It’s human nature to crave the fresh, the new and the fashionable — and that goes for remodeling as much as anything else. The quest for the mythical “updated look” of magazine lore has long tempted both owners and architects to graft trendy additions onto older homes just to make them ever-so-briefly fashionable again. Alas, you need only to leaf through a 20-year-old copy of Better Homes and Gardens to see how such “updates” have stood the test of time. Most would elicit groans, if not laughter.
The lesson is simple: Given the ever-shifting sands of architectural taste, the only kind of addition that’ll be permanently in fashion is one that respects the original architecture.
But how to do this? It goes without saying that the overall proportions of any new addition — wall heights, window styles and sizes, and the roof style and finish — should be in keeping with the original building. Beyond these basics, however, the real trick to making an addition “lock” into the original house is to identify and repeat the designer’s signature details. By sussing out these characteristic traits-and incidentally every house, new or old, has a whole raft of them-you can pretty much make any addition look spot-on original. Typical candidates include:
Porch railings and columns: Repeating these often-charismatic details will go a long way toward knitting an addition into the original building. If the original railings don’t meet the current building code, find a workaround; don’t just use an entirely different design. For example, if the old railing has openings larger than the current 4-inch maximum, install a heavy wire mesh on the inside face of the new railing to make it comply.
Window muntins (the narrow divisions between the glass) and window trim: Every home style has its own characteristic trim and muntin patterns: look for them and repeat them in the addition where possible. Muntins are less common in postwar homes, but if they’re present, it’s doubly important to echo them in the new work. Avoid using the two-dimensional “sandwich” muntins found in most modern windows unless that’s what you find in the original building. You’ll pay a premium for true muntins, but they’ll make a huge difference.
Roof edges: The strong lines of roof eaves are a central element of any home style, so it’s imperative to get them right. It’s not enough just to match the width of the overhang-you also need to match the fascia (the board behind the gutter, if any) and the gutter itself. If you can’t find the original gutter style, consider replacing all the gutters with a close match to ensure that the new work ties in flawlessly with the old.
Attic vents: With these, look for characteristic shapes: Did the designer use rectangular, pointed, arched or circular louvers, or perhaps round or square clay pipe vents? It’s small flourishes like these that visually lock the addition into the existing structure. Again, if the original vent design won’t meet current codes, include it for appearance, then provide additional venting elsewhere that is out of sight.
Lastly, if you have trouble coming up with a detail that has no direct precedent on the existing building, ask yourself: What would the original designer have done? Would he have used paired French doors or a sleek aluminum slider? Would he make the chimney skinny, stout or asymmetrical? In short, what would his own signature detail have been? With the original designer guiding you, your addition can’t help but fit.
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