Room Addition Receives Local Award

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although I often discuss design at large, I haven’t spent any time exploring how these ideas affect our home, the place where we have the most control and we’re only limited by money and time.  A recent award prompted me to talk more about the work we’ve been doing in and around our house for the last decade.

I’ll start with the most ambitious project:  the removal and replacement of an addition on the back our house.  This year, the architect (Jeff Broadhurst, AIA) and John Tessitore (the builder) received an award from Peerless Rockville for their excellent work on this project (but the best award is living with it!).  Disclosure:  My wife is the executive director of Peerless Rockville but did not participate in the award jury or process; Jeff Broadhurst is chair of the award jury but abstained from voting on this project. Not only did I want to give another shout out to these great guys on the Internet, but I wanted to share this project with others in case you’re thinking of remodeling your mid-century house.

Project Description

The project consisted of a 500 square foot addition on a ca. 1960 split-level house designed in the contemporary ranch style with gable roofs, large picture and narrow horizontal windows, cathedral ceilings, simple finish details, and an open floor plan. The goals of the project were to:

  1. replace an earlier addition that had serious shortcomings: it was not habitable in winter or summer due to temperature extremes, it was unpleasant to use because the walls were finished in very coarse plaster, and it felt confined because of the small windows and a ceiling that sloped down to door height. It also included a pantry, however, the narrow shape was inefficient and didn’t allow for adequate storage and convenient access.
  2. create a new space that moved conversation, reading, and dining further away from the street for privacy and quiet while also taking advantage of the views towards the adjacent Rock Creek Park.
  3. create a more efficient and convenient pantry for the kitchen that also provided a secondary access to the outside for the owners that was appropriate for chores and inclement weather.
  4. improve internal circulation and bring more light into the center core of the house.
  5. improve the interior environment using as many cost-effective and energy-efficient strategies as possible.
  6. create an exterior appearance that was attractive and better connected the backyard to the house.

The project met all of the goals and is compatible with and yet distinct from the original building. The scale, massing, and open plan is in keeping with the original building, however, it pushes the modernist aesthetic by making one wall nearly transparent through three pairs of tall French doors, including a band of horizontal windows at transom height, and revealing the structure of the house construction through simply detailed beams and columns. The simple two-story tower at the corner provides a crucial element in the design by creating a balanced yet asymmetrical composition for each elevation and serving as a unifying transition from the side to the back of the house. The connection between the interior and exterior is strengthened by the pairs of the French doors that open onto a large ipe deck and the orientation of the addition towards the adjacent Rock Creek Park.

Description of the Work

We had felt uncomfortable with the room since the purchase of the house in 2001, so it was used it for storage and as a utility room that could easily be closed off from the rest of the house. Minor attempts to improve the space (e.g. moving laundry to basement, professional consultations on repairing the fireplace, removing drapes around windows to increase light and views) were unsuccessful and it was clear a major remodeling was required but a low priority. A major roof leak in the room in 2006 prompted the decision to remove this addition and replace it with a better design. We acted as the project manager and hired Broadhurst Architects, Inc. (Jeff Broadhurst, AIA, principal) as the architect and John Tessitore as the builder and general contractor. After some discussions about goals and limitations, Broadhurst Architects developed two strong conceptual designs:

  1. a projecting wing that appeared to be a free standing building connected to the main house with a hyphen, creating a rear courtyard.
  2. an addition with the same footprint but configured radically different from the existing building with new circulation, fenestration, and roof pitch.

We selected the latter design because it was most compatible with the 1960 house, it oriented the primary views towards Rock Creek, created a mudroom separate from the living space, and reused the existing foundation (to both reduce waste and expenses). The original design specified that the tower and exterior columns would be veneered in brick, however, when it was both impossible to find matching brick and masonry costs far exceeded the budget, we substituted stucco.

Tessitore began work in early 2007 with the demolition of the existing addition down to the foundation, which revealed extensive termite damage as well as unsafe conditions (e.g., live electrical line left exposed in a wall cavity, crippled studs in structural walls). Tessitore and various subcontractors completed major work (i.e., framing, exterior wall finishes, roofing, windows, doors, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, deck) by late 2007. Features to reduce energy include dual-glazed windows and doors, an Energy-Star rated HVAC system with a programmable thermostat, an energy-efficient wood-burning stove, a ceiling fan, and Icynene® insulation in the walls, ceiling, and floor. The property owners incorporated idiosyncratic decorative elements into the exterior to maintain interest and architectural surprises, including the handprint of mason Juan Torres (Herndon, Virginia) and handmade tile by RTK Studios (Ojai, California).

From 2008-2009, we installed Ikea cabinets and floor finishes (including a mosaic tile “rug” composed of commercial and handmade Mexican tile–the subject of a future post); exterior and interior lighting fixtures by Besa, Poulsen (purchased on eBay!), and Tracy Glover; and an energy-efficient wood-burning Hase stove and a maple floor in the sunroom. The owners also completed interior and exterior painting, carefully selecting colors to integrate the interior spaces on the first floor while also enlivening and distinguishing major rooms using a compatible palette. Exterior colors were particularly challenging because individual building elements needed to be distinguished in order to clearly read the architecture and yet also needed to be complementary. The color selections are based on the mid-century aesthetics of Ray and Charles Eames and the color theory of Donald Kaufman using paints by Benjamin Moore.  Although they’re gorgeous, we can’t afford Kaufman’s paints and instead rely on his books, such as Natural Palettes for Painted Rooms for advice and Moore’s line of Aura paints with the Affinity color palette).