Chess game

Evanston, Ill.-based Roberts Architects and Construction was presented with a complex situation. A family in Wilmette, Ill., needed a larger one-car garage to better accommodate their lifestyle and children’s bicycles, wanted to add a family study inside and were interested in updating the look of their home’s front facade. The village of Wilmette, however, had zoning and lot coverage restrictions, and the owners wanted the updated home’s appearance to blend in with its 1940s-era cul-de-sac neighbors. David Roberts, AIA, CR, UDCP, owner of Roberts Architects and Construction, took advantage of an alleyway to create a new one-and-a-half car detached garage off the back side of the house and transform the existing attached garage into a family study. Given the national economy when this project was conceived, the owners decided to stage the project over time. Roberts recognized it was critical to consider all the remodel’s aspects at once, so he created a full plan for the two-part project.

The village of Wilmette had concerns about impervious surfaces and water runoff, as well as regulations to prevent overbuilding. “Land is tight here, and we had precious little square footage to accommodate the owners’ preferences and conform to the requirements,” Roberts explains. “It demanded a lot of proportioning, variations and performing 3-D renderings to find the right balance.”


Moving pieces

Roberts swapped the impervious space needed for the new garage with a new pervious area by removing the concrete driveway in front and adding lawn and a pocket patio. The village of Wilmette approved the phased plan and the new detached garage was built. The existing garage waited for conversion into the family study until 2013, when the project was completed.

A study sits in the exact location of the old garage, several steps down from the kitchen. The front of the house faces south, and Roberts saw this as a great opportunity to bring light into the home. He added French doors and sidelites, and had the doors swing outward to offer more interior space for furniture arrangement. The doors lead to the new pocket patio. A limestone planter helps screen the patio from the front sidewalk and interrupts the street view into the study. Three columns of durable high-density fiberglass brace a trellis of low-maintenance, high-density PVC that extends 3 ft. out from the study room’s exterior wall.

“I wanted to visually break up the space with the planter so the eye doesn’t follow a straight line and remind neighbors that the space used to be a garage,” Roberts remarks. “The trellis imparts interest with a nice patterning of light across the front of the house and shades the glass on the French doors.”

Because the trellis’ 12-ft. joists were too long for the PVC to support itself, the company’s carpenter reinforced the structure by sandwiching steel inside the members. Replacing the former driveway with lawn accomplished the village of Wilmette’s goals for pervious surfaces and allowed the house to command more of the site. Understanding that straight lines tend to cut spaces in half but curvilinear lines guide lines of sight inward, Roberts curved the new walkway leading to the front door and installed a curving garden retaining wall in front of the house.


Strategic ploys

The previous owners had not taken good care of the house and the exterior was beginning to deteriorate. Rotting wood, sloping of the front porch’s roof, the faux balcony, peeling paint, cracking stone veneer, and a disintegrating back deck marked the home’s condition. The house also needed a new roof.

All the houses in the cul-de-sac had a similar Williamsburg/Colonial style with wide wood plank siding with stone veneer facings. It was important to not disrupt the visual consistency of the neighborhood.

“As an architect, you walk a thin line between complementary and contrasting elements. We wanted to maintain the style but give the house a fresh look with its own character,” Roberts says.

The original stone veneer was an orange hue that greatly limited harmonious color choices for the siding. Roberts helped select a more neutral Fond du Lac stone quarried in Wisconsin for the new veneer, which set the stage for a more attractive color scheme.

All new cement board siding with a pre-finished exterior paint in a Woodland Cream yellow hue and white trim brightened the home’s faade.

Another significant change was the removal of a strangely elongated octagonal window that was oddly aligned between two other windows. From the inside, the window’s placement was important. The octagonal window was at the top of the second floor landing but sat slightly lower than the stairwell the result was passersby could see the home’s occupants.

“We honestly struggled with that window,” Roberts recalls. “It didn’t balance with anything else, and we considered eliminating it. But we wanted to keep the light, so we replaced it with a similar rectangular window that we lined up to create more privacy. The new placement also allowed us to bring the wainscot up and around to complete the second-floor landing.”

All windows on the house were changed out for aluminum-clad, high–efficiency Low E insulated glass windows that were pre-finished in white on their interior sides.


Welcome approach

In the original home’s plan, the foyer was tight. The owners were keen to expand the foyer and create a more gracious entry to the house. Roberts doubled the size of the foyer by adding 49 sq. ft. and replacing the faux balcony with a portico projecting 5½ ft. from the front door. He reused the front door and pilaster columns, bringing the columns forward to create a rectangular porch. Now, the owner’s children have a true porch where they can gather with their neighborhood friends, and visitors are invited through a welcoming entry. QR


KJ Fields writes from Portland, Ore., about remodeling and design.