When it comes to adding on to older homes, it’s all too easy to get the style, color, materials and/or perspective wrong so the house never looks quite right again.
That’s always disappointing, considering how difficult it can be to undo such structural mistakes.
“We’ve all seen one: the old house that suddenly sprouts an obtuse room extension or overpowering wing addition, subverting the stylistic form and swallowing its original structure — all in the pursuit of increased space,” observes architect Gordon H. Bock in Old House Online magazine.
On the other hand, a well-conceived, historically accurate addition can add beauty, functionality and extra amenities to a vintage home that might otherwise be too limited for use by a 21st century family. Further, when someone takes steps to preserve a historic home, they’re making something of a cultural contribution.
That’s where the expertise of a skilled and experienced contractor can be crucial.
For Dan Koehler and Sara Huntley of St. Paul, that contractor has been Titus Contracting. In 2017, after interviewing several other prospects, the couple hired Titus and its president Scott Rajavuori to add a downstairs laundry space, mudroom and greater kitchen area to their century-old Craftsman-influenced brick home, along with a new upstairs bathroom and an appealing porch overlooking the backyard. The result? Even without the porch, the couple gained 250 extra square feet of living space in a project that wrapped up in just four months’ time.
Blast from the past: Honoring a century-old style
Getting started, Rajavuori was well aware of the challenges of working on historic homes. Because the couple had already taken care to preserve the house’s period features, he studied the original structure of the two-story house and made plans to match existing architecture.
“Knocking down a home or simply putting on an addition to a fairly new home has challenges but they are nothing compared to digging in to a historic home,” he notes. “You need patience with the process and a passion and respect for matching the home’s historic qualities.”
A high priority for the couple was adding functional spaces where they could entertain guests more easily; wash, dry, fold and store laundry without feeling crowded and conveniently enter and exit from two different doorways. As part of the plan, the kitchen was expanded, opened to connect to the adjacent dining room and re-outfitted with cabinetry that matches the period.
“It was difficult with all the mechanicals in the ceiling and load-bearing walls, but we were able to achieve that and give them a very open feeling and a great-looking functional kitchen,” Rajavuori explains.
The charming backyard porch, its tongue-and-groove beadboard ceiling and its exterior finish were also painstakingly designed to mimic the original architecture.
Rajavuori says he was especially pleased with the building’s final exterior, including his team’s skill in matching the installation style of the 100-year-old brick and the end-to-end “soldier course” pattern as an accent above the windows.
“I’m really happy with how well we made this addition fit,” he adds. “My goal has always been, and always will be, to complete a project and have someone look at it and not think, ‘That’s an addition.’ We hit that out of the park, in my opinion. When you look at the back of the home you would certainly think this mudroom/laundry/powder room has always been here.”
One challenge of the project? Trying to maintain accurate angles in places where the original measurements were already out of whack.
“One of the biggest issues you run in to when working on a home this old is how you blend old and new,” he notes. “The buildings are typically pretty out of plumb/level/square. If you don’t respect that and work with it, you have definite transition points. If you do work with it, you’re building walls that are out of level or floors that are the same. You need to methodically work through that to achieve the best end product you can.”
In that regard, he believes Titus’ team skills rival those of any other builder that conducts historic renovation.
“We’ve been blessed to be involved in all different types of renovations/remodels, with historic projects probably the most challenging, yet rewarding,” he says. “We’re up to any challenge and would be a great fit for anyone thinking of remodeling their home while respecting the historic side of the home.”
Asked what he most enjoyed about the Koehler/Huntley project, Rajavuori points to the working relationship with his clients, who are now discussing another building project with Titus.
“There’s nothing that motivates me and our team more than a client who is fun, flexible and shares a desire for the best outcome — and supports you in that,” he concludes.
The leaders of Titus Contracting have a combined 50 years of experience in construction, with a strong emphasis in remodeling. To discuss ideas for a beautiful, functional and historically accurate renovation of your own older home, call us at 952-746-7817.