Design Challenge Old House Addition - How to make it fit

louislinusFebruary 28, 2014

Here's a picture of our old house. We are going to do a large first floor addition next spring. We are adding on a first floor master bed and bath, laundry room, expanding the kitchen and takin down the wall between the kitchen and dining room. The addition is going to go on the side of the house opposite the driveway. I can't figure out how to make it not look like we "tacked it on". How do we tie the rooflines together? Our contractor is quite skilled and has loads of experience (we have several close friends who have used him for similar projects). He says we don't need an architect. I believe he has the knowledge but I'm worried about the design and look from the street. Also, there is a little bay window on the front. It's weird. I want to remove it and put in a bank of windows across the front there. It will look amazing from the inside but what about the street? Will all those windows look out of place compared with the other long skinny windows we have?
I've also been considering g shutters? Thoughts on those? Any other ideas you have to increase curb appeal are greatly appreciated.

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I think an architect will be able to give you the visual appearance that you are looking for. Experienced contractors are good to have, but an architect looks at more than how to remove a load-bearing wall--they look at how to make the rooms look as if the load-bearing wall was never there.

My brother ended up hiring an architect to design an addition on his house--one that included a family room, mudroom, and an accessible bedroom and bath for a disabled family member.

The architect managed to copy the style of the rest of the house, down to the post and beam construction, trim moldings, etc. Once the outside of the addition was painted, you really cannot tell that the house was added on to. The only way you can tell inside is that they couldn't exactly match the wood flooring. Otherwise, the addition looks as if it was always part of the house.

The best place to put the addition was right off the dining room--but that would leave the dining room without any windows. So the architect solved that problem by putting french doors from the dining room to the new family room and adding skylights to the family room, so that there is a ton of natural light in the dining room and you really don't notice there are no windows.

My brother would have just put a regular doorway with a regular solid door between the two rooms.

The architect also suggested adding a second stairway in the addition, and punching through a wall on the second floor (the addition is one story, but the ceiling is vaulted) so that in case the parents needed to get down to the child's bedroom fast, they wouldn't be running to one end of the house to get downstairs and then running the length of the house to get to the child's bedroom in the addition.

I think it is the details like that--noticing that a room won't get as much sun and working out a way around that--or realizing that a second stairway is necessary--that you pay the architect for. They are in the business of planning rooms and houses that work and that look good.

For what it's worth, my brother and SIL had wanted to buy a house with an accessible bedroom and bath, but found that the houses that were available had made awkward choices in adapting the existing house--an accessible bathroom immediately off the dining room, you had to walk through the accessible bedroom to get from one part of the house to another, the accessible bedroom and bath could only be entered by leaving the house, things like that.

If the architect will fit in your budget, I'd say use one.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 9:51AM
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I've noticed that contractor designed homes often look a little off to me in the proportions. I'm sure that's not always true, and maybe I just don't notice the ones that are better. That they are different professions with different priorities and ways of looking at things is certain tho. Unless you love things that this contractor has done without an architect, I too suggest hiring one.
I think the bank of windows could look great if they are the same proportions as the narrow one above and separated by woodwork. Say three that size all together, or 2 sets of 2? Architect obviously could advise. Or architectural designer.
Good luck. Its a lovely house.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 10:29PM
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If you match the rood slope and detailing it will blend in. If you add a veranda abnd match thge one on the left it will be awesome.

Shutters? No.

I like the bay window, but if making a larger window area makes the house more livable, do it. What would three windows the size of the upper onbe do for the inside?

Your curb appeal can come from landscaping

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 8:39AM
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So it's going to stick out on the right of the gable-fronted section (the part with the little bay window?) If so don't try to make the rooflines match. The charm of old houses is that they don't look like giant boxes, but instead appear to be a set of harmonious spaces graciously collected together.

The book you need to read is The Old Way of Seeing, which explains clearly how to understand the correct proportions of parts of the same mass. It's point is that until recently builders had an intuitive language for these relationships among elements so that the whole is in harmony.

If you are uncertain, an architect would be best; she (or he) will have had academic training in scale and proportion.

There's a common style-descriptive term for old New England houses: Big House, LIttle House, Back House, Barn. You don't have to have a barn, a garage stands in its place. But my point is that these old buildings have a charming, organic pattern in their evolution. In fact that's another book you might want to check out: Big house, little house, back house, barn.:

And finally, if you really want to get into it: try A Pattern Language, which is one of my fave books of all time as it explains what makes houses attractive to live and be in. NO fancy pictures, just clear ideas. (Get this one from your library, it's expensive.) I have to have a copy just for lending as it's the dickens to get back from my friends - they never want to part with it.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 11:19PM
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Thanks for your thoughtful replies. Liriodendron yes the addition is going in the side yard. We have one acre and this side yard is the one part of our yard that serves no other purpose so it is a logical spot. I will check out the books you suggest. I want to be super informed and make good decisions. This is our forever house. We've lived here 5 years and been planning this addition and the entire time.

Also any idea on dating our house? The auditor says 1935 but that is wrong. The basement is tumbled stone. I have also dated the house at our historical society back to a pictorial map that shows out house in 1863. The garage is a converted barn and the PO said there used to be a tunnel from the barn (now garage) to the basement. I love that kind of stuff!

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 8:54AM
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We added on to our 1928 house, and from the outside, you would never know that it was not original. We owe it all to the architect, who knew how to put it all together. So do yourself a favor and locate a local architect who has done similar renovations. You can then assess their completed projects.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2014 at 11:38AM
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