Whether a house has a noble past or simply dates back to the era when shag carpets were all the rage (the first time around), planning a renovation will pose innumerable questions about what must stay and what must go. In either case, care can be taken to preserve—and even improve upon—a home’s original style and infrastructure while introducing a floor plan and modern amenities for today.
For a renovation to succeed, however, it’s crucial to seek design help from the very beginning. A residential architect can present outside-the-box solutions, manipulating spaces to arrive at a design the layperson might never have imagined. Architects have the vision to marry form and function in order to create a renovation that meets the clients’ needs, blends into its environment and adheres to sound principles of design.
A case in point is the renovation of a 1907 Queen Anne house that architect David Jones, AIA, of David Jones Architects in DC recently completed in Chevy Chase. Over the years, previous owners had stripped the home of its original porch, covered its wood siding with aluminum and closed off the two-story reception room with a vestibule on the ground floor and a closet above.
Recapturing the home’s original style was a priority for Jones’s clients, but they also had some more practical requirements: to create a family room and mudroom, enlarge the kitchen and add another bedroom upstairs.
Jones recreated the home’s original wraparound porch based on an old photograph his client discovered. His plan also opened up the original reception area and built a two-story addition in the rear of the house with a family room on the ground floor and a new bedroom above. A kitchen expansion allowed space for a new mudroom and side entry. The renovation provided the owners with the open, spacious floor plan they desired, but adhered to the home’s period style in its detailing.
When renovating an older home, Jones advises, “put your mindset back in the time when the house was built. Think of the materials they would have used then.” He adds, “We work on so many older houses that we have a feel for the shapes of the details and the materials that they used.” Luckily, in the case of the Chevy Chase home, the aluminum siding was removed to reveal its original wood siding perfectly preserved—an authentic nod to its past.
Though Jones’s plan reflected the past aesthetically, it also brought the home up to current environmental standards. All drywall and plaster were removed during construction so that highly efficient spray-in foam insulation could be added. And during construction, wells were dug under the driveway to make way for a geothermal heating and cooling system. “We create a thermal envelope,” the architect explains, “in the same way as if you were building a new house today. We can take a very old house and make it insulated.”
When the owners of a bayfront Ocean City rambler, circa 1960, approached architectural designer Christopher L. Pattey, Associate AIA, to expand and upgrade their house into a year-round home, he also carefully planned an approach that would deliver the added space they craved but that would also focus on a cohesive design. Pattey, a senior associate with Becker Morgan Group, Inc. in Salisbury, Maryland, took a good look at the house, with its small windows that barely glimpsed the water views and its cramped, “chopped-up” rooms. “It was an introverted design,” he observes. “Its flow and function didn’t work. But this house had good bones. It was not in bad shape.”
His clients decided to retain the eastern wing of the home, which housed three bedrooms. Pattey wrapped this section with a veranda “that oriented itself toward the Bay and disguised a little of the datedness of the original design.” His plan removed the roof at the center of the house, creating higher ceilings in the newly rebuilt great room, living room and kitchen and adding a second-floor guest suite, office and playroom. Crisp, New England-style exterior detailing blended the new and old elements seamlessly.
Before his clients meet with an architect, Pattey urges them to “analyze their lifestyle and prepare a wish list. We like to meet them at the site, walk around and talk about the things that they admire about the existing property. We pair that with this new wish list to determine how we want to evolve the design and be respectful of what’s there.
“In this case,” Pattey continues, “maintaining some of the elements that were existing actually made the design more interesting. Not only in this particular project but in many, it allows you to be a little bit more creative.”
Pattey stresses the importance of working with a design professional who can ensure that a finished project will hold together stylistically. “Planning and designing ahead of time on paper with a designer is the most important thing,” he says. “We feel that every elevation should have appropriate proportions and be stylistically pleasing to the eye. Some people go directly to a builder, describe what they want to do and it ends up looking like whatever it looks like. And then you have these awkward casualties.”