The old meets the new
Posted on 02/16/2023
Ray Bailey and AnnaMaryLee Vollick  in their family room under constructionWhat’s not to love about an old house? Most of those that are part of this Historic District Homes Series have thick walls, special features such as coved or arched doorways, solid-wood doors, wood floors, tall ceilings and rooms with nice window placement. Yet, small kitchens, tiny bathrooms, and floor plans that tend to box in each room rather than use hallways or wider transition spaces are among the reasons that homeowners have added an addition.

On the plus side, having mostly walled-in rooms with single doorways is a historic feature that can be quite cozy. The open concept floor plan was not in vogue in the 1800s and early 1900s. Many in this series who have added additions incorporate more open rooms without doors.

When the historic floor plan works well, some have expanded their kitchens and added fine cabinetry; granite, soapstone and quartz countertops; better lighting; and high-end fixtures and appliances. They swapped out tiny bathrooms for larger ones, some with luxurious features such as marble, glass-enclosed shower stalls and chandelier lighting.

Homeowners who love their original layout may have added on to get more space and gain new window views of their lots, which can be quite large. Much of the Historic District in Northville is known for its deep backyards. While renovating, you can bet they added more closets, storage space and electrical outlets.

Let’s start with the Ray Bailey/AnnaMaryLee Vollick home, 116 S. Rogers, since it is currently being renovated. The front of the house, with its L-shaped front porch, living room (parlor), dining room and study will be left intact, albeit with new paint, new windows and refurbished doors. Behind the dining room is where the renovation and addition begins. The work crew removed a former small addition and back porch behind the kitchen, which Ray didn’t think fit the character of the home. The new addition houses an expanded kitchen and large family room. Below, on the lower level, the added space will be a game room. Upstairs, there will be a new master bedroom and attached bathroom, and a back porch that spans the width of the addition. Originally the only upstairs bathroom was a closet-sized room with a toilet and sink. Now, there will be a new master bathroom off the hall. The two bedrooms that face the front of the house will remain as is.

Ray said he wanted a bigger entrance to the kitchen. Instead of the single-entry, 8-foot tall door, the kitchen opening will be three feet wide. That will allow family members and guests in the dining room to see portions of the kitchen and keep an eye on how the cooking is going.

AnnaMaryLee wants to make the front room – the parlor – a traditional room with period furniture. The bay window on the south side of the room adds character while the front window overlooks an expansive front porch.

The addition extends into their back yard, but there’s plenty of space at 150 feet. The neighbor behind them wanted to buy some of their land to extend their own backyard, but the couple want to keep the parcel intact.

Let’s skip back nearly 40 years to when the Steins and Barrys bought their historic homes on different blocks.

In 1986, Bruce and Pat Stein moved into 419 Dubuar. The house was only 900 to 1,000 ft2 but the couple tripled its size to 2,950 ft2, with a two-story addition added to the back that isn’t noticeable from the front. The promise of a new addition was the lure that Bruce used to convince Pat to move. A mere 5 ft. tall, Pat made it clear that both she and her husband would need to assist with the renovation to make it happen quickly. By doing so, they shaved approximately 16 months off the estimated two years it would have taken their builder and neighbor, Don Hanson, to do it alone. Pat took to the renovation with relish, climbing ladders, hanging molding and loving every minute of it. Bruce had the opposite experience – dreading the work but doing it anyways.

The first floor doubled in size with a family room, dining room and renovated and enlarged kitchen. New wide stairs were added off the family room, leading to the second floor. There, the former front bedroom, where Pat couldn’t get the heat working very well, is now a room that provides entry to several walk-in closets. Some of the closets have standard doors. Others have doors that look like a set of drawers to add variety and visual interest. They added a glamorous bathroom off the hallway, which had been a smaller room leading to a larger one – a classic example of a quirky layout. They also added two large bedrooms in the back of the house.

Marianne and Thom Barry bought the house at 239 High Street in 1985. Before moving in, they thoroughly cleaned the house, and had workers repair the plaster walls, re-sand the wood floors, and repaint throughout. About one year later, they asked Architect Greg Presley to redesign the 1950s kitchen, family room area and convert the screened-in porch into a seasonal room.

“With just a few modifications, this part of the home flowed seamlessly with the original two-story original portion of the home,” said Marianne.

While renovating the kitchen, they discovered an original wood and brick fireplace hidden behind built-in cabinets. The Barrys were intent on restoring the kitchen fireplace as close as possible to its original state. The wall surrounding the old fireplace was brick with wet plaster above the mantel and the hearth was wood planking. The plaster was replaced with drywall and a brick wall was constructed to the ceiling where it meets crown molding. A white wooden mantel piece and frame was recreated to match the original. The couple replaced the wooden hearth with brick to meet code requirements. Marianne went to great lengths to find matching brick, locating it at a Detroit brickyard near old Fort Wayne. The fireplace still provides a cozy backdrop of dancing flames at special mealtimes, just as the original owners experienced long ago.

They renovated again about seven years ago. They added an additional family room (replacing the seasonal room and expanding the footprint slightly.) They built an office on the second floor for Marianne and, not surprisingly, a large walk-in closet. The back entry was enlarged and additional closest space and built-ins were added. It now offers a stately entrance to the back of the house, where the garage is located with the driveway accessible from West Street.

In new additions, there should be a clear delineation between the historic part of the home and the new construction. This follows national historic design standards, adopted by Northville’s Historic District. Achieving this compact between new and old construction is done in several ways. There may be a different type of material on the exterior surface of the new addition to distinguish it from the original building; if it’s lap siding, the addition could have a different reveal than the original building. New windows complement the historic windows but are not an exact match. Rooflines typically differ from the original. To showcase the historic portion of the house, the addition should be smaller in mass and scale than the original house.

The Floor Area Ratio (FAR) ordinance, passed in August 2020 coordinates the house size to the size of the lot. It’s a 36% ratio, which allows a 3,600 ft2 house to be built on a 10,000 ft2 lot, plus a detached garage. The ordinance also permits a house to be 2,500 ft2 no matter the lot size. Oversized houses or additions can adversely impact neighborhoods and the environment. Problems occur when the undeveloped portion of the lot isn’t large enough to absorb water from snow melt and rain. Sometimes tall houses shade neighboring properties, which may interfere with plant and tree growth, and limit sunlight to the neighbor. One or two houses that are significantly larger than other houses on the block can alter the symmetry of architecture, change the historical context, and disrupt the unified look and feel of a neighborhood.

HDC reviews construction
Working with the Historic District Commission is another factor of owning an historic home.

To save on city application fees, Ray Bailey plans to gather up all items they plan to change and put it on one application. If submitted separately, there’s a cost each time. He says, “You buy a historic home knowing what you are getting into. There are higher costs for construction.”

Overall, these homeowners seem pleased with the way the Historic District Commission monitors additions and enforces compliance. They adhere to the Secretary of Interior Design Standards, and the Northville Historic District Design Guidelines. The building inspector monitors the construction to ensure the HDC-approved materials, such as roofing, siding, windows, and even paint color, is the same as that being applied to the house.

Photos (below): The Bailey/Vollick home under construction shows the distinction between the original part of the house and the new addition.//The kitchen fireplace adds an historical item of  beauty to the Barrys' home. Photos by Liz Cezat.

116 S. Rogers under construction

reconstructed fireplace