Architecture

 #1 Renovation Style, Winter 2008

 

Two for One: A kitchen addition complements its historic counterpart

 

Joe Reeder likes to cook..  He has not one but two kitchens in his 1772 house in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.  Joe fries eggs at a stove in his new kitchen addition, or roasts a bird on a spit in the fireplace of his resurrected eighteenth century kitchen.  “In 2001 when I moved in,” says Joe, “the old kitchen was decrepit, a fifties eyesore.  I wanted to restore it as an antique kitchen with the equipment to cook in the original fireplace.”  He pauses, “But I also needed a modern functional kitchen.  To do that, I had to build one outside the main building.”

 This was easier said than done.  Old Town Alexandria has more than two thousand historic buildings and is on the National Register of Historic Places.  To preserve the architectural integrity and unique character of the area, any exterior changes need approval by the Board of Architectural Review (B.A.R.).  Though Joe had materials, ideas and labor for his addition, he hired the architectural firm of Franck Lohsen McCrery, Architects (now Franck & Lohsen Architects.)  He wanted help in both designing the kitchen and navigating the City’s requirements, what Joe playfully calls “a bucket of worms!” 

 The first challenge was showing the B.A.R. that the addition would not affect the main structure in an irreversible manner.  Despite several late eighteenth century renovations, the historic home has remained largely untouched.  “The B.A.R. asked for a 2-foot offset on the west side, so the addition could come down at some point and the house stay eighteenth century,” says Joe, an amateur historian and avid preservationist.  Though open on the building materials used, the B.A.R. also had height requirements.  “They wanted to be sure if you’re standing on the street you wouldn’t see the added roof over the original one.”

 Meanwhile, the Department of Planning & Zoning required a 5-foot setback on the east side, which meant a galley kitchen.  This presented Joe with the second challenge.  He had to obtain permission from his neighbors in the townhouse next door to build on the property line.  “We’ve a good size alley between us and their side wall has no windows,” says Joe, “so my addition wouldn’t interfere with their light.”  He also made it clear to them that the length of his new kitchen would not exceed the back end of their home.  Luckily, the neighbors consented.  “I finally had a 15 by 20 foot space for a decent kitchen,” says Joe.

 The plans took about a year to go through.  This gave Joe plenty of time to convey his wishes to the architects.  “I wanted the kitchen as big and open as we could make it, with an eat-in area and a fireplace.  I also wanted it to have an aged look.”  A collector by nature, Joe had amassed suitable building materials over the years.  He had oak rafters for the ceiling, heavy timbers for structural supports, and old walnut boards for the floor.  Joe served as his own contractor, getting specialized help to do different jobs in keeping with his vision.  For example, a friend cut, edged and pegged the timber for the main structure.  “Walls could be knocked down and you’d still stand in the room,” says Joe of the Tudor-style construction.    

 “The architects did a great job with the overall design, open feel and abundant light,” says Joe.  These factors matter in townhouses, which tend to be dark and narrow.  The open framed ceiling with exposed rafters reaches up to 18-feet high, and daylight pours in from a dormer, an atrium outside the kitchen, a side window adjacent to that of the old kitchen, and the Dutch doors.  For cabinets, Joe says, “I didn’t want cabinets like 99% of people.” Instead, the architects fitted together three 19th century dry sinks on one side of the kitchen.  On either side of the fireplace, they left recesses for antique cupboards serving as pantry and dish storage. 

 “I love my kitchen addition,” says Joe.  “Most people think it’s an eighteenth century kitchen, until I show them the real one.  I do a lot of cooking in both.  I’d rather sit around, eat and entertain at home than go out.”

 

Side bar:

A Renovation Timeline

-1772: The original home consisted of two rooms and a loft.  Shiplap on the side was painted red, whereas the front was white.  White paint was expensive, suggesting prosperous owners.  Dr. Elisha Dicks, one of George Washington’s physicians, once owned the building. 

-1784: The saltbox construction encompassed two added rooms on the back.  The shiplap was unpainted, as the far side of the house was not visible from the street. 

-1792: A law passed that city streets be wider with sidewalks.  The front door moved from its street-facing location to the east.  An added porch shaded the new side entrance.  

-Late 1790s: The original kitchen was likely an outdoor kitchen, with an attached smokehouse.  It was bricked into the main structure.  A large side porch was also created.  

