Elaborating a center-hall Colonial home


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 wont look tacked-on?
– RNJ, McLean

What youve described is a home in  Colonial Revival style, which is the most popular architectural idiom in Northern Virginia. Many were built in the 1930s and 1940s, when American home styles were enthusiastically re-examined in a burst of patriotism … the same sentiment that is celebrated on the Fourth of July.
The Colonial style is especially well suited to remodeling and expansion, because the massing forms are simple block shapes, making scale and proportion easy to achieve. Also, materials authentic to the period such as double-hung windows, clapboard, brick, and slate shingles are readily available. 

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 opposite sides of the center hall, giving the center-hall Colonial its name.

To preserve the fundamentals of the Colonial style, highest consideration must be given to four subjects:  Form and Mass, Roof Shape, Exterior Materials and Window Pattern. These are the critical guidelines for an appropriate addition:

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), which doesnt block sunlight through the existing rear windows. The L-shaped form retains this styles massing traditions.

Roof shape
An appropriate roof shape is essential when creating an addition compatible with a period homes original style. The additions roof must match the existing 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 who is experienced in 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. Attractive colonials often utilize a palette of three exterior materials (usually brick, stone, wood).

Window pattern
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. A creative architect will be able to develop alternate window designs.

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is the principal of Wentworth, a residential architecture, interiors, and construction practice. For questions, visit online at www.wentworthstudio.com/contact.html.