Enlarging A French Eclectic

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Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a practicing architect whose
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“I own a brick home with overtly French influences that was built in the 1980s. There are 5 windows across the front, and our wide central front door is trimmed in stone. The structure is basically a two-story rectangular box, the most compelling feature being the slate-clad hip roof with flared eaves. Three dormers in the roof accommodate attic bedrooms. I have often seen homes in a similar style with front-facing stone towers, which appeals to me since I’m thinking about adding on. Specifically, the household has recently grown since we have taken in elderly parents. My wife and I have two teenagers, and one adult child has moved back into the house. We also have two live-in staff. What was a large house when I bought it 15 years ago – now seems crowded. We need more living and bedroom space that is separated from the home’s public areas. What are some considerations to enlarging my house that won’t dilute its architectural style?”

- B.A. McLean, VA


You face a challenge many Americans confront today: finding sufficient room for an extended family. By way of historical context, your home’s architecture originates with the “French Eclectic” movement, which was popular from 1915–1945.  The style evolved in the United States shortly after WWI, a reflection of the exposure to French architecture by American troops. Photographic studies published in the 1920s also spread the style. Its popularity waned during the 1940s and 1950s, but has regained respect in recent decades. An earlier “Chateauesque” style dates from 1880-1910. This tends to be heavily ornamented architecture and may have had a minor influence on what we see today.  The Biltmore, in Asheville, North Carolina is its best example; but few recently built homes are so ostentatious as to classified as “Chateauesque”.

A new façade

You’ve indicated some preferences for remodeling the front facade. Yes, a tower would be appropriate for a home in a French Eclectic idiom. The symmetrical front elevation defined by a course of five windows lends itself beautifully to a two-story front wing extension which can be built to one side of your home forming an “L” plan.  A new round tower, placed at the inside corner of the “L”, might be utilized as a large vestibule or merged with the existing foyer. A round tower with a conical roof form would, thus, become the new main entrance to the home and a visual centerpiece.

You are fortunate to have the style’s signature roof form: a hip roof with flared eaves that curve up slightly.  Some French Eclectic homes were built with simple gable roof form, but “hip” is more definitive and makes for more cohesive elaboration. Hence, any new wing should certainly extend the existing roof form which should be aligned with the existing ridge or slightly lower. Also, replicate the pitch to the existing roof–and match the slate. This may require some research—but matching is essential to achieving a seamless addition.

On this note, most French Eclectic homes are built of brick or smooth- faced cut stone with contrasting stone trimmings such as lintels, sills and quoins. Details of this sort should be integrated into the addition. Leaded window panes, arched or gabled dormers, quoins, columns, shutters, finials, balusters and half-timbering are also elements that can be added into the style as taste and protocols permit.

Be aware that French Eclectic is a bit idiosyncratic, and its remodeling needs should be handled carefully so as not to cross the invisible line into unacceptable “kitsch.” Designing an addition is opportunity to “raise-the-bar” on the eloquence with which your home’s language is expressed. Be conservative, employing understated tone that yields to the style. To make certain that your project works aesthetically – encourage your architect to research historic examples that are logically appropriate to the existing home. By studying parallels and borrowing design details and concepts from within the historical architectural context, your new addition will enhance your home and family’s lifestyle.

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is the principal of Wentworth, Inc, a residential architecture, interiors and construction practice. For question about architectural style considerations in the greater Washington area, consult our free resources at www.wentworthstudio.com or call 240-395-0705.