Additions to Old Houses Part 2: Exterior trim
Last time we
discussed how important it is to place the roofline correctly when
adding on to an old house. If the roofline is too high or set at the
wrong pitch, the addition could look awkward or even overwhelm the
original part of the house.
Now let's talk about exterior
details. Too many additions on historic houses suffer because
contractors use stock materials instead of trying a little harder to
make their work blend with the original house. Most of our clients want
their additions to blend in with the original house. They want the same
level of detail: period appropriate windows, moldings, etc.
We start by looking at the trim of the original house: the roof trim (rakes, fascias and soffits), cornerboards,
window and door trim, and so on. Does the old house have large
overhangs as seen below? Or was the trim shallower? How does the rake
trim meet the fascias and soffits? Are there decorative brackets on the
house? What's the profile of the moldings? Molding profiles change with
the architectural style. Do the moldings on the house seem original or
were they changed at some point? How thick are the windowsills? What
materials sis they use?
Once we've assessed the existing trim we
face a choice: do we exactly duplicate the trim on the addition to
match the original house? Historically, it was not uncommon for a
historic house to have a slightly lower level of detail on rear or side
ells than the main house had- even if they were built at the same time.
This was particularly true in the second half of the 19th century on
houses that boasted elaborate trim. If that's the case, we'll often
scale down the trim on the addition. Often, however, it is more
appropriate to use the same trim details on the addition as on the main
If the budget allows, we'll replicate the profile of the
old moldings exactly, either in our shop or from a molding supplier. If
there are brackets, we'll duplicate those, too. When matching original
trim it is important to look at the thickness of the original trim, as
well as the profile. Historic houses often used thicker trim than
typically used these days, which results in a more substantial look and
deeper shadow lines. It's surprising, for example, how much different
standard 3/4" cornerboards can look on a house than ones that are 1"
thick. The former often look like cheap substitutes - which they often
To replicate moldings in our shop we use a molding machine
and use heavy steel knives ground down to the intended profile.
Sometimes, however, we find stock moldings that- with a little work-
will do the job. We'll take a stock molding that's close to the
original and maybe rip a little off one side, or add a bead detail with
a router. Whenever possible we try to stay away from installing
moldings right off the lumber yard shelf.
The project shown
below is an extreme example of matching original trim on an addition.
The original (ca. 1860) house features some pretty spectacular
carpentry. Since the goal of the project was to make the addition look
like part of the original house, we took pains to make our work match
down to the smallest detail.
Here's the house before we started work. The brick was added in the 1950's.
we are part way through. We have the addition framed,roofed, and partly
trimmed. You'll also notice that we have taken the brick off and
discovered the original tongue and groove siding. We had some more
reproduced for the addition.
completed project! By faithfully reproducing the original trim,
milling reproduction siding, and even installing granite veneer stones
on the foundation, it is nearly impossible to tell that this is an
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 additions.
We'd love to help you plan and build your addition! Give is a call. We're Landmark Services, The Old House Experts.
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.