Thursday, May 9, 2013

Touring My Home - Possible Addition

This past month I had the pleasure of being taken on a tour of my own home by Edward Sunderland of Sunderland Period Homes.  Mr. Sunderland was showing me my home, yes, I was the tourist.  Nearly every room was visited by our tour group of two as Mr. Sunderland showcased the details of each room to his pupil.  And there were lots of details.

Before Mr. Sunderland's arrival, my wife and I were contemplating an addition, containing a garage and new kitchen with a wrap around driveway, all in the appearance of 18th century architecture.  I had received an advertisement from Sunderland Period Homes, generically, and decided to contact them for suggestions for our home.  Being a full design/build firm located in Connecticut and specializing in the restoration/recreation of colonial period homes I thought who better to give us insight.

On the Sunderland Period Homes' website, there is a video (seen here:  Collect This) hosted by MSN giving an introduction to their work.  Mr. Sunderland gives a tour of some of his client's homes.  It was at the end of the video that the twin hosts (literally) became a little cocky, joked and asked Mr. Sunderland about the costs of the homes which they toured.  The answer was between 1 and 1.5 million dollars.  After hearing that, I was fearful that this particular contractor was way out of my price range.  Let alone willing to offer free advice.  I figured it couldn't hurt to try.

I drew up a sketch of an idea (albeit, over-ambitious) and emailed it to Mr. Sunderland.  The response I received was not what I was expecting.  He personally responded and said (and I am paraphrasing) that my sketch is not historically accurate and began to dive into the why.  Basically, my Ell's conceptual window fenestration was incorrect, as was the placement of the chimney.
Rear Existing Elevation - As Is (No Addition)
Not to Scale

Proposed Side Elevation of Ell Addition
Not to Scale

It was in that same communication that he suggested a visit to our home.  Why not, I thought.  Perhaps he needed an idea for his next project and besides, I would love to pick his brain, a quid pro quo.  We scheduled for a late Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday came.  I was so excited, like a little schoolboy.  We cleaned our home as best as we could in the days prior.  The day of, I rushed home and eagerly awaited his arrival.  I hate to make this sound like I was waiting for the President to arrive (or some hot model), we rarely "show off" our home, especially to those in the "know".  He arrived exactly on time in an old Subaru that's seen a couple of construction sites.  Quite different from the image one receives of a business owner who builds million dollar homes.

With no delay, after introductions were made, we toured the James Warner House.  The first thing I noticed was Mr. Sunderland feeling my walls.  I'm not trying to be cute.  He actually felt the paneling of my dining room. Seeing the bewildered look on my face, he said he was feeling for the imperfections made by the craftsmen as they planed the surface flat.  Unfortunately, according to Mr. Sunderland, most homes have had their woodwork sanded flat in preparation for painting in recent years.  Mine, sadly, are painted an awful green.  The sanding removes the subtle groves left by the craftsmen 200 years ago, a lost character of the home.  Come to think of it, it wasn't until the previous owner that the home's interior was painted.  Imagine that, 250 +/- years of being unpainted, then one careless owner (or deranged interior decorator) paints nearly everything AND wallpapers whatever wasn't!

With glances around each room, Mr. Sunderland was able to tell me which details were original, or not.  Thankfully, we have many original details throughout our home.  One in particular which stands out is our guest room.  Though our home's records date to around the middle of the 18th century, Mr. Sunderland looked at the details in our guest room and said that it is a transitional and a "newer" room, decorated in the Federal style.  The molding around the windows combined with the mantle points to the Federal period.  Also, the firebox seems to have been modified into a Rumford fireplace.  So, although the house was built circa 1760, the guest room was later modified to the fashion of the times, perhaps closer to the 1800 to 1810 year range, in my uneducated guess.

Circa 1800 Rumford fireplace.

Rumford fireplace, at an angle showing how shallow the revolutionary design was.

Fascinating... Warning, history lesson to follow:

Benjamin Thompson, a.k.a. Count Rumford
(1753 - 1814)
Count Rumford (born Benjamin Thompson in 1753, in Woburn MA, Count of the Holy Roman Empire after his defection to England and deeds for the Bavarian court) was a loyalist during the beginnings of the American Revolution. He left the American colonies after the signing of the Declaration in 1776. Between 1796 and 1798, he published a new method of fireplace construction. It became widely popular throughout Europe and crossed the 'pond' quickly. Along with many homes, the Rumford fireplace was installed in our home during a Federalist period decorating endeavor.  The new design lessens the depth of the firebox, making it quite shallow compared to a "regular" fireplace.  The height was increased and the throat that connected the firebox to the chimney was made more narrow as well.  The sides of the box were also made less square, angling towards the center.  This made the fire in the fireplace closer to the center of the room producing more heat and less smoke with a better draft from the narrower throat.  Better fire, more heat, no smoke, who could complain about that?

Moving past all the little details, towards the end of our two and a half hour tour, Mr. Sunderland and I discussed the addition. He asked a basic question: "What do you want?" Our most simplistic answer:  A larger kitchen.

We discussed modifying the galley kitchen that we have now and that really ended up simply moving cabinets around.  We were still left with a galley kitchen.  As we reached the rear of our home, Mr. Sunderland entered our enclosed porch and standing in the center, did a 360.  "Here" he said, "I would place the kitchen right here." He added he would remove the ceiling, install beams over head, a few windows, enclose the walls, put in a foundation with decorative stone to match the rest of the house, new wide plank flooring, widen the doorway to the keeping room or remove the wall all together."

Pricing was not discussed.  Well, it was asked, but Mr. Sunderland was hesitant to give forth a number without researching it first.  I'll have to wait and see what he'll come up with, though I fear my piggy bank isn't large enough for the level of detail that Mr. Sunderland is capable of.

Loosing a three season porch for a new huge kitchen... we would need to weigh the pros and cons.  We do love the porch as its shady and cool during the hot summer months. Though a new kitchen designed by someone who's familiar with 18th century architecture is quite enticing.   Another negative, though quite minor, is that I would loose my work area.  That is until I build my barn/garage.