Thursday, August 17, 2017  

Renovation with Integrity
salvage the character of the space  

You find a great old home in a great location. The home has charm, but many structural flaws. There is not quite enough space, but the location just can’t be beat. You must ask yourself, do you demolish the structure and start from scratch, or do you renovate the home and try to salvage the character of the space? These are a few of the questions architect George Thomasson had to ask himself when his clients purchased a home in Irvington.

The clients decided to keep the original structure, or at least a large portion of it, and began major renovations and additions to meet their needs. Now they find that they have the perfect space for a small family and overnight guests.

The home that was originally built in the 1870s was a two room structure, with one room on the first floor and one room above and a detached kitchen. In the early 1900s the home was added onto with one additional room on the first floor and two additional bedrooms on the second floor. Then, somewhere in the 1960s another addition was added to connect the home with the detached kitchen.

When the clients purchased the home, their first step was to remove the 1960s addition. The next step was to raise and secure the foundation of the home. One of the problems was that the lot had drainage issues. This, coupled with the fact that the home was one foot off the ground with only brick pilings constructed without mortar, made the structure of the home less than stable. Mr. Thomasson recommended that the clients raise the house three feet and install a solid brick foundation, this time with mortar, which they did. They also regraded and dug a new drain field to eliminate the drainage problems.

Mr. Thomasson noted that it was the sturdy framing of the home that allowed for the home to be lifted. For such an old home, the framing was quite conventional and constructed with a great deal of craftsmanship. This allowed the contractors to simply lift the home, as they would a box, without putting strain on the existing framework.

Once the home was raised, the first floor addition was begun. The clients added a sixteen feet by forty feet addition to the side of the home. This gave them enough room to add a master bedroom suite, bathroom, and kitchen. The original two rooms were gutted and turned into one large open room that now serves as a living room and dining room. No addition was made to the second floor, although the clients did decide to gut the second floor and turn the existing three bedrooms into two bedrooms and a full bathroom, making the second floor ideal guest quarters.

The original walls and ceilings were made of plaster. This was removed to redo the electrical wiring in the home and to add insulation. In an effort to preserve the character of the home it was decided not to replace the plaster on the ceilings, leaving the beams and floors above exposed as the ceiling. To give this a lighter look, the woodwork was then white-washed on the first and second floors.

Another way Mr. Thomasson kept the character of the home while adjusting the space to meet the clients’ needs was how he relocated and reconstructed the fireplace. The original fireplace was dismantled when the home was gutted for renovations. Mr. Thomasson used the bricks from the original fireplace to reconstruct a new fireplace. The mouldings and cabinetry surrounding the fireplace were made with the home’s original shutters.

Other design elements incorporating original materials were columns made from old timbers. It was necessary to add these columns for support because of the span of the living room and dining room. The decision was made to use wooden beams found in the interior walls during the renovation to serve this purpose.

The original heart pine floors were kept in the living room, dining room and upstairs bedrooms. Several places in the floor needed to be replaced so new boards were milled and stained from wood found in the original structure.

When the house was stripped down to the skeleton, each framing member was inspected for structural integrity and either kept, repaired, or replaced. Most of the original beams were also used for the roof and floor framing.

Another way to maintain the sense of the original home was the way in which the addition was built in relation to the home. The addition was meant to look as though it was not something that was original to the home, but rather, something that was added over time. This kept the integrity of the original structure while providing modern conveniences.

The renovation took approximately two years from start to finish. Mr. Thomasson noted that the extent of a renovation is never completely known until the structure is exposed and the hidden conditions are revealed. While it can be more cost-effective at times to start from scratch, one can never truly duplicate the character and charm of the original structure.

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