Long remodeling relationship saves historic Michigan home

A master plan and seven years of remodeling lead to landmark preservation

December 30, 2011
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How do you add on to a historic home, giving a growing family the space it needs, but also stay true to its original design?

That was the challenge for architect Michael Klement, AIA, of Architectural Resource as he and his remodeler and trade partners took on this 1860s Italianate home. The homeowners wanted a new entry area, along with an attached garage plus a guest suite to accommodate frequent out-of-town visitors. At the same time, the homeowners didn’t want to be known as the people who “screwed up this beautiful old home,” Klement says.

The owners recognized and wanted to protect the home’s character. They also knew it was a prominent home in the small Michigan community of Dexter.

“They wanted to be very careful and not make all these changes that would be negatively perceived by the community,” Klement says. “People watched what we were doing very closely.”

Luckily, Architectural Resource knew the home well, having worked with the owners on several earlier projects, including a conservatory addition, a remodeled master bedroom and a finished basement.

From their first project together seven years ago, Klement and the homeowners had been working on a master plan for the home. Even then, the breezeway that they finally incorporated into this latest addition had been part of the discussion.

The idea of a master plan is a strategy that Klement tries to use with all of his clients. He urges them not to think just about what they want to accomplish in the here and now, but what they hope to see in the future – when they own home and beyond. That idea especially resonated with these owners.

“They knew they were stewards of this home and merely passing through,” Klement says. “This house was going to go on long after they left and they wanted to make sure they left a good legacy.”

Stay true, but be different

The home is on the National Register of Historic Places, which presented one of the most challenging dilemmas for the design. The Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines for rehabbing historic structures specifically asks that the renovation be unique and not blur the line between new and old in order to clearly preserve the historic home.

“That’s terrific, but that runs right up against of most of my clients’ desires, which is that the house would be sympathetic to the addition, that everything would be seamless,” Klement says.

The breezeway — or hyphen, as the project team took to calling it — fulfilled that goal, as well as creating the more impactful entryway the homeowners were looking for. The existing entryway had been tucked under a porte-cochere on the side of the house where the new addition was to go.

The hyphen separated the new garage and guest suite from the home, but tied it together as well by replicating design elements from the original home.

“We want to spend some time, as I like to say, getting to know the language of the home,” Klement says. “There was a strong theme of ‘three’ that occurred throughout the house.”

The north and south elevations of the home have three openings on both the upper and lower floors. Even the cupola has a tripartite design.

“If you look at the breezeway connector, the conservatory addition and the carriage house, they all take that theme of three and interpret in their own special way,” Klement says. “It gives you that connection without actually copying it.”

The new garage and second-floor guest suite went through more than a dozen iterations, but the decision for a two-story addition was made pretty early on. That decision helped to preserve the scale and historic look of the home.

Klement also credits the remodeler, Home Renewal, and mason, R.D. Davis Construction, for the successful blending of old and new. Davis found and aged the brick to closely replicate that on the existing home, while Don Huff of Home Renewal crafted all of the brackets and dentil work on the building out of wood.

“So many things could have gone south and this would have unraveled,” Klement says. “Everyone was on their game, starting with the homeowners. They knew what they needed to achieve and from them on down, everyone was just plugged into this.”


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