Vintage Victorian Remodel

A three-story addition (basement, first floor and second floor) designed to give a family modern living space.

June 30, 2007
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A home that's built on sand and stone

ARCHITECT: GTM Architects, Bethesda, Md.
REMODELER: Block Builders, Bethesda, Md.
AGE OF HOME: More than 120 years
SCOPE OF WORK: A three-story addition (basement, first floor and second floor) to give a family modern living spaces

It's a common problem when buying an older home: homeowners get plenty of space, but the layout of the interior is not always conducive to modern living. So when these homeowners bought their Queen Anne luxury home, they expected to renovate it so the family of six could still maintain the history and relevance of the home while bridging the relationship between the rooms. Modernizing it would bring open, informal spaces rather than a cluster of smaller, formal rooms such as dining rooms, sitting rooms and parlors.

The homeowners were referred to GTM Architects Founder and President George Myers. Because he lives in the neighborhood and has done numerous projects there, he came to the project understanding the stringent rules of remodeling in the historic district, and he knew how to work with the town's tough design review board. In the end, it would be a 1,600-square foot addition that would span three stories: a basement, first floor and second floor.


To get the project underway, Myers says, the first step was to indentify the home's current features. "In this case, it was gables and towers; it was the painted cedar shingle siding, the scalloped siding on the existing tower, the neat porch and column detail and vertical bead board. So that was our kit," says Myers.

For Myers, the project was intuitively different because given the restraints of working in a historic district, he had to first determine the working space and elevations and then plan for those specifications. "We knew that this thing had to be in a bunch of little pieces, so we started with the elevations, and once those were approved, we made the plan work to those specifications," Myers says. Design approvals took about six months, and the entire project took about a year.

Crews cut the addition's exposed tafter tails in the field to more accurately replicate those on the existing home.

Because true historic renovations don't allow homes to be duplicated, the key was to repeat elements with new shapes and cladding. For example, the addition's tower was purposely not cylindrical, nor was it pointed or clad in scalloped siding. And although code restrictions dictated that the addition could only go on the rear of the home, elongating the house helps it blend in with other homes in the neighborhood that had already been remodeled in a similar fashion. It also makes the home more digestible and approachable from all four sides.

"The neat thing in working in an old house is that it gives you clues as to what to do," Myers says. "Finding the interesting details to add — things that some carpenter probably just made up when the home was first built, like the reveals or the cut-in lines in the columns that we replicated that are unusual for a Victorian style — show you the variety that gives the home uniqueness."


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Siding: Custom (Cypress) Railing System: Custom Windows & Doors: Weathershield Roofing: Tamko Porch: Custom (tongue & groove Fir) Paints & Stains: Benjamin Moore

The elements of the wrap-around porch mimic the window and door casings and the trim on the rails of the existing interior.

A home that's built on sand and stone

The composition of the existing home's foundation is standard for the time it was built, and while it was solid and served the home well, it was incapable of taking on such a sizeable addition. "A lot of the time, foundations were done with masonry — bricks, stones, etc. — and the mortar becomes sandy. It works fine — the homes are still there — but when you start playing with it, when you're digging out as in this project, they can become more corrosive, so you have to be careful," says Tony Paulos, president of Block Builders, which served as general contractor on the project.

To work well with the existing home, the foundation of the addition was made of CMU with a lot of rebar and asphalt coating — a good choice because the cells are filled with mortar, Paulos says. Underpinning the existing foundation was necessary in spots, and a steel structural element that runs the width of the foundation ties the two foundations together.

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