Feinmann, Inc., Arlington, Mass.
Project location: Lexington, Mass.
Sq. ft. before: 1,660
Sq. ft. after: 2,265
Project cost: $249,000
One of the biggest challenges of building additions to existing structures, especially those with a distinctive style, is to get into the mind-set of the home. It is essential to examine the old structure, consider the way the new addition will be used and then to design a space that not only enhances the function of the entire home, but also improves its visual appeal without altering its essential spirit. This recent project in Lexington, Mass. embodied this challenge, and the solution resulted in a home that gained beauty and function while staying true to its architectural roots.
Before approaching the remodeler, several architects and remodeling companies suggested to the client that her home was a tear-down. But this remodeler saw something else. Built in 1951, the house reflected the sleek sensibilities of mid-century modernism, but the interior spaces were cramped and the exterior was uninviting. The client wanted a multipurpose addition to serve as a home office, a welcoming new entryway and a serene sitting area.
A professor of Japanese sociology, the client mentioned that she had always wanted a traditional Japanese “scholar’s study,” which is a contemplative workplace enclosed by shoji screens. As the team began to explore this idea, they discovered that Japanese minimalism and the design aesthetic of the 1950s were quite similar in appearance and inspiration. Both styles value simplicity and a strong connection to nature — as did the client.
Trees surround the house, so introducing nature into the home was achieved with carefully placed windows throughout the addition. The design element that underscored the Asian influence was a large translucent wall (Kalwall), in the main hallway. This material allowed the living space to be bathed in diffused, natural light, while providing the same insulating property as a typical exterior wall.
Authentic shoji screens enclose the scholar’s study, which also serves as a guest room. Post and beam construction provides continuity from the existing structure and preserves the original design aesthetic while creating a view from the entryway. The completed addition provides the client with a newly spacious home that’s the calm and beautiful refuge she desired.
Minimalism sounds simple — but it’s difficult to do well. While balancing Eastern and Western approaches to design and striving to reflect the personality and style of the client, this team was able to create a new space that exceeded the client’s expectations, enhanced the beauty of the home and remained true to its modern architectural roots.