When Doug Walter says, “I channel dead architects to try to figure out their original intent,” it gives the listener a clear picture of how the former restoration architect might approach the design of an addition. On the other hand, architect Mark McInturff says his additions fit “by contrast rather than by a literal copying or cloning.” As different as these approaches may be, both architects must satisfy the needs of clients and be sensitive to neighboring structures.

Seamless Connections When the staff at Doug Walter Architects plan an addition, they immerse themselves in the study of the period of the house they'll be working on. In its Denver market, the firm is known for creating seamless and sensitive additions.

Everything starts with the floor plan. “You need to have the right connection to the original house,” says Walter, who stresses the importance of added rooms being in proportion to the main house. “If you're working on a 1,000-square-foot Tudor cottage, and all the rooms are small, you don't want to add a 25 by 25 family room on the back that has no relation to the rest of the house.” You also don't want to add on a big, beautiful addition and “leave the original house shabby. Work with clients to earmark the budget so you can tie things together or update HVAC, electrical, or plumbing. You don't want people to walk into an addition and say ‘This is an addition.'”

Yet Walter is not a strict restorationist and sees room for reinvention to accommodate modern lifestyles in older homes. “You can open up vistas that weren't there with bigger windows, skylights in bedrooms, or a pass-through in the kitchen,” he says. “Raised or coffered ceilings, particularly in '50s houses like a ranch with an 8-foot ceiling, work well. It's nice to raise up the ceiling in a family room or living room and show some beams, have a strong emphasis on what wasn't there before.” He cautions that while skylights are good design elements, they shouldn't be put on the front of the house: “You don't want technology to show too much.” And he suggests that remodelers be specific with tradespeople about where to put plumbing vents, flues, range hood exhausts, and satellite dishes to avoid the roof “looking like a porcupine.”

The Big Three The way Walter makes an addition seamless is by focusing on what he calls the big three: roof, mass, and materials.

“Nothing announces a bad addition louder than a roof that doesn't match the existing house in type, pitch, details, or materials. You can spot these a block away; often two blocks,” wrote Walter in a 1990 article in THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION. “The roofline of a second story addition should be the same pitch as the roof below, the same material, the same style — gable, hipped, shed, flat, gambrel, or mansard — even if it means compromising the plan.” He cites as a classic bad example the shed roof hung off a ledger on the back of a house.

Walter suggests thinking about the roof while you're drawing your plans. DWA dots in the existing roof on the floor plan to serve as a reminder of where all the ridges, hips, and valleys fall.

The planning stage is also the time to consider the building's massing —arranging the larger volumes of the house in relation to one another. “You don't want to overwhelm the house with the addition,” Walter says. Typically, DWA makes the addition smaller than the original house or uses other means to minimize its impact, such as stepping the roof down. “We often hold the front of the second floor back from the first floor front wall,” he says.

As for materials, Walter thinks that “match existing” should be everyone's mantra. Yet this can be difficult, especially with brickwork, for which you need to match color, size, and texture, as well as the composition, color, tooling, and joint size of the mortar. DWA goes to extremes to salvage bricks during demolition.

But if you can't reuse existing materials, use complementary ones. And if that doesn't work, as a last resort you can use materials that provide a contrast. Again, use caution in this approach, in particular if you're adding up top. “We call them ‘gifts from the sky,” Walter says. “Those second story additions that look like an alien spaceship set them down on unsuspecting bungalows or ranches.”