Location, Location, Location

An architect's advice for where to put the addition

This Old House
Illustration by Ian Worpole
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The Starting Point

 

The Starting Point

In each of the following four scenarios, we start with the same house: a 3,400-square-foot center-hall Colonial, measuring 26 feet deep by 38 feet wide, with a two-car garage. The house is set on a half-acre lot (defined by 100 feet of frontage and 200 feet of depth), centered on the lot and 40 feet back from the street.

This basic scenario is representative of millions of American homes today.The most frequent remodeling project that I'm asked to design these days is the family room/kitchen addition. It stands to reason: Most American houses were built a generation or more ago, when isolated kitchens and basement rumpus rooms were the rule. Today, people value openness in a home's plan and want to create a space that can function as a hub for family life.

But adding on does more than just change the way a house functions on the inside. It also alters, sometimes radically, the "parent" building's relationship to the plot it sits on. If it's thoughtfully planned, an addition can take advantage of unique landscape features — capturing the scenery, for example, or improving access to the backyard. In the wrong place, though, it can cut off views, block light, and isolate a house from its surroundings.

To illustrate how additions can impact different sites, I've taken a 20-by-30-foot family room/kitchen addition, typical of today's projects, and added it on to an equally typical 3,400-square-foot center-hall Colonial. The four examples on the following pages show some of the ways additions can be oriented to take advantage of — or compensate for — specific site conditions.

In each of the following four scenarios, we start with the same house: a 3,400-square-foot center-hall Colonial, measuring 26 feet deep by 38 feet wide, with a two-car garage. The house is set on a half-acre lot (defined by 100 feet of frontage and 200 feet of depth), centered on the lot and 40 feet back from the street.

This basic scenario is representative of millions of American homes today.The most frequent remodeling project that I'm asked to design these days is the family room/kitchen addition. It stands to reason: Most American houses were built a generation or more ago, when isolated kitchens and basement rumpus rooms were the rule. Today, people value openness in a home's plan and want to create a space that can function as a hub for family life.

But adding on does more than just change the way a house functions on the inside. It also alters, sometimes radically, the "parent" building's relationship to the plot it sits on. If it's thoughtfully planned, an addition can take advantage of unique landscape features — capturing the scenery, for example, or improving access to the backyard. In the wrong place, though, it can cut off views, block light, and isolate a house from its surroundings.

To illustrate how additions can impact different sites, I've taken a 20-by-30-foot family room/kitchen addition, typical of today's projects, and added it on to an equally typical 3,400-square-foot center-hall Colonial. The four examples on the following pages show some of the ways additions can be oriented to take advantage of — or compensate for — specific site conditions.

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Follow the Slope, floorplan
Illustration by Ian Worpole
Follow the Slope
Often when houses are built on a sloping lot, the land is allowed to fall away at the back, creating a walk-out basement. While this makes for a useful basement, it can be a problem when you're planning an addition. Let's say the new family room is built at the level of the existing living areas. In that case, the addition will float a full story above grade, with no easy access to the outside world.

A better solution is a "stepped" approach that takes advantage of the slope. In this scenario, the new family area is set 3 feet below the existing first floor, with an outside deck or terrace 3 feet lower than that. The result is a comfortable connection to the backyard instead of the typical long staircase leading down from a floating deck. The new kitchen stays at the level of the existing dining room, three steps up from the family room in the main body of the house.

An added benefit of the stepped approach is that it automatically creates higher ceilings in the family room, even if there is a second floor above it, and taller ceilings allow for larger windows, which in turn bring more of the outdoors into your house.

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Bring in the View floorplan
Illustration by Ian Worpole
Bring in the View
Lots of suburban homes have wonderful landscape features in the backyard but only small windows and spaces from which to appreciate them. An addition can help to better capture those views, as long as it's in the right place. If it's awkwardly sited, the addition can end up blocking the best vistas from the rest of the house.

A good approach is to site any new construction so it adjoins an existing garage or mudroom, which has no need of a view. In this plan, the original kitchen is simply expanded, with a large bay window cut through the existing wall, and the new family room is tucked behind the garage. Now both the original and the added spaces can take full advantage of the backyard scenery.

When planning a family room around the outdoors, don't think only about what things look like in the daytime. At night, you may want to watch TV or sit around the fire, so it's best to put those amenities on an outside wall, in the direction of the view, so your furniture is always in the right orientation.

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Hide the Cars floorplan
Illustration by Ian Worpole
Hide the Cars
Sometimes an addition isn't an addition but simply a rethinking of the existing space. Many center-hall houses have a garage wing that directly faces the street, giving visitors a less-than-ideal first
impression of your home. Given that these garages are usually plenty big, consider simply converting the space into a finished, heated room that can serve as the new family room/kitchen.
In this scenario, the new garage, connected to the house by an open breezeway, hides its gaping maw behind the main mass of the building. The former garage, now the family room, has windows facing the street and a generous opening out to the backyard. If you've got the space (and if local law permits it), adding a second curb cut and car turnaround in front of the house is a good idea, so you don't have to back vehicles out into the street.
Hide the Cars
Sometimes an addition isn't an addition but simply a rethinking of the existing space. Many center-hall houses have a garage wing that directly faces the street, giving visitors a less-than-ideal first impression of your home. Given that these garages are usually plenty big, consider simply converting the space into a finished, heated room that can serve as the new family room/kitchen.

In this scenario, the new garage, connected to the house by an open breezeway, hides its gaping maw behind the main mass of the building. The former garage, now the family room, has windows facing the street and a generous opening out to the backyard.

If you've got the space (and if local law permits it), adding a second curb cut and car turnaround in front of the house is a good idea, so you don't have to back vehicles out into the street.

5 ×

 

Floorplan - Capture South Light
Illustration by Ian Worpole
Capture South Light
It's very common for a house's front to face south, where it gets the most natural light. In center-hall Colonials and many other traditional house styles, not much of that wonderful illumination makes it in through small, symmetrical front windows. But with a strategically placed addition, you can bring more south light into the house without completely remaking the facade.

In this example, I've added a new, front-to-back family room with one narrow end facing the street. By vaulting the space and extending the windows all the way up, light has a path clear through to the back side of the house. It's a good idea to keep the windowsills high on the street-facing side — at least 4 feet — to keep out prying eyes and car headlights.

Obviously, this form of addition, which is slotted in between the existing two-story wall and the garage, is harder to design and execute (and tougher on the pocketbook) than one that simply "tacks on," but the open, lofty space can enrich your entire home's interior.

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Where to Find It

 

Where to Find It

Architect:
Duo Dickinson
Madison, CT
203-245-0405

 
 

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