished in 2016, most likely when the recent renovations were completed—this shotgun is a great blank slate.
Our favorite part has to be the exterior, most notably the slat shutters that dress down the more ornate Victorian woodwork above the window and door.
An enfilade of rooms typify the shotgun’s interior. Similar to the first house, large six-over-six windows are paired with transoms and high ceilings to give an airiness that is probably appreciated in the summer months.
The house has interior chimneys that are characteristic of the shotgun house, with a double-sided fireplace in the living and bedrooms and a separate chimney in the kitchen. And with the recent renovation—including stainless steel appliances in the living room and a nice laundry room in the back—it’s poised to become an idyllic New Orleans home.