Our Home Addition - Part 1

So this is one of those weekends where I'm wondering how I'm going to squeeze in the time to write a blog post.  The reason being that I have a ton of work to finish on the design of our new home addition.  My goal is to finish the drawings for the addition this weekend so that I can make a final submittal to the Board of Architectural Review (the BAR) on Monday. 

Since I am short on time and am working on the addition drawings, I figured I would blog about the addition.  What's that old adage...kill an addition and a blog with one stone?...I think it was something like that.

In the fall of 2013, we purchased our first home.  Finding and buying this house was a crazy, wild ride that I documented in Buying our first house. Part 1 and Part 2.  Let's just say that the house was not in the best shape, so after we closed we immediately did an extensive renovation.  We totally gutted the first floor and did a lot of cosmetic work to the 2nd floor.  This is what the living room and kitchen looked like.

This is just bad, bad, bad, bad.  The red paint, the tile and laminate floor, the wood paneling.......bad-ass light fixture though. The tiny kitchen was tucked behind that red wall. 

And this is what we did to it:

For reference, that yellow beam is where the wood panel wall used to be and the door to the right is the former red door.  We made the kitchen about 3 times the size of the original.

See...I told you, it was extensive.

The only problem with our renovation was that we didn't leave any money for exterior work. 

We are very happy with the interior renovation, but feel like it's time to address the exterior.  By the way...I will do a thorough blog about the interior renovation eventually......Just hold your horses!

And this is what the outside of our home looks like:


I know right.  It's pretty bad.  I don't even know where to start.

In the profession, this is what we would call a 'dumb box.'  Usually we use the phrase 'big dumb box' but this one is a small one.  There is absolutely zero detailing on this house.

My biggest concern with the house is that it does not play well with others.  What do I mean by that?

The entire neighborhood is wood siding or stucco.  This house is brick.

Most houses in the neighborhood are historic and were were built around the turn of the 19th century.  Not this one.  It was built in 1972.  Oh the 70's. 

In Charleston and most cities, buildings typically come up to meet the street in what is called a 'zero lot line.'  Not our house.  It is set back 25' from the street on the front and 7' on the side.  An architect might say that this big setback damages the street-edge or is a 'missing tooth.'

And that fence....That rickety old chain link fence.  It is rusted, leaning over and it actually cuts the corner on a 45 degree angle leaving above 200 sf of our yard on the public side.  Since that triangle is on the sidewalk side of the fence it has become the neighborhood dog park.  Yay! 

Any time we meet someone new in our neighborhood and we tell them where we live, the reaction is usually, "Oh.....What are you guys going to do with that fence?" And..."Are you going to paint the brick?"

The plainness, the brick, the 70's, the setback, the fence...it's all just plain ugly!

Nobody wants to live in an ugly house...And when you're are an architect it is especially embarrassing.  The other day we went to an opening at the art gallery next door.  I had us exit our house through the back door so that no one would see us from the gallery.....it's bad. 

On the Bright Side:

Oh yeah...did I mention I'm an architect?   Luckily I have been trained to deal with less than perfect buildings and sites.  In fact, in architecture school one of the lessons we were taught was to not refer to things as problems, but to instead see opportunities.

So here goes:

When we initially looked at this house, I saw a silver lining.  I knew that many of these unusual features that I highlighted above would provide for some unique opportunities down the road.

That plain-ness and non-historic designation gives me a little more freedom for modifications.  This is important in a town that has a difficult design review board and a large number of historic preservation enthusiasts.

That ugly brick that nobody likes?  Well guess what....Because of that brick, the house was in very sound structural condition and had zero wood rot.  Zero!  Dear brick facade...thank you for keeping out the rain!

That unusually large setback gives us a sizable front yard in a neighborhood where no one has a yard.  Little Buckminster has a space to roam.

Another bonus about this property is that it's in a fema X zone, which means that there is no flood potential.  That is huge.  Charleston floods like crazy and being in a flood zone will kill you on your insurance. 

And Hey Man....I know it's ugly...but that's our little ugly house!



So this is what we would like our house to look like:





Not bad ay?

Our little house on the prairie.


The Process

I am a big fan of sharing process.  I love a seductive rendering as much as the next guy, but there is a story that only the process can tell.

Danielle's Nap.

