The Newton Cottage
  • This Old House constructed a freestanding addition to a Victorian cottage in Newton, Massachusetts..

  • Linda Helfet loved her 1880s Victorian. The house was filled with historic detail inside and out, from the porch's intricate spindles through the etched-glass front doors to the staircase's newel post and balustrade. But her 20th-century family was outgrowing the tiny rooms built for late 19th century life. The dining and living rooms did double-duty as game, craft and entertaining rooms. In the summer, her family could enjoy the spacious deck that she and her husband built themselves. But come winter the family had to cram itself back into the too-small house while the cold weather lasted. They needed more room.

    But Linda wasn't ready to give up her historic home in favor of a more spacious modern one. She came to This Old House looking for a way to add on without destroying the house's historic appeal. For expert advice, This Old House turned to Sara Chase from the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. She revealed that the house's design combined two different Victorian styles: Stick, whose exterior ornamentation suggests the framing elements underneath; and Queen Anne, whose details are pure decorative flourishes that give the house a playful touch. Sarah recommended that Linda keep four principles in mind as she contemplated an addition. First, she should make sure that the new roof slope was in harmony with the main house's steeply pitched roofline. Next she should keep an eye on the addition's overall scale and proportions; the main house was relatively narrow for its height and any addition should echo these characteristics. Also she should remember that the size and placement of windows and doors should be proportional to the size of the house. Finally, she should make sure the materials used on an addition complement the original, wooden house. A concrete or brick addition would look out of place.

    Thus Linda came to architect Scott Finn with a tall order: a historically complementary addition that could accommodate the modern needs of her family. Her wish list included: an entertaining space, both for herself and her husband and for their children; an office and studio space for her loom; a bathroom; storage; and a new family entrance that would keep the front door uncluttered and free of mud. To top it off, she envisioned all of this new living space resting atop a new garage. Scott Finn's difficult task was not only to fit all of these different needs into one new addition but to do so in a way that complemented the old house. His solution to the problem was a carriage house, connected to the main building by a slim enclosed breezeway. Historically, Victorian houses often had carriage houses in their side yards, and these buildings were often less ornate than the main house-which would save Linda the work and expense of duplicating her home's intricate Victorian decoration. The resulting large living space sat over a garage and family entrance and featured soaring 10-foot ceilings, lots of windows and ample storage space.

    With the blueprints set, the crew poured the foundation and quickly framed in the new addition, steeply pitching the roof to echo that of the main house. The house was wrapped in Tyvek, a synthetic fiber house wrap that improves on felt and rosin paper wrapping by keeping out drafts without trapping moisture, thereby preventing wall rot. The main house's antiquated forced hot air heating system couldn't efficiently push hot air 70 feet across the breezeway and into the new addition, so Richard Trethewey installed stand alone gas-fired heat and hot water systems at the back of the garage. The main room above was then well insulated against the cold of the garage below and at the roof and walls to keep the warm air from escaping through the room's 10-foot ceiling. Along the way, Linda and her family lent a hand, demolishing the kitchen wall where the breezeway connected the old house to the new and nailing up white cedar shingles on the addition's exterior. A new coat of paint tied the two structures together into an expanded, still historic home with room for family life.

  • Blog

    Oct 21, 2013
    Dressing Up the Front

    We had long felt the front of our house could be dressed up a bi ...

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