Georgian On My Mind
DC Metro Area
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An Architect’s Perspective
“I have recently inherited the Georgian-style home I grew up in, and have been trying to assess its potentials as a residence for my family of five. I believe it was built in the late 1920’s, (so it’s not historic)--but it has all the style’s stately features: pediments over the front door and windows, detailed cornice work, quoins at each corner; a double-hipped roof with two front-facing dormers. Unfortunately, it’s just too small for my three teenagers, so before my family can move in we’ve got to enlarge it. I’ve got a fairly sizeable lot (about an acre), so I could add-on from either side or the rear. But what would you recommend? Also, I want to remove some interior walls and bring in more light. What are some architectural considerations that will allow for big changes while preserving the integrity of this classic style?”
This sounds like a home with a lot of potential. Georgians (originally introduced during the reign of England’s King George in the early 18th century) were popular in the colonies in the same period, and later “revived” in northern Virginia during the 1920’s and early 1930s. Given the architectural details you’ve described, it seems likely your home was designed by an architect. You might be interested to know that one of the more prominent practitioners of this language—William Lawrence Bottomley– built a number of renowned Georgians along Richmond’s Monument Avenue in the 1920’s, and his influence was certainly recognized throughout the state.
Of course, options for expanding a home must always begin by checking set-back requirements with your local zoning office, but assuming you can built in any direction, the first question you’ll have to address is: do you want the addition to be traditional or modern?
Specifically, if you’re a strict preservationist, you can design an addition that rigorously adheres to style strictures of the 1920’s original. Ask your contractor to replicate the architectural details precisely. If the addition will be visible from the street, an orthodox approach is probably the best way to converse resale valuations.
On the other hand, if you choose to build a rear addition (and you’re partial to more contemporary lines and spatial concepts), you’ll be glad to know this classic language can reconcile with modern sensibilities rather handsomely. Smooth surfaces, expanses of glass, and clean lines may provide a pleasing visual contrast to the original architecture.
In either case, the more important consideration is developing design that is sympathetic to the scale and massing of the original home. Whether the addition is on the rear or the side, proportionality is critical.
With a sufficient budget, and plenty of side yard, your 1920s house could be flanked by a symmetrical pair of additions linked with one-story structures called “hyphens”. An example of a proper local Georgian Style home with hyphens is the Hammond-Harwood House (1774) in Annapolis, Maryland. (See hammondharwoodhouse.org).
As this structure illustrates, a flanking pair of matching wings will gain you substantial space. One wing might have a master suite bedroom and bath. The opposite wing could accommodate a kitchen and family room. Having the new spaces at opposite ends of the house increases privacy. As an option, you might build just one wing– though an asymmetrical design is not truly Georgian.
Another, more cost-effective strategy is to expand the home with a two-story rear addition. The first floor provides for a new kitchen and family room. The second floor is designated for additional bedrooms and baths.
Regarding the interior, revisions can be done tastefully by following simple considerations. For instances, a circa-1920’s Georgian usually has nicely detailed formal spaces on the first floor (living room, parlors, dining room, foyer and stair hall), and it is generally beneficial to protect those spaces. On the hand, I have successfully opened up walls to link formal dining rooms to an informal kitchen or family room.
The new design must link the spaces visually, while respecting the original dining room as a defined space. I find this a good way to transition from a formal to an informal space, or from old to new. Selective moldings and architectural details used at the transition points help augment success. For example: If your dining room is on the rear of the house and your new kitchen is located in the addition – the rear wall of the dining room could be removed to create a new open floor plan linking the old dining room with a new kitchen.
Ideally an addition, with an open-plan and new family living spaces will suit your family’s needs for years to come—perhaps even allowing you to pass-on your home to the next generation.
Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is an architect and contractor. He is principal of Wentworth Inc., a metro area residential architecture, construction and interior design/build practice. Questions on residential remodeling styles can be sent to www.wentworthstudio.com or call 240-395-0705.