ADDING ON TO A HISTORIC HOME – You’ve found your historic or old home. And it’s nearly perfect…..BUT, maybe it does not have enough room for you. Or maybe you need to make adjustments to age in place. Maybe you want to add a room on your first floor, or even expand a tiny historical kitchen. Most of us want to protect our old homes’ historic fabric. So…HOW do we do this sympathetically in a way that is not distasteful, intrusive, destructive, or irreparable? Because additions can change the historic character irrevocably, consideration of an addition is one NOT to be taken lightly. 

Photo of a sympathetic addition on the rear of a 19th century home in eastern Lancaster County; work by Keperling Preservation Services.

 

WHAT ARE SYMPATHETIC ADDITIONS?

A sympathetic addition is a newly built addition to an old house or building that is harmonious with and corresponds to the original part of the home. These additions may be attached to the side, or include an extension from the roof. If following the general guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior for New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings and NPS, the key is to preserve the historic character or fabric of the original building, particularly if that building is listed on the National Register. An easement would likely have stricter limitations and may even prevent an addition, particularly if the easement is written so that you must maintain the exterior as when the easement was granted. Although there is a shared feeling between old and new, NPS guidelines and standards indicate that the new addition should still be differentiated from the original. This differentiation may seem counterintuitive, but since additions fall under rehabilitation vs. restoration or preservation, and since NPS emphasizes protecting historical character, integrity and significance by making a visual distinction between old and new, there must be a difference so one can still identify what was newly added and what is original. 

 

IS A SYMPATHETIC ADDITION NECESSARY?

Reasons NOT to add on. Some reasons not to add on include cost – sometimes an addition is so cost prohibitive it would be cheaper to move altogether! If you are not willing to move, you must consider other alternatives. Also, if you anticipate selling in the future, or even just want updates to essentially give you a return on investment if you do not plan to sell, you must consider market forces and make sure the change is worth the cost. Another reason not to add on is zoning restrictions. If you’re project plan cannot be adjusted to meet these, the restrictions will make the decision for you. You may also be restricted by National Register Status and an easement, as noted earlier.

Reasons to add on. NPS recommends that sympathetic additions only be completed if one has already considered (and ruled out) other options, including altering non-significant interior spaces. Although many homes before central heating and cooling were built with small interior rooms for efficiency, today we often prefer larger spaces to accommodate our lifestyles, and also because modern heating and cooling allows us to. However, smaller rooms can not only be charming, cozy, and private, but they also often contain much of the historic fabric – moulding, fireplaces, plaster ornamentation, pocket doors, built-ins, etc. – and destroying these distinctive irreplaceable features for the sake of a modern “open concept” trend is not advisable (in fact, if you insist on that, you probably need to buy a new, modern house instead and leave the old house to someone who will protect the historic integrity). 

Even so, sometimes change is necessary. Maybe you have examined your interior spaces and realized there are not any non-significant ones. Or, if there are, even altering those will not suffice to meet your needs. In such cases, additions – even a small vestibule or other entry modification – may be required. Justifiable reasons for additions may include helping you age in place, meet code requirements (especially if the building is a business), or for general adaptive reuse, including expanding as you raise children and their needs change. It’s important to be able to enjoy the space you live in. 

 

PLANNING YOUR SYMPATHETIC ADDITION

Zoning and Codes. One of the first things you should do is reach out to your local municipalities to find out what zoning restrictions exist. For instance, generally you cannot build all the way to lot lines, and sometimes there are height limits on projects. Knowing the lay of the legal land can save you a lot of time and money by preventing you starting something that you legally cannot finish. A design professional and/or contractor well-versed in historic buildings can also help with this. 

Budget. As we’ve said before, planning ahead allows you time to save money for the project. Put money aside to save for a project as soon as you start seriously considering the project. Before consulting with professionals, make a list of your wants and needs, how you plan to use the space, and your ultimate goals so that you can prioritize what to pay for first. You should also have an estimate of the square footage. All of these will help contractors and other necessary specialists determine approximate cost. You should also determine which professionals and specialists you will need based on your lists.

Getting Help. Once you’ve determined that a sympathetic addition is appropriate, you can begin your plan. If it’s anything bigger than a dormer, you should definitely get the help of a professional contractor. If it is an intricate design, you should also consult with a design specialist or architect – most building permits for modifications require a design professional to essentially stamp/sign the drawings under the modern building code. 

