Carriage-House Style

Room additions often become ho-hum assignments for the many chronically uninspired remodelers who manage to gain a client’s trust. The approach is cookie-cutter. Open up the back of a home on its first floor. Add a box. And “Voila!” they’ve got a room addition. Some might even argue that the standard room addition — in its ubiquitous incarnation — is the remodeling equivalent of production housing. 1. There are a lot of them. 2. They all look the same with their flat roofs and clapboard-style vinyl siding. 3. they stick out like a sore thumb. At least that is the tendency.

When inspired, however, room additions add much more than space. They bring a new richness to the overall massing of a home. And perhaps most importantly, good room additions help an existing floor plan function better. Silent Rivers Design/Build of Clive, Iowa managed to accomplish both in its recent remodel of an American classic — a modest-sized, red-brick colonial in the heart of the Hawkeye state.

Forty years ago, a four-bedroom, 2,835-sq.-ft. home like this one stood firmly at the higher end of the American Dream. At the time, the average American home came in well under 2,000 sq. ft. But, my, how times have changed. These days, 2,800 sq. ft. can feel pretty cramped for a family of four, particularly when that space is segmented into a traditional (living room, dining room, kitchen and porch) floor plan.

Silent Rivers’ principal Chaden Halfhill first encountered the owners of the colonial at a local home show in Des Moines. The remodeler was an exhibitor at the show and the family was actively in the market for more space. In fact, the clients had attended the show with the express purpose of screening remodeling companies for their project. (It’s funny how that works sometimes.)

Halfhill won the business and feels the homeowners picked Silent Rivers because he conveyed a willingness to attend to even the smallest of details, and because the design styles shown in a photo book of completed Silent Rivers’ projects fit best with their hopes for the space. And what is more, “they generally trusted us to work with them to get it right,” says Halfhill, who is also a sculptor.

Devil’s Work

Attention to detail was what the client wanted and attention to detail is what the client got. For example, the clients were keen on matching the red brick used on the original house for its added exterior. Halfhill not only found the right brick, but also took pains to match the mortar color and texture from the existing house to the new. Says Halfhill, “It took us a while to find the right aggregate to use when we mixed the mortar, but we finally hit upon the right combination of materials.”

Later, when the homeowner found a magazine photo showing a fireplace surround with a geometric positioning of the tiles, Halfhill worked with the tile installer to cut and place slates in orderly, yet distinctive, positions, giving the client the traditional/modern look she sought.

In addition to the slate-tile surround, the clients signed on for a contemporary looking maple and cherry mantel in the new room that serves as a pleasing visual terminus looking from the main house into the new room. They also agreed to add a rich coffered ceiling.

“The idea with the coffer was to scale the room down because there was some height there,” says Halfhill. “They wanted to give it a sense of warmth. They wanted to give it a sense of formality that would be characteristic of that room.”

And so, detail by detail, an inspired room addition with a full basement took shape, increasing the overall square footage of the house to 4,107 sq. ft. Ultimately, the completed project, which won a Silver Award for best room addition in Qualified Remodeler’s Master Design Awards, met the client’s overriding goal of creating a new family space fully within the scale and style of the original home.

“Maintaining the charm of their quaint colonial was a prerequisite,” says Halfhill. “They wanted a large gathering space for family and friends, but desired to capture the same scale and intimacy of the existing rooms.”

Phase-of-life factors also played a role in their decisions. With middle-school children at home, they decided to build at a time when there would be many years for the family to enjoy the space. This also contributed to a spate of richer trade-offs flourished in the plan. For example, the room addition could have easily been built on footers. Instead, a basement was dug and finished as a game room for the kids and their friends. Additionally, the old rear entry to the home led into the kitchen from a door at the back of a one-car garage. It provided very little space for storage. With a breezeway entry situated between the old and new structures, a space was carved out for hats, coats, gloves and boots.

“They made a conscious decision to do it while their kids were growing up. They wanted it to become a space they could enjoy while their kids were around. At first, they weren’t even going to finish-out the basement, but they turned it into a little bit of a game area,” says Halfhill. “They had to stretch a little bit for it, but they did it because they would be able to enjoy it now. And because they wanted to stay in the neighborhood, they saw it as a long-term investment.”

A Remarkable Connection

To continue to allow light into the home’s dining room, the addition was moved several feet away from the existing home and stitched together with a window-filled breezeway. The new breezeway became a multipurpose service space. It became the new rear entry for the home. It serves as a mud room. It offered spacious access to an existing basement shower room for the athletic clients, who are avid runners. Finally, it serves as a function pass-through from the main house to the new great room.

The intention, says Halfhill, is to add built-in cabinets along that pass-through with a countertop running its length. This will be a place where house guests may ultimately be served food or pour a drink. Lastly, the breezeway has access to a first floor bathroom that was previously accessed through the kitchen — a longtime source of angst for the clients.

“She did not like having a bathroom right off of her kitchen,” notes Halfhill. “She enjoyed the kitchen for what it was and did not want people coming in and out of the bathroom so she swapped the door and put it into the mudroom. Now the kitchen just has an entry into a small pantry. And then, what they have not done yet is in that walkthrough between the main house and the family room, there is an aisle and they expect to put a nice custom-built piece in that walkway that will serve as a buffet and place where we people can go to get food.”

A Carriage House

Good remodeling design often borrows shapes and spaces from its local vernacular. If you approach the reconstructed colonial from the street, you would be very likely to make the mistaken assumption that the room addition was once an old carriage house that was updated, and later connected by its breezeway. That is the beauty of its fetching but inconspicuous read from the street. But this effect required special attention from Silent Rivers and a commitment of resources from the clients.

For starters the roof of the addition is pitched to match the pitch of the roof on the existing home. Two gable ends match the gables of the big house. And, with great precision, Silent Rivers scaled down the brick chimney, which stair-steps its way up the side of the building in much the same fashion as the chimney on the main house.

Much of this carriage house effect would have been lost, had the client opted for the typical dry wall interior finish in the breezeway. But instead, the theme was carried through the breezeway as the red brick exterior was brought inside to match the wall of the old home.

“The brick kind of balances the space and also kind of really gives the feeling of trying to connect two structures,” Halfhill explains. “To me the interior brick helped to delineate a service zone, or a functional zone from the family room. And the brick gives the project uniqueness as well. If it had been drywall, it would have felt like an attachment onto the house. Instead it kind of makes it feel like there was a previous purpose and intent.”

As a result of the effort, this room addition is anything but cookie-cutter.

Download Before & After Plan (PDF)