This 1920s cottage grew to better fit a family while keeping all of its original charm.
Savvy addition
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn / Styling: Lisa Powell Bailey

As an architect, Greg Wiedemann may do additions all the time, but when it came to his own house, he had to do more than satisfy a client. He had to please his whole family. The result is practically perfect.

Getting Started and Making Choices
When their second child was born, Greg and his wife, Liz, decided it was time to move out or renovate. So he started planning an addition to their Bethesda, Maryland, home. I'm very attracted to houses of the 1920s, so it was hard for me to find anything I liked as much as ours," says Greg, explaining the couple's decision to renovate instead of move.

The Wiedemanns' lot allowed room for an addition while still maintaining a kid-friendly backyard. Our house is very close to a Sears catalog plan, so it wasn't designed with the property in mind. With an addition, we took advantage of the site's positive attributes and designed around those," notes Greg.

Because the addition is on the back, the vintage facade was basically preserved. We wanted to keep the English cottage quality and the scale of the house from the street," says Greg. A small entry porch addition was the only change; it leads directly into the expanded kitchen and houses an open stairway to a new basement playroom. Greg and Liz went back and forth on whether to have this open stairway. Greg thought he wanted a built-in banquette in the spot, but in the end, the stairway prevailed. It was a good decision," he says. We can hear the boys below while we are up in the kitchen. There are so many possibilities; you have to make trade-offs throughout the planning process."

A Fresh Kitchen
The new larger kitchen incorporates the old space in a more efficient layout. Greg and Liz chose a look that retains the cottage spirit. Beaded board is used throughout the addition to mirror the old porch ceiling and link the spaces together," explains Greg. Glass-front cabinets give an airy look and echo the wall of windows at the end of the family room. Lower cabinets are deceptively deep (24 inches) because Greg incorporated wasted space underneath the main staircase.

The old entrance to the basement became a second pantry. Butcher-block countertops pick up the floor's color. Heart-pine floors were our biggest splurge," says Greg. The original house had heart pine, so using it in the addition ties together the front and back of the house." A raised countertop faces out to the family room, screening the workspace from view.

Even if you have great taste and know exactly what type of renovation you want, you still need an objective, experienced person to work with you in developing the design.

  • Interview design professionals, and ask to see photographs of finished projects similar to yours. It's a good idea to visit recent jobs, if possible. These preliminary meetings will let you see the quality of a professional's work and what it's like to work with him or her.
  • The first meeting is a good time to discuss fees. Some professionals bill by the hour (costs vary widely), and some base the fee on a percentage (typically 8% to 15%) of total construction cost. Be sure to agree on fees and a payment schedule before beginning a project.
  • Share any magazine clippings or photos from books to help communicate your likes and wants to the architect or designer, and prepare a wish list based on your family's needs.
  • Once you've agreed on the overall concept, the design is developed further. Working drawings will be prepared, including the foundation plan; floor plans; elevations; section (shows level changes); and details of cabinets, moldings, and other components.
  • Next, you'll work with the professional to write specifications (written descriptions of the materials, products, and finishes to be used in the renovation). Together, the working drawings and the specifications are called the bid documents; they are used to solicit bids from contractors.

Light-Filled Family Room
Many windows and French doors keep the family room sunny and bright. A bank of windows at the back of the addition looks out on the garden; another group of windows and doors leads to a new side porch. The porch connects to a terrace that's perfect for grilling and entertaining. Areas for dining, relaxing, and playing games make the family room multifunctional.

A Winning Upstairs
Family harmony is almost guaranteed in the new and improved upstairs living space, which provides a second walk-in closet for Greg and Liz and separate bedrooms for their sons, Jon and Joe. The double gable on the side of the addition created interior space for two baths--a master and one for the boys to share. Both baths have huge skylights that flood the areas with sun during the day. The dormers in the boys' bedrooms were designed to be large enough to accommodate a bed or desk. Otherwise-wasted space under the eaves contains built-in dressers. The boys' rooms are identical, so they can't complain about anyone being a favorite," says Greg with a laugh. This peace of mind is another intentional and smart idea in a well-designed addition.


  • Plan a realistic budget. This should be based on both the amount you can afford to spend and the amount you should spend. While most renovations increase a home's value, the return may not be 100%.
  • Be wary of overbuilding. If your house is already one of the largest and most expensive homes in the area, you may not be able to recoup the full cost of the project. The quality of the design will also affect the return on your investment.
  • If possible, keep load-bearing walls intact. Removing them or relocating them can be expensive. In kitchen and bath renovations, try to keep sinks and major appliances in their original locations. This is particularly important if your house is built on a concrete slab or has a finished basement below. If your house is built above a crawlspace, it will be easier to get to any pipes that need to be moved.
  • Try to reuse what you have. Existing cabinets can often be refinished, repainted, or moved to another location. Plumbing fixtures and appliances are easy items to reuse, as are door hardware and light fixtures.

This article is from the May 2005 issue of Southern Living.