As a student in architecture school, I had a sketchbook that I had dedicated to sketches and ideas for my own dream home. If I saw an interesting residential project in a magazine, or a room that captivated my imagination, or a detail that I had to incorporate into my future house I would draw, or write about it in my private journal. Some of these ideas, though amazing to me, may not have been practical or plausible depending on the location or context of my future home - others were timeless and universal in their application.
I started this sketchbook in 1995 - 21+ years later I revisited that sketchbook as I began designing a major remodel and addition to my family's house. As time passed during these last two decades, I learned more about my profession, my taste and sense of aesthetics changed, and my non-professional life evolved. My ideals as a young architecture student had morphed into something completely different - more realistic and sensible. The reality of life, family, expenses, and the future began to inform my ideas for the design of our home when my wife and I decided to embark this project.
She and I had purchased an old farmhouse (circa 1830's) as our starter home in 2004. We wanted a project - a house, which needed lots of work. One that we could revive and massage into something unique for us. A house which was in a great location with great potential for improvement. We certainly got that, and over the span of 12 years we completely renovated it, inside and out. From stripping wallpaper on almost all the interior walls, to gutting and renovating bathrooms and kitchens, to modifying the interior layout of both floors, to a complete overhaul of the yard. We did 95% of this work with our own two hands, and after 12 years, two kids, a dog, and many gallons of paint we arrived at a point in our life where we had begun to outgrow our family home. The decision to sell our home in which we'd invested so much time, sweat and fortune not to mention memories, and purchase a larger home for our growing family, or to commit long term and expand. It was not an easy decision. Moving to a new home had it's pros and cons. In some ways it was the easier option with less work involved, and the excitement of being in a new town or neighborhood. On the other hand, though the process would be longer and more challenging, expanding on our existing home had some serious advantages. It took us several months to finally make our decision, but the list below pretty much sums up our decision process:
Buy A New House
- + (positive) Possibility of reducing daily commute
- + Possibility of a larger yard
- + Possibility of better public schools
- - (negative) Almost triple the mortgage
- - Get to know a new town/neighborhood
- - Any house would need to be modified to meet our expectations
Build Addition on Existing Home
- + Up and coming area, with lots of amenities
- + Know and have great neighbors
- + Much lower mortgage and option for public/private school
- + Design a unique addition to fit our needs
- + Better long term investment
- + Architect's dream to design his/her own home
There were many other factors that were in the plus or negative column for both options, but it soon became pretty clear that the best decision was to stay and build. Needless to say, this would in some ways satisfy an architect's dream of design his/her own family's home.
Immediately after we made the decision I began designing. Having lived in the house for 12 years I had visualized what I'd do with the house if we decided to expand, and the ideas so clearly and easily began to develop as I massaged the design in sketch, CAD, and 3D models. By now we had a very clear understanding of our spatial needs, like a larger formal dining room, a casual/daily use family breakfast nook, a master suite, a new mudroom, a library/guest room on the ground level so our older family members could easily use, an outdoor deck that served like a courtyard for the house with direct visual and spatial engagement with the interior spaces, and a house which had clear sight lines from almost any interior space to the outdoors to keep an eye on our young kids. Every detail was thought out, from window placement and size, to scale of interior spaces (single story or double), to an outdoor balcony to read a book off the master bedroom. The overall aesthetics was also labored over. We wanted an addition which wasn't in conflict with the 1830's style of the old farmhouse, and we didn't want to pretend the addition had always been there. We wanted something contemporary but also respectful of it's context. It needed to continue some basics in material, scale, and volume, but still seem modern. It also needed to engage with the property without overwhelming it.
When the design was done and both my wife and I felt very comfortable with it, including all the interior details, finishes and materials, we broke ground in November 2016. And to make sure it all went according to plan, I served as the general contractor overseeing all the trades and sub-contractors. That process is a story on it's own and will be in another blog post, but without hesitation, I can say that we are quite happy with the outcome!