When they first married, Patrice Lawall and Ernst Hofmann dreamed of moving into a classic old house, with plenty of room and intricate detailing inside. But all they could afford at the time was a small two-bedroom, one-bath, vinyl-sided ranch in Madison, New Jersey. That suited them for a decade, but last January, with a second child on the way, they decided they had to find more space. "We started looking at historic houses, but the prices were way too high?and they still needed fixing up," says Hofmann, a building contractor. Rather than despair, he made a deal with his wife. "I said, 'Let's stay put, and I'll turn this place into one that's not only bigger, but also has the flavor of an old house.'"
That was a daunting promise, considering that the one-story house, built in 1957, had all the curb appeal of a trailer home. Simply tacking an addition onto the back wouldn't change its appearance; it needed a complete overhaul. But they didn't want to tear the place down, as they'd already poured time and money into new windows, a wide-plank pine floor for the kitchen, and custom-milled window and door trim. "As a builder, I have faith in older houses, no matter how plain they are," says Hofmann. So the couple decided to move up in the world by adding a second story.
The idea of adding on four new bedrooms and doubling the size of the residence to 3,000 square feet may have been enticing, but there were major obstacles to overcome. First, Hofmann and Lawall couldn't agree on a style for the exterior that suited them both ("I wanted a Cape Cod-style house with dormers, but Ernie wanted something more imposing," says Lawall). The need to incorporate an existing chimney complicated the upstairs floor plan. And there was the added pressure of a tight deadline: Hofmann and his wife were expecting their second child in just five months.
They soon resolved their design differences after driving by a house they both loved. A big gable that ran across half the front satisfied Hofmann, and the dormered windows in the other half were exactly what Lawall wanted. "It was the perfect compromise," says Hofmann.
With the exterior sorted out, Hofmann turned to planning the interior. He found enough space for a staircase in the entrance hall coat closet, but the dream of having four bedrooms upstairs proved unworkable: The chimney would have run right through the middle of one. A less ambitious plan calling for three bedrooms made things easier to arrange. On the gabled end, Hofmann designed two 16- by 14 1/2-foot-wide bedrooms for the children, separated by a wall of closets. On the dormered side would be the master suite, with an ell-shaped 23- by 20-foot master bedroom, an 11- by 14-foot bathroom, and a walk-in closet with 38 feet of clothes rods.
Construction began in February. While the family lived below, Hofmann's crew ripped off the old roof, rafters and all, and quickly framed and sheathed the new addition. To cut down on the noise and dust, they insulated the joist bays with six-inch-thick fiberglass batts and sealed off the downstairs. When the upstairs was finished, the carpenters installed the staircase and?in one grand moment in May?united the two halves, just two weeks after Lawall gave birth. "We were able to live here because everything was going on upstairs, and virtually nothing happened downstairs," says Hofmann. "The only mishap was when one of my carpenters slipped off a floor joist and crashed through the kitchen ceiling. Fortunately, he was more embarrassed than hurt."
By the end of the summer, the metamorphosis from bland ranch to charming Colonial was complete. White-cedar shingles cover the outside, and elaborate dentil trim breaks up the mass of the gable. Inside, the upstairs ceiling heights rise to 9 feet 4 inches (thanks to the steeply pitched roof), and the master bathroom glows with marble flooring, custom-built cherry vanities, and a separate shower and bath. "It's amazing to go from what we had to this," says Lawall, as workers begin laying down the wool berber carpet in the couple's bedroom. "I wasn't sure it would be possible to pull it off, but now that the renovation is done I have to say I love everything about this house."
Before Razing the Roof, Check the Basement
How heavy is the second story?
Adding a new floor is an economical way to increase the size of a house?"You've got no foundation to build," says T.O.H. contractor Tom Silva?but such additions can be extremely weighty. Ernst Hofmann's bump-up (see story) tops 100 tons. Any home owner contemplating such a renovation should call in a structural engineer to assess whether the house's existing foundation and framing can handle the extra weight.
How strong is that beam?
One of the first things an engineer will examine is the main beam spanning the length of the basement ceiling. If too weak, it can be strengthened with support columns or by sistering beams alongside it.
How thick is that footing?
Foundations with footings that measure 2 feet wide by 1 foot deep should easily support a two-story house. But smaller footings, which an engineer can identify, could spell trouble. "A footing's size would be difficult and costly to change," says Silva. "But most foundations I've seen, even old brick and stone ones, could carry another story with no problem."