Elaborating a Center Hall Colonial
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An Architect’s Perspective
“I own a two-story center hall brick Colonial, built in the 1940s, and I want to remodel my kitchen and build a family room addition. What are some architectural considerations that will insure the addition won’t look tacked-on?”
What you’ve described is a home in “Colonial Revival” style, which is the most popular architectural language in northern Virginia’s older suburbs. Many were built in the 1930s and 1940s, a period during which traditional American styles were enthusiastically re-examined. The Colonial style is especially well suited to remodeling and expanding, because the massing forms are simple block shapes, making scale and proportion easy to achieve. Also, materials intrinsic to the period – double-hung windows, clapboard, brick, slate shingles – are readily available today. Most of the original period Colonials have a small kitchen in the rear of the house, generally behind the dining room. Typically, other first floor rooms are located on the opposite side of the center hall.
To preserve the fundamentals of the Colonial style’s architectural language, highest consideration must be given to these four subjects: Form and Mass, Roof Shape, Exterior Materials and Window Pattern. The following synopsis dictates the critical guidelines for a sympathetic elaboration.
Form & Mass
Replicate the home’s original styles of form and mass. When remodeling a Colonial Revival, I often design the addition at the rear of the kitchen as a small wing (say 16’ x 20’). The new wing provides additional kitchen space and, as appropriate, an adjacent family room. The resulting L-shape also defines a private outdoor living space (often enhanced by a deck or patio), one that doesn’t block sunlight through the existing rear windows. The L-shaped form retains this style’s massing traditions.
An appropriate roof shape is essential when creating an addition sympathetic to a period home’s original style; the addition’s roof must match the existing home’s roof style and pitch. For example, most Colonial homes have gabled roofs (also known as “A” shape), which are a safe choice for remodeling. Whenever possible replicate the same roofing materials, overhangs, and cornice details. Large or complex design problems may warrant hiring an architect conversant in the particulars of this idiom, one whose experienced I reconciling other roof styles (i.e. gambrel roofs, shed roofs, dormers) with an existing roof.
For an addition, I suggest using a mixture of materials that will help achieve compelling visual variances. For instance, a brick foundation can pair nicely with clapboard walls. By contrast, an “all brick” house often looks blocky, boring and heavy. Attractive colonials utilize a palette of three exterior materials (usually brick, stone and wood).
Keep window styles consistent with the original. Doing so typically calls for windows with muntin bars (grids). Most Colonial homes have double-hung windows, a secure option when in doubt. It’s acceptable, however, to mix casement windows into an addition. A creative architect will be able to develop alternate window designs.
If you adhere to the basic principals of sensitivity for form and mass, roof shape, exterior materials and window pattern, you can achieve a sympathetic addition that won’t look tacked on, and you will most certainly enhance your home’s value.
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is the principal of Wentworth, a residential architecture, interiors and construction practice. For questions, contact us here >>