-1816: John Douglas Brown purchased the home.  His heirs remain in the home, until Joe buys it. 

-1830-1850’s:  Siding was added. 

-Early-Mid 1900s: The large side porch was enclosed to create a laundry room and bathroom.  The kitchen was modernized, but did not lose the fireplace.

-2001: Current owner Joe Reeder restores the large side porch and old kitchen, removes siding to reveal original shiplap construction, and adds a new kitchen and bathroom. 

 

 

#2 Better Homes and Gardens, March 2005

        

Three is Not a Crowd: Homeowner, architect and decorator collaborate in the design of a Gulf Coast Getaway

 

Atlanta resident Kurt Meyer knew what he wanted in a second home when he bought an empty lot in Rosemary Beach, Florida.  His career as a design consultant outfitting offices with modern furniture gave him an edge.  He pictured a contemporary house for weekends by the sea, a casual-yet-stylish place to entertain clients and friends in a comfortable, low maintenance setting.  “I’m not a Martha Stewart type,” says Kurt.  “It’s not about how the cheesecake turns out.”  Cheesecake may not be his forte but Kurt’s urban sensibility clearly influenced his vision.  “The idea of something open and airy was appealing,” he says.  “I wanted to gather people in one large room.”  To make this happen, Kurt turned to architect Eric Watson and decorator Phillip Sides, both established Florida Panhandle designers.

 “Kurt set the tone,” says Tampa-based architect Eric Watson.  “He brought the concepts of informality and modern design to the project.”  Eric built a durable Charleston-style house made of stuccoed concrete block with a simple tin roof.  The 2800 square foot home has four bedrooms and three full bathrooms.  Though the exterior blends with Rosemary Beach’s architecture, the big surprise is inside, where Eric inverted the floor plan, putting all the bedrooms but one downstairs.  “Ground floor bedrooms are perfect for a vacation place,” says Kurt.  “People pull up and dump their suitcases.”  Eric also made this choice because the house is on a public boardwalk.  He wanted the second storey to be quiet and private, encouraging guests to be either at the beach or upstairs.

 The loft-like second floor has a spacious joint living, dining and kitchen area, with stacked windows, high ceilings, and great flow for entertaining.  Three sets of French doors open onto a screened porch, expanding the room outside.  “I can say hi to people on the boardwalk without getting too involved in conversation,” says Kurt.  Interior decorator Phillip Sides, who recently opened a design shop in Rosemary Beach, chose one shade of soft-white paint for most of the walls, ceiling and woodwork.  While the color changes in various lights and on different materials, it unifies the room and makes touch up a cinch.  Phillip also selected a single oversized rug to bring together the dining and living spaces.  For continuity, all the floors are oak with an ebony stain.

 Though choices that create cohesion are essential in a large room, spatial definition is also important.  The smaller kitchen and dining areas have 9 foot ceilings, whereas the bigger living area has a 13 foot ceiling.  Eric and Phillip used bold materials and strong designs to identify spaces.  In the kitchen, one wall is paneled in the same oak as the cabinets, while another wall of granite extends to the ceiling.  A built-in oak and raffia sideboard in the dining area doubles as a stair rail to the metal spiral stairway leading to the master suite on the third floor.  The living area walls are tongue-in-groove boards reminiscent of classic Southern beach houses.  The boards run horizontal and do not go up to the ceiling to break the scale and height of the room.

Phillip designed some furniture, including a steel drum coffee table.  But for the most part Kurt used a worldly mix of modern European pieces like the sleek sofas and rustic Indonesian forms such as the carved dowry chest.  Retro items - a womb chair and ottoman - added flair.  Phillip arranged the furniture to create pockets of intimacy for reading, watching TV and playing games.  He also picked practical fabrics to add warmth to the clean décor and color to the neutral palette, for example, brightly striped terry pillows and flowing ice blue linen drapes.  To achieve an uncluttered look, Kurt says, “I did away with a layer of accessories present in most homes.  I didn’t want people to have to rearrange stuff.”

The design works.  It allows Kurt and his guests to decompress, which is what going to the beach is all about, but to do so in a smart, sophisticated space.  Eric best sums it up, "The house is very bold, very simple, an exercise in restraint.  It knew when enough was enough."