Stumped By A Shed Roof

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“My wife and I own a three-story contemporary built around 1970. The side elevation consists of two opposing shed roofs joined by a recessed hyphen. Because the house is built on a slope, one enters at mid-level. The front is non-descript
board-cladding with just a single window. The inside, however, is quite dramatic with large window walls on the side and rear elevations visually linked to the woods. The home’s only drawback is a small kitchen linked to an equally pint-sized breakfast room that segues to an elevated side deck. We’ve been thinking about converting the deck into a larger eat-in kitchen, using the existing kitchen as a pantry, storage area. I hesitate, however, because I’m not sure how an addition
will look in relation to the opposing sheds that define the side elevation. For instance, should the addition repeat the
shed roof (which might obstruct an existing third floor window), or is a completely different type of roof line feasible?”

- FT, Reston, Virginia


Reston is fortunate to have many contemporary style homes. Washingtonians often tell me they are frustrated that they find so few contemporary style homes in the metro area and are overwhelmed with the abundance of colonials. The use of shed roofs in contemporary home design was popular in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and is often attributed as originating with the work of architects Charles Moore and Robert Venturi. Reston, being a forward-looking planned-community, sought out these modern home designs. In this contemporary style various blocks, each with a shed roof, were arranged in functional groupings to create a visually pleasing and sculptural appearance. As you have described with your home, entrances are often recessed or obscured for privacy.

You are right to be careful about how you handle the design of your addition. The design of shed roof style homes require that the massing of forms and their proportions be aesthetically pleasing. A badly handled design will diminish your home’s value. Most shed roof contemporaries utilize two or three shed roofs in an asymmetrical arrangement.

Roof Forms

In terms of the design for your new addition, I suggest that the existing house remain the dominant form within the design. I see three ways that the addition can be designed depending upon site conditions. In each scheme the new addition should be subordinate to the original house and the new roof pitch should resemble the existing.

  1. The addition can be designed as a smaller separate block with a shed roof turned perpendicular to the existing larger roof. Depending upon site conditions it might require altering windows at the second floor or creating an unobtrusive notch in the new roof to accommodate the existing windows.
  2. Another option is to extend the existing shed roof out to encompass the addition. This could be very cost effective but will require careful blending of old and new materials which might be tricky because of the age of your house.
  3. A third scheme, and more difficult to achieve, is a flat roofed cube-like addition. With the right proportions and roof details for water drainage, the “cube” form can be visually pleasing and unique. This design will require a slightly sloped roof to drain rain water, concealed by a low parapet. An architect can help you with this design concept.

A shed roof has the benefit of the large vaulted interior space it creates. As you mentioned, your home has a dramatic interior with large expanses of glass. With your new addition it is possible to have a vaulted ceiling in your kitchen or breakfast room which greatly enhances the drama of the space.

Exterior Materials

The contemporary nature of the shed roof style home requires that the exterior materials be simple, often uniform and accentuate the simple block forms of the design. For this reason, architects Charles Moore and Robert Venturi typically utilized wood-shingles as an exterior skin. Cladding for most contemporary shed roof homes ranged from wood-shingle, horizontal, vertical and diagonal boarding, which is sometimes mixed with brick veneer or stucco. Occasionally the shed roofs are clad in metal or wood-shingles. Most frequently these homes utilize a cost-effective asphalt shingle.


The window styles for shed roof contemporary homes are usually simple. Large expanses of glass without mullions are used in the designs to maximize views, natural light and bring the outdoors inside. Casement windows, awning windows, slide-by windows, or fixed glass panels are typically found. Double-hung windows, common in Colonial style homes, are rarely used in contemporaries. Sliding glass doors and double French doors can also be found. In recent years homeowners have begun to replace the old single-glazed windows of the 1970s with energy efficient double glazed units.

Old deck

You mentioned building the new kitchen addition in the footprint of your existing deck.  However, your old deck will not be structurally appropriate for your new kitchen addition, so it must be removed. You can add a new deck beyond the addition if local zoning laws allow for it. Every addition requires a proper foundation and ideally it should be masonry.

These design guidelines will help you in planning your home’s new addition and when communicating with the design professional of your choice. For further design and construction guidelines contact your local neighborhood association.

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