A seamless tower addition updates and brightens the home's interior while respecting its vintage architecture. (Photos by Anice Hoachlander/HD Photography)
“Saving old houses isn’t just for fun,” says architect Charles Moore, principal of Moore Architects in Alexandria, Va. One that he recently salvaged is a 1910 four-square in the Cherrydale section of north Arlington, Va. The
house had been rental property for years, with much of the old
detailing heavily worn or removed. “Most people would have bulldozed
it,” says Moore. Washington real estate isn't for the faint of heart,
but the new owners, who bought the house for $600K at the height of the
market, were intent on preserving the place, putting resources into a
major redo that took about 10 months. The house is close to
the street, so setbacks limited substantial expansion.
By salvaging the
structure instead of tearing it down, Moore and builder Gabriel Nassar
of GN Contracting
in Falls Church, Va. got the neighbors to sign on and obtained a
variance. “Without it, we would have been able to build just a sliver of
additional space,” Moore says. He and Nassar built an addition that
respects the original house while making it more cohesive, light-filled,
and livable than it was before, and doubling the square footage (from
2,100 to 4,500 square feet).
Pulling this off is harder than it looks. Here’s how they did it.1/ Add On, But Let the Original Shine
Highlighting the old character of the house--and not screwing it up--was
the overriding challenge, says Moore of creating a high-functioning new
house from an old one and unlivable one. When the new owners were
cleaning out the attic of the falling-down house, they discovered views
clear to the iconic Washington Monument. The first move was to set a
tower addition on the left side of the house, in the rear yard. The
addition hugs close to the early 1900s four square, partnering, rather
than overpowering, and stepping back from the street. To make way for
the new addition, a porch that wasn’t part of the original house was
To ensure that the tower looked true to the original house, Moore
designed the addition to appear as if had originally been capped by an
open deck that, over time, had been glassed in. Height was limited, of
course, to meet stringent local codes.
The addition houses a kitchen, family room, study, and mudroom, which
provides a back entrance to the dwelling from its detached garage.
Interior finishes were replaced with details that are faithful to the
period that the original house was built.
2/ Make the Porch the Connector
The original house had a screened porch that looked, as many do, “like
they’re plopped onto the front of the house,” says Moore. The porch also
dead-ended close to the front door.
The remodel includes a front porch at the front entry that leads to a
new screen-in porch that wraps around a portion of the home’s left
elevation. This not only doubled the space in which the homeowners can
enjoy the outdoors (minus the mosquitoes), it also provides the link
between the existing front of the house and the tower addition. Now
there are layers of entry space that give a gradual and easy-to-read
retreat from the street: covered front porch entrance leads to
screened-in side porch, which in turn leads to the study.
The side porch feels more private than a front porch because it’s
situated at the side of the house. The screens are subtle; Moore and
Nasar placed them so they’re behind the columns and wood railing,
recessed and standing in the shadow of the roof plane. “From the
street,” Moore says, “it’s actually hard to see that it’s a screened-in
porch.”3/ Open Up the Plan, But Keep the Rooms Defined
The original house was made up of three basic rooms per floor, plus
stairs connecting the floors. On the first level, Moore opened up the
floor plan, adding what he calls a figure eight of circulation to
eliminate dead-end spaces. The kitchen is a hard-working cook’s place
with room for friends and family to gather, as well as designated spots
for food prep and clean-up. At the same time, the new plan allows for
easy flow to and from the family room and to and from the mudroom and
back entryway. On the third floor, a dark attic saw new life as a
light-filled lookout with great views.
The stairs needed to be rebuilt so they adhered to code and allowed
access to the new lookout room that caps the tower addition. To ensure
that the stairs didn’t take up too much space, a series of stepped
dormers come out of the main hip roof. Each tread provides the needed
headspace for the stairs that lead up to the sunny new lookout room.
Project Urban Four Square, Arlington, Va. (Photos by Anice Hoachlander/HD Photography)
Architect Moore Architects, Alexandria, Va.
Builder GN Contracting, Falls Church, Va.