Do we want a Frank Gehry on our block? Or do we want another standard Colonial? Or a McMansion? Every situation is unique, but there is one golden rule: Be a good neighbor.

Choosing the right style for a home addition or improvement often leads to debate about whether to design in the same context as the original house or to update it in a more contemporary way to better fit our needs and aspirations.

Dick Kawalek

Lifestyles have changed dramatically in the last half century, and remodeling is usually done to make a home more livable and accommodating to these changes. Many fine old homes are the product of deft additions by several generations as needs changed and building technology advanced. The best were gracefully enlarged or refurbished in the spirit of the original — in part because building techniques had not changed much until recently.

Today most Americans live in suburbs built more or less homogeneously within a particular time frame. Though some were hastily built and are not so beautiful, these “'burbs” do have consistency.

Dick Kawalek

Since the 1960s we've had the opportunity and the materials to build in radically different ways and with any style in any location.

But clever design can incorporate contemporary needs within the context of the old design vernacular.

This may, however, not satisfy the homeowner's desire for a break with tradition. In such instances, it's good to remember that a man's home may be his castle, but there are boundaries to the castle grounds, and an inappropriate addition can have an impact on the whole neighborhood. —Dick Kawalek, a registered architect for more than 30 years, is founder of Kawalek Architects, Cleveland; [email protected].

Dick Kawalek