By Jennifer Shapira
No matter the home, almost everyone wants more square footage—more useable space, more storage space. More room to be comfortable, to enjoy time together, have some away time and manage some quiet time.
Ideally, every dweller would achieve such bliss.But short of such perfection, in new home construction and remodels, professionals know the importance of creating such spaces, from nearly every homeowner’s top-of-the-wish list of open floor plans and more storage space to the design and implementation of appropriately private ones.
Experts say, maximizing a home’s flow, and its accessibility, as owners age, are chief among the long-standing trends in today’s home redos. Most popular areas in the home to renovate and add on to are kitchens and master suites.
That said, the common, “easy reaction” among homeowners, when considering potential additions, says Middleburg-based architect Timothy Clites is, “Let’s just bump out a room over here, because then it will work the way we intend it to.” Generally, homeowners call his office because they have a pretty good idea of what type of renovation or addition they’re looking to do. But the idea’s evolution can take some finessing, especially when it comes to mixing home styles.
Clites works on many historical homes that sometimes need special permits. He recalls a home in Leesburg in which the review board “seemed most focused on the addition feeling sympathetic and appropriate to the existing house. Meaning if we had clapboard, they wanted to see clapboard. If we had flat casing, they wanted to see flat casing, if we had shutters, they wanted to see the same shutters, so that it blended as seamlessly as possible.”
He has begun work on an 1818 home in Upperville that includes a kitchen addition. Clites says that the review board has specifically asked that “the addition not look like the original house, and to be clearly not from an earlier period in time.” In other words, he says, they want it to look like it was built in 2014.
Clites operates by his own credo: “I always try to listen to exactly what the owners say they want,” he says, then follows up those initial responses with a litany of more crucial questions: How do you use the rest of your home? How do you use this existing room? How do you envision using a new room?
A good example is the number of homes in the Northern Virginia area that have formal living rooms, those dedicated spaces designated decades ago when lives were lived differently. In this age of the open floor plan, they are rooms at-the-ready for a new way of life.
If a client says: They never use the formal living room, Clites follows up with a thought-provoking question: “OK, so do we want to keep that as an existing room? Or instead of doing an addition, find a creative way to open up the floor plan? Not get rid of all the walls [to] open up the floor plan necessarily, but rethink the flow and the way that the house lives. So that the project isn’t necessarily as big as they first intended … or maybe more importantly, that in the house every space is being used before you start to add square footage.”
Sometimes, the project is an educational process, and certainly, everyone’s home needs are different. It’s no exact science: The needs of two households are sometimes similar, but never completely alike. But a renovation is almost always a creative solution to the home’s ‘problem.
Clites says homes built in the 1980s, and those that are much older closer in to Washington, D.C., are “already kind of deemed insufficient in terms of how they’ve laid out their master suite. So it’s kind of surprising how quickly our collective expectation’s changed—in terms of how much closet space do we need? How should the bathroom work? How much bedroom do we need?” he says.
“When you get into a home that’s 100-years-old or more, you expect to not have enough closets, and the kitchen’s not large enough, the family spaces aren’t large enough. When we’re working on a house, we have no sense of what the conversation was when it was designed or built years ago,” says Clites. “You just know that a client today, or an owner today, very clearly wants more closets, wants a bathroom that is more spacious.”
He recalls a recent project in which he and his team overhauled a Middleburg kitchen and master suite. Although the kitchen actually functioned quite well, the client had a number of needs that went beyond cosmetic. Clites fine-tuned the layout to give her a more useable space that was tailored to her needs; the sink and appliances were placed within easy reach. The previous owner had put in an eat-in breakfast area that proved too formal for the new homeowner. His solution was to accompany the kitchen table with a banquette.
Upstairs, the master suite was reconfigured from a very accessible space to one that was less so, allowing her to design a delightful book nook; a private sitting area complete with cushy chairs, a gas fireplace and built-ins which she lined with her collection of hardcovers and paperbacks. Equipped with a wet bar, the room provides her with a precious few moments to start her day with a cup of coffee or end it with a good read and a nightcap.
“She wanted to be able to sit and read before she went to bed, or in the morning have a cozy spot for a cup of coffee when the house is full of people, before having to head out for the day,” says Clites. “It’s kind of interesting how cozy a room can feel with what we think are a couple of little changes.”
Designer Jana Neudel, of Vienna-based Terranova Kitchen and Bath, recalls a recent project that was a much-needed bump-out addition in Arlington for an almost-empty nester couple. Neudel says the “vertically-challenged” wife wanted a more up-to-date, better functioning kitchen in which all her favorite dishware was within easy reach, with a couple of exceptions, in which she still enlists the men in her household to grab the taller items.
The renovation included a must-have silestone-topped island, glass-front cabinets to showcase favorite items and height-tailored cabinetry which increased the amount of base storage. The addition ensured room for the kitchen table, a home office and a screened-in porch that faces a protected wooded area. The all-important bug-free zone is the ideal spot for the couple to tune into Washington Nationals games al fresco; a TV was mounted on the shared kitchen wall.
For a ranch-style home in McLean, Neudel worked with a couple with grown children, whose daughter moved back home with her own young children. Tasked with opening up the home’s U-shape and its kitchen, specifically, Neudel added an adjacent sunroom flooded with natural light.
By pushing out a few feet, the addition created a hearth and home feel for three generations to bake cookies, prepare dinner, enjoy meals, eventually do homework—and just enjoy together time, free from feeling cramped. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Smarter, more functional living spaces tailored to your family’s needs, with a cautious eye to the future—that is the accessibility that aging in the same home might require.
Because sometimes life happens, says Clites, citing the unexpected: the elderly parent who moves in for a time, or the child who breaks his leg and can’t do stairs. For those reasons, it’s important to make accessibility part of the conversation. “Let’s make sure [a house] works for us and the generation ahead of us,” he says. “Who knows what our needs will be? Let’s plan for the potential as best we can.”
Check out Timothy Clites and Jana Neudel’s 10 tips to consider before your home addition here.