About half of the work in our office is new construction and half renovations and additions. When designing a home from scratch some of the most important elements to study(besides the clients wishes) are views, site features, sun and wind direction, and the approach to the site. The most important single element in an addition/renovation is the existing building. Sometimes the portion you save and restore is key to the rest of the project. Although it is almost impossible to perfectly match the 200 year old materials which have aged in place, flooring recycled from salvaged barn beams comes pretty close. In the northeast we are particularly lucky to be working with craftsmen who take their work as seriously as the people who built the original homes.
A case in point is a project we recently finished which included additions, renovations and restorations. Like most old homes it had been added onto by successive generations of home owners. Also like most old homes, some additions were done well and others were not thought out quite as fully. The historic portions of this home set the tone for the rest of the project. In addition to relating to the existing home and meeting the spatial requirements of our clients, it was critical that we save two large very old trees. Needless to say they are doing fine.
When adding to a very old home every wall that is opened reveals the secrets of the carpenters which has been hidden away for sometimes centuries. Those carpenters often recycled posts and beams from even older structures. When times were tight, it seemed they used every piece of scrap wood they could cobble together to make the building stand. Most of all those explorations inspire awe and respect for the people who built these wonderful buildings by hand.
Not every renovation/addition project has a great existing building to take inspiration from. Often the portion which is added becomes the stronger design element and therefore influences the rest of the existing home. I don’t know if that is the tail waging the dog, but sometimes perhaps the tail should do the waging at least in home design.
I must admit, that adding onto an historic home is like working with a colleague whom I respect and admire. We are challenged by those homes to do our best.