1743 House addition makes the grade, now seen in good light.
Well built houses should last 100 years, so it is no small feat for some houses to last two to three times that. Such is the case for my client’s home in a shoreline town south of Boston. I have worked on one older structure, but it did not have the history and finish of this home. I knew this was going to be an interesting project.
At our first meeting I was really impressed with the craftsmanship particularly the wood work in the study and the dining room where wood moldings were hand carved. A timber frame structure was surely hidden behind the finished walls. It is probably an amazing structure to behold, and if built today we would surely leave it exposed.
The original structure has two stairways. The front hall contained a tight winding set that wrapped around the center chimneys. The other was a wider set but was more like a ships ladder with a steep climbing angle with very small treads. I informed the homeowner that I was sure to return with an addition design that included a new set of stairs. The homeowner replied, “no, that’s okay, we are fine with what we have.” From that point forward it was clear that this family of five loved every minute of the life in their antique Cape style house. Message received: hands off the history!
The new addition would be off the back of the house and would have a modern kitchen, eating area along with a powder room, pantry and mudroom. A second floor would provide a bedroom suite. From a programing standpoint these are the “usual suspects” of any family trying to manage in any pre 1990 home. The real challenge is always the tie in between the old and the new. There were no codes when this home was built. It was understood back then that it was going to be a “build at your own risk “ project.
Antique homes are notoriously close to the ground. It’s a real issue with moisture, rot, and trying to abide by the new building code requiring minimum distance from earth to wood. A new mudsill foundation was used to maintain the required 8” of concrete foundation exposed above grade. This assured us there would be no step ups to the new spaces. It was imperative the old and new spaces joined seamlessly. The landscaping company was very creative with the rear yard design to make sure the drainage of surface water was managed. It is also quite functional for outdoor activities.
Antique houses are also very dark. Windows on structures this age had small and few windows. They were made up of sashes with many lights since large pieces of glass were difficult to manufacture in the day. Most windows were manufactured in England and shipped over to the colonies. The new spaces would have more glass for sure, but kitchen, bathrooms, and other storage related rooms typically require walls for privacy and structural requirements. The solution was to position windows at the end of long passages and to find the diagonal views of each space. When moving from one space to another, a window would bring in light to act as the “target” and “light” the way. Spaces such as the eating area would be positioned on the south wall where daylight could filter in all day. This is a great strategy for many reasons if not to make sure there is plenty of light in the steps of everyday life. The other result is smaller spaces tend to feel larger with well place windows.
There were many other subtle design elements in the new addition design that brought a seamlessness to the complete home. I was very impressed with our contractor. His work, particularly the finish, gets high marks from me. I trust it will be around for many, many years to come. If the addition can last its minimum expected 100 years then the main structure will be celebrating its 375th birthday. But where to park the flying car?