“Saving old houses isn’t just for fun,” says architect Charles Moore, principal of Moore Architects in Alexandria, Va. One that he recently salvaged is a 1910 four-square in the Cherrydale section of north Arlington, Va. The house had been rental property for years, with much of the old detailing heavily worn or removed. “Most people would have bulldozed it,” says Moore. Washington real estate isn't for the faint of heart, but the new owners, who bought the house for $600K at the height of the market, were intent on preserving the place, putting resources into a major redo that took about 10 months.
The house is close to the street, so setbacks limited substantial expansion. By salvaging the structure instead of tearing it down, Moore and builder Gabriel Nassar of GN Contracting in Falls Church, Va. got the neighbors to sign on and obtained a variance. “Without it, we would have been able to build just a sliver of additional space,” Moore says. He and Nassar built an addition that respects the original house while making it more cohesive, light-filled, and livable than it was before, and doubling the square footage (from 2,100 to 4,500 square feet).
Pulling this off is harder than it looks. Here’s how they did it. (Photos by Anice Hoachlander/HD Photography)
Highlighting the old character of the house--and not screwing it up--was the overriding challenge, says Moore of creating a high-functioning new house from an old one and unlivable one. When the new owners were cleaning out the attic of the falling-down house, they discovered views clear to the iconic Washington Monument. The first move was to set a tower addition on the left side of the house, in the rear yard. The addition hugs close to the early 1900s four square, partnering, rather than overpowering, and stepping back from the street. To make way for the new addition, a porch that wasn’t part of the original house was torn town.
To ensure that the tower looked true to the original house, Moore designed the addition to appear as if had originally been capped by an open deck that, over time, had been glassed in. Height was limited, of course, to meet stringent local codes.
The addition houses a kitchen, family room, study, and mudroom, which provides a back entrance to the dwelling from its detached garage. Interior finishes were replaced with details that are faithful to the period that the original house was built.
The original house had a screened porch that looked, as many do, “like they’re plopped onto the front of the house,” says Moore. The porch also dead-ended close to the front door.
The remodel includes a front porch at the front entry that leads to a new screen-in porch that wraps around a portion of the home’s left elevation. This not only doubled the space in which the homeowners can enjoy the outdoors (minus the mosquitoes), it also provides the link between the existing front of the house and the tower addition. Now there are layers of entry space that give a gradual and easy-to-read retreat from the street: covered front porch entrance leads to screened-in side porch, which in turn leads to the study.
The side porch feels more private than a front porch because it’s situated at the side of the house. The screens are subtle; Moore and Nasar placed them so they’re behind the columns and wood railing, recessed and standing in the shadow of the roof plane. “From the street,” Moore says, “it’s actually hard to see that it’s a screened-in porch.”
The original house was made up of three basic rooms per floor, plus stairs connecting the floors. On the first level, Moore opened up the floor plan, adding what he calls a figure eight of circulation to eliminate dead-end spaces. The kitchen is a hard-working cook’s place with room for friends and family to gather, as well as designated spots for food prep and clean-up. At the same time, the new plan allows for easy flow to and from the family room and to and from the mudroom and back entryway. On the third floor, a dark attic saw new life as a light-filled lookout with great views.
The stairs needed to be rebuilt so they adhered to code and allowed access to the new lookout room that caps the tower addition. To ensure that the stairs didn’t take up too much space, a series of stepped dormers come out of the main hip roof. Each tread provides the needed headspace for the stairs that lead up to the sunny new lookout room.