Design. As always, the emphasis of any update should include being as harmonious and unobtrusive to the original design as possible (with the least possible loss of or damage to historic, character-defining materials). Specifications are listed below (and NPS has more information):

  • VISIBILITY
    • An addition should not be highly visible to the public, and is preferably placed at the rear of a building, or other “secondary elevation” (i.e., anything that is not part of the front façade and is not visible from the streetscape).
    • If the addition does not fit the above conditions – for instance, a side addition – it is best to recess it a bit from the main structure, possibly using a breezeway to connect it.
  • MATERIALS
    • An addition’s color and content should be in keeping with the historic part, but not match it exactly (as discussed earlier about differentiating to distinguish the addition from the original building). This often contentious and confusing point has been debated, and is really a matter of personal judgment (outside of situations that are restricted by National Register status or easements). We recommend keeping the addition similar enough to the original building so as not to detract from the historic building (a standard that is decidedly different than is seen in many European cases, as can be viewed here and here). 
  • SCALE
    • The addition’s size in relation to the original building should be smaller, with a lower roof and smaller overall footprint (an exception being a rear addition artfully designed to be unseen from the streetscape).
  • MASSING
    • Massing can be complicated to explain and understand, but it is essentially the perception of a building in shape (1 dimension perspective), form (3 dimensions), and size. Ingenious designs for additions may make them appear less significant than the original structure, while inside they may be superior in space and capacity. 
  • RHYTHM
    • Rhythm in architecture refers to repetitive use of visual elements to establish a pattern. If the original structure has a rhythm including windows and doors with a decidedly vertical feel, this rhythm should be repeated in the addition as well. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • NPS’s Preservation Brief on new exterior additions to historic buildings can be found here.
  • Our archives on sympathetic additions can be found here

Dominique Hawkins, founder and managing principal of Preservation Design Partnership based in Philadelphia, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss flood mitigation in historic areas. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Dominique’s background in design, architecture, and historic preservation, including her early career transition from architecture for housing developments to the world of historic preservation, and her appreciation for the technology involved in saving old places
  • Preservation Design Partnership’s purpose for acting as a voice for clients in figuring out the most sympathetic way to achieve clients’ goals, while also meeting regulatory requirements and historic preservation needs 
  • Dominique’s reasons for working in flood mitigation, including working on projects directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina
  • How translating preservation design guidelines for clients prepared her for flood mitigation planning, by bridging the gap and interpreting the language of all involved parties – from preservationists, to FEMA, to floodplain managers, to clients
  • The methodology of flood mitigation problem-solving: determining flood needs first and tailoring approaches to each individual situation
  • The myriad of challenges – namely, the collective minimalization and (in some cases) total disregard for the severe impact of increased flooding on historic places – and the hard choices that are being made reactively rather than proactively by communities to address these

 

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For individuals, agencies, or communities interested in working with Preservation Design Partnership, read more about their services and notable projects, here

Dominique also advocates for individuals and communities to become aware, engaged, and proactive regarding flood mitigation for historic properties and communities, especially via meaningful conversations. To see examples or get involved, view a previous talk hosted by the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center’s Climate Change Academy, here, and keep a look out for upcoming Fall workshops and talks, here

Communities and other organizations can also read a sample flood mitigation plan compiled in part by Preservation Design Partnership, here

Briana Grosicki, associate principal of PlaceEconomics based in Washington, D.C., joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the economic benefits of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Briana’s background, including growing up regularly visiting local battlefields in Virginia, volunteering with her main street district as a teen, to working with Donovan Rypkema 
  • Briana’s additional roles as chairwoman for Preservation Action and board of director for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions
  • PlaceEconomics’ specialized consultation services at the intersection of economics and historic preservation, including research and city-wide studies, and educational talks and workshops
  • Specific economic benefits of preservation, including that for every 100 preservation/rehabilitation projects there are 186 jobs created elsewhere in the community, vs. 135 new jobs created per every 100 typical construction projects
  • Dispelling typical myths about preservation, including that historic preservation is a major cause of unaffordable housing, when in reality historic districts are more likely to include mixed-income housing than neighborhoods with speculative development (i.e., flipped houses and airbnbs)
  • Challenges in the field of preservation, such as increasing preservation’s advantages for and accessibility to all people 

 

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For individuals interested in getting help with preservation in their community, Briana encourages they contact her or other staff at PlaceEconomics – they are always open to discussing if they are right for a client or community! You should also tell your local officials about PlaceEconomics’ services!

Briana also suggests that individuals who may be less likely to work with PlaceEconomics’ firm directly continue to work on preservation at a grassroots level – from government involvement with organizations such as Preservation Action, to simply maintaining their own historical buildings, investing in existing resources, and using local resources to fund the local economy.