This whole addition dream ironically started on one Saturday afternoon, while Danielle was taking a nap.  Danielle asked me to let you guys know that she had just finished a night shift and that she doesn't usually take Saturday naps.  So there!

I was literally sitting around the house bored looking for something to do when I decided to sketch some ideas on the house..  The fact that I did this on my free time as recreation highlights the fact that I do really enjoy my work, that architects never stop working...and I am a huge dork.  I need friends.  Takers?

I put these 3 sketches together and some other details during Danielle's 2 hour nap.

When Danielle woke up from her nap, she was pleasantly surprised with my creation.  She should take more naps. 

We had talked about adding on to our house before, but this was the first time I had put pencil to paper.  Or pen if we are being specific. 

The basic concept was to add a 1 story wrap-around addition.  I wanted to mitigate the amount of 'destruction' to our existing house and by keeping the new roof low it would allow us to keep most of our existing house intact.  We will have to punch a hole in the wall to join the two.

The new addition would include a dining room, a bedroom, and a front and back porch.  And it would start to improve the overall aesthetics of the house.

We sketched on it together that afternoon and came up with a 2nd iteration.

Take 2

Plan - Take 2 - Front bedroom extended into porch.

The first iteration was about 60% porch and only 40% interior space.  We decided that more interior space would be helpful and we didn't need so much porch.  Also, interior space is what you sell....so the more interior space the more that our house will be worth.  So we extended that front bedroom into the front porch. 

Archi-Man Cave!

At this point I decided that the front bedroom would be my man cave.  Sorry, Danielle.  But don't worry.  This will be an architect's man cave.  Decked out with wall-to-wall book shelves, tons of desk space, an area for my easel and a chaise lounge.  I have wanted to buy a Corbusier Chaise Lounge for a very long time.  I suppose that I could make that happen if I wanted.  But I feel like the Chaise Lounge needs to be in a proper setting.  And I've never had a worthy enough space.  If I build this addition, the chaise will be mine....oh yes...the chaise will be mine!

I also decided to have a little fun with the closet area between the dining room and bedroom. I'd like to build a sliding barn door and would like to use that nook on the right for wine storage.

This is what that front porch looks like with the bedroom filled in.  It kinda looks like a farm house, right? 

I wasn't crazy about the side elevation in my first sketch.  This was starting to feel better. Since our house will be right on the sidewalk, I put clerestory windows in.  That way people can't look in.  I also decided to express the horizontality of the addition.

If you look at this sketch you will see that I added our family on the right.

Take 3

I mentioned in my Architecture in the Real World post that I waste very little time going from conceptual hand sketches to 3d computer modeling.  This is a good example.  After a couple hours of sketching I felt comfortable diving into the computer.  I already had a Revit model of my house from the first renovation we did.

The loose hand sketches above are more for me to talk to myself.  Architects think with their drawings.  If I was going to meet with a client I would create something a little more polished. Sorry, Danielle!


Take 3 - Plan

There is definitely a little flavor loss going from hand sketches to the computer.  

Take 3 - Front Elevation

Take 3 - Side Elevation

I was starting to feel pretty good about the progress on the design.  The spaces seemed like they would function very well and the exterior looked a million times better than the current house.  I think Danielle was finally seeing some use in me.

I decided that this would be a good time to have our contractor price the drawings.  I also decided that I should put together a submittal for the B.A.R.

I spent some time the next weekend on drawings for B.A.R. submittal.  I was just about done when I decided I should double-check zoning for height and area setback requirements.  I had checked this way back when we bought the house, but it had been a while.

I tracked down the zoning chart that lists these requirements.  And this is what I found:

In design, we often talk about the 'a-ha moment,' when you make a big break through  This was an 'oh sh*t moment.'  Sorry for the language, mom.

Why was this an 'oh sh*t' moment?  Because the zoning designation for our house requires a 25' front setback and a 7' side setback.  That fancy new addition that I had designed was built right up to the side property line and about 15' from the front property line.

Therefore it would not be allowed by zoning...And zoning is law.  

I really felt like an idiot at this point.  This is my job.  I design buildings every day in the city. And I always check the zoning first.  

What was I thinking?

Remember at the beginning of this post when I said I was pressed on time this weekend?

Stay tuned for Part 2 on Thursday!

You are in luck.  Part 2 of Our Home Addition is ready for your eyes: Our Home Addition - Part 2