The Cape Cod Who Wanted to be a Craftsmen
Design - Build by Brenneman & Pagenstecher
Sometimes a small adjustment is just what you need to make things perfect. Many homes in the Washington DC area were built during the years following World War II when kitchens were small, serviceable spaces inhabited by harried housewives preparing family meals. In those days, people didn’t hang out in the kitchen, socialize there, or eat in them. But as we know, times have changed.
When the owners of a small Cape Cod in Glen Echo Heights Park in suburban Maryland, approached Dean Brenneman, principal architect of Brennean & Pagenstecher, about making their own post-war house more livable the problem was obvious. “We met on the deck off the side of the house, which was a pretty uninviting place to be,” says Brenneman, “the kitchen was tiny, functionally obsolete and dark.”
The house the homeowners had previously lived in was a 100 year old farmhouse in Rockville, that came with an accommodating, farm-sized kitchen. “I used to cook a lot in Rockville,” says the homeowner, “but it wasn’t fun to cook here.” Cabinet layout made it difficult to find anything and counter space was maxed out.
Images by Greg Hadley
Since the room is connected to a deck and because the homeowners wanted a more pleasant link to their back yard the design scheme also focused on rethinking the exterior in addition to enlarging and modernizing the kitchen. The actual addition of space would be minimal, a major design goal set by the homeowners. “We felt very strongly about staying within the same footprint,” he says, “and we definitely wanted to maintain the character of the house.”
To stay within the homes existing footprint the plan was to eliminate the section of deck off the side of the kitchen and slide the exterior wall out ten feet. The ceiling would be removed to expose the cross beams, but the rafters would be concealed with a layer of drywall. Adding skylights would flood the space with natural light. To carry the weight of the addition and to expand the living area downstairs a new section of basement would be added. This was where the first construction challenge popped up.
While digging the new footer the design team discovered a surprising amount of fill dirt which was too loose to lay a foundation on. The solution was driving helical piers, which look like giant drill bits, 12 to 16 feet deep until they struck dirt packed hard enough to support the new walls. With that problem solved, progress moved forward in realizing the vision.
“The homeowners had a strong sense of what they liked and what they didn’t like,” says Mark Anderson, project architect for Brenneman & Pagenstecher, “they were definitely drawn to towards Craftsmen-inspired details.” Starting in England in the late 1800’s the Craftsmen era lasted until the 1930’s.
During that time it influenced home furnishings, publishing, the fine arts, pottery, home furnishings and architecture by inspiring Frank Lloyd Wright’s early designs. Seen as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution, the Craftsmen or “Arts and Crafts” era was typified by the hands-on building techniques, and the use of natural materials.
Although Anderson’s clients lived in a post war-vernacular Cape Cod, Dean Brenneman didn’t think that adding a few Arts and Crafts style elements would compromise the design. “If you’ve ever seen a real Cape Cod they have a style that’s very similar to Craftsmen,” he says.
The homeowners chose a naturally finished oak for the flooring in the new kitchen and accepted the fact that it would not match perfectly with the floors in the rest of the house. “We did not try to make it all match perfectly,” she says, “and we were okay with it not matching.”
Since the home’s original layout didn’t have enough space for a formal mud room, the homeowners were also looking for a way to add a transitional space to the addition. The goal was accomplished by the careful manipulation of cabinetry.
“We used different colors on the cabinetry to define the space,” says the homeowner. “The mudroom has textured, painted beadboard while in the kitchen they’re alder stained in cherry.”
The new mudroom was finished off by putting front and rear exterior doors in line with each other and adding a bench-style window seat, at the perfect height for pulling off wet boots. There’s plenty of storage available via drawers under the window seat and flanking cabinets. Door hardware is a mix of knobs and pulls done in an understated, brushed nickel.
All of the appliances in the old kitchen were changed out for new models sheathed in stainless steel. The cooktop features a downdraft that eliminates the need for a hood which keeps the ceiling area open. For informal gatherings a raised counter was added which also helps define the space. Countertops are black silestone with flecks of gold and a color very close to what was used on the cabinets – a clever touch that ties the whole space together.
To illuminate the new kitchen the homeowners selected recessed fixtures for general purpose lighting and glass pendants for accent lights over the bar. According to the homeowner finding those three fixtures posed the biggest challenge on the job. “Picking out the lights was disproportionably hard but we also spent a lot of time with the floor,” she says.
In order to make the small addition look like it never happened, the design scheme also called for tweaking the deck, the home’s dormers, and both of the front entrances. A portico, clad in standing seam copper and supported by shingled piers and columns shelters the landing to the front entrance.
The front door was also changed out and the kitchen door got a matching landing and portico. The deck received a makeover and is now anchored by piers that match the ones used on the front entrances. Dormers were re-clad in cedar shake shingles that match the shingles on the addition. Arts and Crafts style lighting fixtures complete the transformation.
The homeowners lived in the house during the construction by making use of a kitchenette in the basement. Design and construction lasted about 15 months but the residents emerged feeling fine about the ordeal. “There really wasn’t a hard part,” says the homeowner, it really wasn’t stressful working with these guys.”
The end results are a hit with everybody. Anderson says, “the form of the addition as it relates to the rest of the house looks right from every angle.” Brenneman adds, “I’m glad the homeowners decided to something really fine to a modest sized, not-so-big house.”
But the biggest impact centers on what now happens in the kitchen, which is everything. “Prior to the addition, the only reason to go into the kitchen was to prepare food,” says the homeowner, “now it’s the nucleus of the house.” It’s become an excellent place to hang out, socialize, or even eat.
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