Briana encourages everyone to consider involvement in Preservation Action’s virtual auction this year, scheduled for October 27th, at 7PM

A few weeks ago an article was posted to the Preservation Professionals group on Facebook. You can read the article here: https://www.rewire.org/how-discussions-of-neighborhood-character-reinforce-structural-racism/.  The article is an interesting discussion of how redevelopment can impact the the neighborhood qualities and characteristics especially in relation to affordable housing.  The example used in the article is from St. Paul, Minnesota and the proposed development of a Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant (closed for over a decade).  A developer purchased the site and proposed an adaptive reuse with 3,800 housing units of those 20% would be affordable housing.  Based on these facts (as I know them) I do not think this is inconsistent with the neighborhood, it is preserving the buildings, and affordable housing is a problem in America that needs a solution.  There are studies that mixed income neighborhoods are mutually beneficial (https://www.useful-community-development.org/mixed-income-housing.html).  The neighbors lived near an operating auto manufacturer for many years and it do not have a negative impact on the property values and I would assume housing would be less disruptive than manufacturing to the surrounding area.

Locally there is a proposed redevelopment of a former hospital site in North West Lancaster (near Franklin and Marshall College).  Reading the numbers of units the developer is proposing (a total of 245 units projected on the low end.  With 120 as low-and-moderate income units) will significantly alter this neighborhood.  I understand that the developer needs have a certain number of units to make the financials work for the project.  Here’s a link to the article from LancasterOnline: 

https://lancasteronline.com/opinion/editorials/development-of-former-st-josephs-hospital-site-in-lancaster-holds-promise-editorial/article_92163b1e-d04b-11ea-9c97-2bcd76442638.html

I agree that redeveloping the existing building is positive for the community.  The proposed number of units is concerning to me from a streetscape standpoint.  They are proposing, “Building 25 to 30 row homes for sale along West End Avenue between West Walnut Street and Marietta Avenue, restoring how the block looked before it became hospital parking.”  I am sure there were never 25 to 30 row houses in one city block.  There are traditional row houses in this neighborhood (along with larger single family homes – it was part of the first push to the suburbs from Lancaster City).  The Sanborn Map below shows the neighborhood with the original hospital building (replaced in the 1960’s):

Squeezing 25 to 30 row house on to a single block will change the look of the neighborhood.  The Secretary of Interior Standard #9 states, “New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property.  The new work shall be differentiated from the old and compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment.”  Any proposed new construction should be required to meet these standards.

There is not a one size fits all answer to development and preservation.  I remind people that zoning and development decisions are made at the local level.  If you want to help shape the development, demolition permission process, or the historic preservation protections you must get involved locally.

A façade. What is it? Most of us know that its most basic definition is “face.” In the case of architecture, this refers to the exterior side of the building, usually the front. Façades on buildings are often the first defining features we see. As times change, so do architectural design styles, and this is reflected in façades on old and new buildings. Façades can provide varying amounts of information about the building’s past and current functioning, or they can simply be really nice to look at. Regardless, they are often the one aspect of architecture that almost anyone has access to simply by being in front of us. Read on to learn why historical façades are more than aesthetics.


Exterior shot of the Kosciuszko House, from our archives.

 

IMPORTANCE OF FACADES

You may be thinking to yourself: Why is a façade important? Isn’t it just for aesthetic-purposes? The answer is: Yes, it is partially focused on aesthetics. And one person’s visually-pleasing cup-of-tea is not someone else’s, so not every façade is attractive to every eye. However, a façade serves many more purposes and provides many other benefits than simply fulfilling an aesthetic goal.

  • Historical Streetscape and Cultural Landscape. The front façade of your home is an important focal point not only for curb appeal, but for the entire community. The rhythm of the entire streetscape is set by the street-facing façade. A well-preserved façade helps to maintain the historic fabric and cultural landscape of the building and the area around it, further contributing to the identity of its environment and community. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Mainstreet America provide further information on the impetus to save and preserve façades in keeping with these community and cultural concepts.

 

  • Visual Historical Records. Even things that were considered merely decorative at the time of their construction may currently serve a function as a visual replacement for a historic plaque, by virtue of their historically-defining characteristics. Essentially, period-appropriate façades that are preserved are visual clues to the time period of the building, enabling us to visually “read” some aspects of a building’s history.  We can discern the time period of the building based on the style, as well as time periods of later additions. Style also indicates the socioeconomic status of the builder/original owner.

 

  • Form and Function. A preserved or period-appropriate façade also may include functional aspects. Although the nature of design has clearly evolved, we know that form and function often go hand-in-hand in older buildings and this often rings true even on a façade. The ingenious marriage of form and function in their designs often lend to the “charm” that modern people associate with them, and that is typically missing from newer buildings. For instance, historical shutters most-definitely served a function as much as they added to the decoration of a home. Their functions included protecting occupants from prying eyes or intrusion,  weather protection, as well as UV protection of items inside the home, including wooden furniture. They might also provide a breeze to come through without having the window gaping open, and in some cases were substitutes for glass windows. Porches also served dual functions, providing a grand decorative entrance to the home, while also allowing for outdoor socialization (as well as alternative sleeping accommodations in the case of sleeping porches). Other façade design elements can also be functional in many ways. 

