Building an addition on a historic house? Don't make these mistakes
many times have you seen a nice old house ruined by an unsightly
addition? Some additions "read" as additions from a mile away. It doesn't
have to be that way. With some careful planning, it is quite possible
to design and build an addition that blends beautifully with the
original house. Over the course of 3 or 4 posts, I'll review some
guidelines that will help your proposed addition co-exist with and
complement your historic house, rather than detract from it.
when people are adding on to a historic house, they are so focused on
maximizing the new space that they forget to think about how the house
will look from the street. Take a look at the house below. The original
house is a cute, mid-19th century cottage. But the addition, instead of
taking its cues from the main house, has absolutely nothing in common
Let's start with the roof. First, the ridge is higher than that of the old house. Cardinal sin. Rule #1: If possible, place the ridge of the addition lower than that of the existing house.
If the ridge must be higher, consider inserting a lower, connecting
roof in the middle, as we did to the house in the photo below. This
will soften the difference in roof heights. In our case, the addition
was not actually higher than the main house, but the "connector" roof
still works because it breaks the mass of the addition down into
smaller pieces, making it compete less with the original.
take another look at the roof of the first house. Do you notice
something else that doesn't fit with the original house? Answer: the
roof pitch. The addition has a much shallower roof. It looks,
well, cheap. Take another look at the second house, in the photo below.
The pitch of the addition (on the left) matches that of the original.
In fact, the pitch of the new dormer also matches the pitch of the
dormer on the old roof. It looks natural, like its always been there.
Now look back to the first house. It look tacked on. So let's make Rule #2: try to design the addition with a roof pitch matching the original house.
one more look at the first house and notice how the gable trim on the
historic house has a large, decorative overhang. The gable on the
addition has a simple piece of 1x6 trim tacked on with no overhang.
Again, no effort was made to use the vocabulary of the original house
on the addition. On our addition, yes the trim on the addition is very
simple, but it matches that of the main house in every way- we even
re-created the curve at the lower end of the roof.
time, we'll look at some other things to keep in mind when designing
and building additions to historic houses, such as massing, matching
trim details, and how to handle windows. In the meantime, take a look
at these additions that we built on some old Massachusetts houses.
Landmark Services has been building additions to historic Massachusetts houses for almost 20 years. Have a look at our project portfolio to see more of these projects.
We'd love to help you plan and build your addition!
Comments? Questions? Snide remarks? All are welcome! We'd love to hear from you so please comment on our posts.
Mark Landry is the President of Landmark Services, Inc, the premier old house renovation contracting firms in Massachusetts. He loves old houses and would welcome the opportunity to discuss your renovation, restoration, or addition.