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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Monday, June 29, 2009

You can renovate colonial home without losing charm

By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer


For the Past two weeks we have spotlighted several home types: the craftsman bungalow, the Tudor, the Cape Cod and the California ranch.

Of course there are more than just four house styles, so we thought we would spend some time featuring a few more, beginning with the colonial style.

Look closely to see the new three-level addition that blends seamlessly into the existing colonial-style home.

You know the colonial home when you see it. It is characterized by its symmetrical, sometimes boxy look and front porches framed with columns. It is the quintessential American family home. Its very form suggests tradition and stability.

As the name implies, the colonial style harkens back to the homes of the early colonists and dates to the 1600s. The influence was mainly from northern Europe. These homes are generally two-story structures, square or rectangular in plan, and have a side-facing gable roof or a variation thereof. The exterior can be wood clapboard siding, shingles, board and batten, stone, brick or stucco.

This symmetrical home has a front door in the center with windows evenly spaced in an orderly pattern. The front door is the focal point of the design and is often adorned with a crown or pediment. This may be modestly sized with pilasters on the wall, or large and supported by columns to create a porch. You may even find Colonial porches extending across the front of the house.

The interior is typically designed with formal, public spaces, like a living room and dining room on the lower level at the front of the house. More private, practical spaces, like a kitchen and storage room, are at the rear. The second story houses sleeping quarters.

When it comes to renovation, colonial-style homes can be a bit puzzling. Each room is an independent space, with full walls to make sure the role of each room is clearly defined. This does not lend itself naturally to our modern lifestyle, which often seeks a more open, inclusive environment.

Also, the second story generally eliminates the option of varying the ceiling height, which is a way to add interest to a space when you are renovating.

These homes often have a kitchen placed behind the dining room, so one commonly used technique is to remove at least a part of the connecting wall to allow these spaces to relate better to each other.

The living room, however, is usually in the opposite corner from the kitchen with the entry hall and stairway separating it from the dining room. This makes it difficult to combine the kitchen, dining and living rooms into a "great room."

To complicate matters further, these rooms at the front of a colonial house are often lovely spaces — well proportioned with fireplaces and well-placed windows, so they are difficult to carve up and repurpose. Therefore, it is common to see the rear addition of a family room on this type of home.

The danger of this solution is that the front rooms will sit unused.

With today's cost of construction and high property taxes — not to mention the impact to the environment — we are loath to endorse a renovation that adds new area to a home while existing space is not being used.

Therefore, we encourage thoughtful analysis of this type of home (with the help of an architect!) to consider every option to integrate the separate rooms of a colonial home into a dynamic master plan that will make every room livable. If you have used all your space wisely and you still feel you need more, then you'll have no argument from us when you decide to add on.

Recently, a client with a beautiful colonial home and a growing family needed more space. The home already had a rear addition with a family room connected to the kitchen, but the owner saw potential in repurposing a sun room that was off of the living room. This old addition was removed and replaced with a new three-level addition housing two new bedrooms on the basement level, a new library/music room on the main floor, and a new bathroom and laundry room on the upper level.

Without increasing the existing footprint of the home, the owner significantly improved the function of the home, and did so in an architectural style that blended seamlessly with the beautiful colonial home.

The important thing to remember is that it is possible to renovate or add on to a colonial home and still keep the feeling of tradition, charm and place intrinsic in this style. It is a type that has served us well for hundreds of years, and with good design it should continue to thrive into the 21st century. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at ask@renovationdesigngroup.com.

© 2009 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.


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