 

ISSUES AND CONTROVERSIES

Contractors, building owners, city planning committees, and the public do not always agree on how façades or their buildings should be built, preserved, or maintained, leading to a variety of outcomes and controversies.

  • Façade lost or destroyed. In some cases, an old home or building’s façade is modified, rendering it unrecognizable from its original configuration, and important historical elements are forgotten or lost. Some of the aspects most-threatened by these facelifts include original windows and doors, due to homeowners’ concerns about energy efficiency, cost, and maintenance, and the highly-advertised “maintenance-free” trap

 

  • Façade preserved but interior lost or destroyed. In other cases and as is more common, the façade is preserved while the interior is not. The Secretary of the Interiors’ guidelines for Historic Preservation focuses on the preservation of exterior features (the façade) by allowing historic commissions/HARB districts to regulate changes to buildings within the designated districts to what is visible from the public street (“streetscape” is the term that is used).  The interior is not regulated even in historic districts – leading to gutting of interiors while the exteriors are preserved.  I think this is because the historic preservation policy is based off of community preservation (“rhythms and patterns” is the term that is used) balanced with property owners’ rights – which is still a tension in regulated neighborhoods.  Easements are the only preservation tool that can preserve the interior (if stipulated in the agreement). We will discuss more of this in an upcoming blog post on interiors.

 

  • Façadism. This term refers to an even more extreme example than the one above. Simply put, façadism is when the façade is preserved but the building behind is completely lost or destroyed, and replaced by a completely new building. This is often seen in the case of adaptive reuse. This obviously is a controversial topic in the field of preservation, and some believe it should not be associated with true historic preservation. Locally here in Lancaster, the preservation victory of preserving the Watt and Shand Department Store façade in downtown Lancaster for the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center has been controversial, but I’d rather see the façade preserved than lost.

 

  • Façade and interior restored or preserved. In some cases, façades and interiors are beautifully restored and saved. See this post on an example of one of our complete exterior and interior restorations from several years ago. Another unique local example is also part of the Marriott complex. The Montgomery house’s exterior was preserved as the convention center was built around and incorporated the home into it, and the interior of the house was renovated to meet modern needs, making this a more thorough example of restoration incorporated into adaptive reuse. 

 

FAÇADE PRESERVATION TIPS

There are several things you can do to preserve or restore your historical façade, and we’ve included a breakdown of each of the most common elements of your home’s façade, as well as comprehensive information on overall maintenance and aesthetic/architectural style elements.

  • Entrances (porches and doors). The entrance to a home is one of the most attention-grabbing aspects of a façade. Visit our previous post on porches and doors for more information on restoring or updating your entrance. You can also visit our porch archives.

 

  • Windows and Shutters. Windows are another key component of a façade, and we’ve discussed many times the importance of maintenance or restoration of old windows vs. falling for the “maintenance-free” new window trap that is heavily touted by modern manufacturing companies and many contractors. Visit the National Park Service’s (NPS) site on windows, and NPS’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training’s website on windows, and our window archives for more information on approaching your historical windows.

 

  • Siding and Paint. Siding can be just as vulnerable as windows are to replacement with inappropriate modern materials. Paint poses its own challenges in terms of safety (lead in old paint) but also benefits of historically-accurate (minus the lead) paints and paint colors. Visit NPS’s briefs on exterior paint issues and substitute materials, as well as our articles on siding and painting your historical home

 

  • Roofs and Chimneys. Roofs and chimneys can be essential elements of a home’s design and are distinctively different across architectural styles. Visit the NPS’s preservation briefs on roofing and mortar, as well as The Trust for Architectural Easement’s piece on historic masonry chimneys. The Wisconsin Historical Society also has a piece on Preserving Original Roof Features of your Historic Building

 

  • Gutters. Although these utilitarian features are often overlooked when one thinks of more common aesthetic and functional features of a building’s façade, they are no less essential. The Trust for Architectural Easements discusses preservation of gutters and downspouts, and we’ve discussed gutters in our archives

 

  • Additions. Additions to homes, especially ones visible from the front of the home, are another important thing to consider when attempting to preserve most historical aspects of a façade. Visit NPS’s brief on exterior additions and Sheldon Richard Kostelecky’s article regarding sympathetic additions. 

 

  • Architectural character. Character is a major aspect of streetscapes and the cultural landscape, as well as period-appropriate architectural design style. Visit NPS’s brief on architectural character and our archives on architectural design.  

 

  • Overall maintenance. Visit our maintenance archives, including many recent and up-to-date articles on maintaining your home’s exterior. 

IN SUMMARY:

There’s more to a façade than meets the eye. If you would like help preserving or restoring your home’s  façade beyond the resources presented throughout this article, feel free to contact us to discuss your options.